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Nuclear Power Supports Growing Development

Kester Kenn Klomegah

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In August 2014, Viktor Polikarpov was appointed as the Regional Vice -President of Rosatom International Network. His key responsibilities include overseeing, implementing and managing all Russian nuclear projects in Sub-Sahara African region. In this interview, Viktor Polikarpov discusses the potential nuclear energy requirements and nuclear safety as well as how to use nuclear energy in agricultural, health and other sectors of the economy in Africa.

How would you estimate the potential nuclear energy requirements in Africa? Which African countries have shown interest and point out if Rosatom already have some projects on the continent?

Viktor Polikarpov: Africa, being a continent suffering from electricity deficit, won’t be able to bring all its potential into life without meeting energy needs for its growing economy. It is vital for African countries to create viable energy mix, which will guarantee their own energy security and drive the industrial development. That is the reason why more and more African countries are currently studying the opportunities for nuclear power development.

In our opinion, these countries must be supported by the global community, which must ensure an equal, non-discriminated access for every state to such a safe and reliable source of energy as nuclear. At the same time, as the majority of African countries are newcomers in nuclear energy, the basic principles of non-proliferation, as well as nuclear safety and security, must come at the first place.

With the recent spike in electricity emergency declarations in South Africa, the need for additional baseload power has become a matter of urgency. Ninety five percent of electricity generated in South Africa is through coal-fired power stations. Koeberg Power Station, based in Western Cape, with a net output of 1,830MW accounts for about five percent to the total power grid, which in relevant terms means it powers the whole of Cape Town.

This proves the tested reliance on nuclear energy as additional baseload power generation for the country. South Africa was one of the first countries to publicly declare its stance on peaceful nuclear energy use for power generation in Africa.

Rosatom is intensively developing cooperation with African countries. The company already has own history of cooperation with Africa in nuclear sphere. In 2012, we signed an intergovernmental agreement with Nigeria on cooperation in NPP construction and are currently in the process of elaborating the comprehensive structure of the project. We have been working in Namibia and Tanzania in terms of uranium exploration and mining. With the Republic of South Africa, cooperation is the most lasting and dates back to 1995 with the supply of enriched uranium supplies for the Koeberg Power Station in Cape Town.

Rosatom assigns high priority to the development of cooperation with the South African nuclear industry. We confirm that our proposal for a strategic partnership in the development of nuclear energy in this country, keeps in force.

In your view, how really sustainable is nuclear energy for Africa? How is that compared to other alternative power resources such as solar and hydro, and what are the positive sides for the use of nuclear power?

VP: Today, nuclear power is one of the most important vectors of the world economic development. Electric power consumption growth under deficit of energy resources and CO2 emission restrictions make nuclear power industry practically beyond competition on a global scale. Despite of active investments to the wind and solar power generation facilities, general power balance in the world market of energetics will remain the same as now for long years ahead: hydrocarbons and nuclear power.

The question is in the optimum way of such energetic balance. Full costs of alternative generation are still considerably high and should not be passed on to final consumer. Due to technological limitations alternative energy sources cannot serve as reliable and consistent sources of electrical energy. On the other hand traditional sources of energy generation do not always meet ecological standards and demand considerable amounts of raw materials.

Nuclear generation is a most energy intensive sphere of power. I would explain this with an explicit example. In order to generate 1 MW hour of electricity you would need approximately 340 kg of coal, or 210 kg of oil, or 1-3 g of enriched uranium. And under calculation of yearly demand for 1000 MW generation object numbers tell stories best: 24 tons of enriched uranium against 1.7 million tons of oil, 2.7 million tons of coal or 2.4 billion m3 of natural gas.

Today, nuclear power is the only source of energy that meets all the challenges of a rapidly developing world. Nuclear power is unique because of the significantly low cost of electricity generated by it. That is why nuclear power plants may well feed the energy-hungry regions as well as provide for significant electricity exporting potential. Another proven advantage of nuclear power is its environmental friendliness. NPP’s do not emit any harmful substances in the atmosphere during their operation and they are totally free of the greenhouse gas emission. The main advantage of nuclear power is the unique and large-scale impact it has on social and economic development of the whole country.

