A report by the UN released on 23 April argues that the coronavirus pandemic should not be used as a pretext for autocratic regimes to crack down on human rights and block the free flow of information, while UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres has said the global public health crisis is rapidly turning into a human rights crisis.
In a first, Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) held one of its summits via videoconference, on the initiative of Mahamadou Issoufou, the current chair of the West African organisation. On Thursday, 23 April, Niger’s head of state conversed in front of his computer screen with his sub-region counterparts on the topic of developments and impacts related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The presidents who took part in the call included Benin’s Patrice Talon, Burkina Faso’s Roch Marc Christian Kaboré, Cabo Verde’s Jorge Carlos Fonseca, Côte d’Ivoire’s Alassane Ouattara, Gambia’s Adama Barrow, Ghana’s Nana Akufo-Addo, Guinea’s Alpha Condé, Guinea-Bissau’s Umaro Sissoco Embalo (officially recognised during the summit), Liberia’s George Weah, Mali’s Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, Nigeria’s Muhammadu Buhari, Senegal’s Macky Sall, Sierra Leone’s Julius Maada Bio and Togo’s Faure Gnassingbé.
A number of West African diplomats also participated in the meeting: Côte d’Ivoire’s Jean-Claude Kassi Brou, President of the ECOWAS Commission, Chad’s Moussa Faki Mahamat, Chairperson of the African Union Commission (AUC) and Ghana’s Mohamed Ibn Chambas, United Nations Special Representative of the Secretary-General for West Africa and the Sahel.
Although the heads of state said that they were “deeply concerned” about the spread of COVID-19 in the region (with 158 deaths and more than 6,000 cases as of 22 April), much of their discussion was focused on the “serious threat posed to the regional [economic] integration process.”
According to the West African organisation, the economic growth rate for the ECOWAS region, initially forecast at 3.3%, is expected to fall to around 2% “if the pandemic were to end in June 2020.”
It could even drop to a negative 2.1% “if the pandemic continues beyond the second half of 2020.”
ECOWAS in favour of stepping up testing
Issoufou and his fellow peers agreed on the need to implement a regional “response plan taking into account the fight against the spread of the pandemic and a post-pandemic economic recovery plan.”
In addition, they decided “to make their contribution to the African Union Solidarity Fund,” while the AU is set to “negotiate with partners for [the] cancellation of [p]ublic debt and [the] restructuring of [the] private debt of African countries.”
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ECOWAS, asserting that it seeks to “increase testing” to limit the pandemic’s impact, appointed Buhari as the organisation’s COVID-19 response “champion”, effectively tasking him with coordinating the response.
The Nigerian president was personally affected by the pandemic when one of his close aides, his chief of staff Abba Kyari, died of the disease on 17 April.
Lastly, Buhari and his West African peers committed to allocating “at least 15% of their annual budget to strengthen their health care systems.”
This promise was made for the first time in 2014 during one of the organisation’s less digital summits in Accra, Ghana.
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