Nuclear power is much more than just energy. When a country goes with nuclear, it is stimulating development of local industry, including civil construction and equipment manufacturing competencies. Development of nuclear power provides for creation of a large number of jobs – both on construction and operation stages – and these are also jobs created in related areas, not only at the actual NPP site.

Another important aspect is encouraging the development of sciences and education, as nuclear power is high technology, which requires qualified staff and strong scientific base. For some of countries, “nuclear” status would not only mean their own energy security, but also set conditions for change of their regional status and influence of the country mainly due to an opportunity of electricity export to neighboring countries. All in all, nuclear power plays a role of a certain driver for active development in other spheres of economy and social infrastructure.

Can you also discuss other aspects, for example, the use of nuclear energy as applied in agricultural, health and other sectors on the economy?

VP: Nuclear technologies include not only NPP construction. The peaceful atom concept manifests itself in nuclear medicine, a major area of our interest that includes nuclear imaging techniques and proton beam treatment for cancer and other diseases. Along with oncology, nuclear medical technologies can be applied in cardiology, endocrinology and neurology.

Rosatom focuses on the development of nuclear medicine – something whose use is still very limited in Russia – and collaborates with the Federal Biomedical Agency and international companies in manufacturing a wide range of products used in nuclear medicine, from isotopes to imaging equipment. In its efforts to make nuclear medicine affordable for the Russian people, Rosatom strives to be a global leader in producing the high-end materials needed in nuclear medicine. All such efforts are carried out under the Radiation Technologies umbrella programme and are coordinated by the United Corporation for Innovations.

As part of these activities, Rosatom has launched production of Molybdenum-99, an important radionuclide used for extraction of Technetium-99m generators, a key radioactive tracer with applications as a diagnostic tool. Molybdenum-99 is now available in Russia for testing purposes.

The Russian Federation Institute for Atomic Research (known as RIAR) provides a unique research platform for its highly skilled staff. RIAR is the No. 2 producer of isotopes in Russia. It offers the broadest range of products available in the country, including Iodine-131, Iodine-125, Tungsten-188, Strontium-89 (a Rhenium-188 generator), Lutetium-177, etc.

Another area of significant interest within the nuclear medicine field is the production of CT scanners and medical accelerators. Rosatom is ready to produce equipment for nuclear medicine centers, including self-engineered gamma cameras, emission scanners, cyclotrons for short-living isotopes production. This product line makes possible comprehensive fitting out PET centers.

Rosatom’s interest in innovations goes beyond the nuclear field – we are active in developing carbon fibre composite materials containing 92–99.99% of carbon. When compared to conventional construction materials (aluminium, steel, etc.), carbon fibre composites boast extremely high ratings for material strength, fatigue resistance, elasticity modulus, chemical and corrosion resistance – many times higher than the equivalent steel properties, while weighing much less. We are now able to produce carbon composites that are 10 times stronger and 5 times lighter than steel. These materials are essential in load bearing structures where it is critical to increase strength while reducing weight. Polymer composites are widely used in the aerospace, nuclear, automotive, construction, and ship building industries, as well as for the construction of bridges and pipelines.

Russia operates the world’s only nuclear icebreaker fleet and, therefore, has unique expertise in the design, construction and maintenance of such vessels. The Russian nuclear fleet consists of four icebreakers and four service ships. Nuclear icebreakers are operated by Rosatomflot, a subsidiary of Rosatom, and are used to maintain the Northern Sea Route and the North Pole floating research stations, as well as for cruises to the North Pole.

To what extent, the use of nuclear power safe and secured for Africa? What technical precautions (measures) can you suggest for ensuring nuclear security?

VP: Rosatom provides an integrated solution for emerging countries in which energy solution of generation III+ construction itself combines with our key operating principles – job creation, attracting international investments, infrastructure development and general social responsibility.

VVER technology is one of the most referential in the world (70 units were constructed). 55 VVER units in 11 countries are successfully operated (18 units are in EU). Safety and efficiency of NNPs with VVER are highly respected by expert missions of international organisations, including the IAEA.

The competitive advantages of modern Gen 3+ NPPs with VVER reactors are

– advanced reactor control and shutdown systems, with priority to safety but also providing good fuel economy;

– advanced management of radiation in normal operation: very small radioactive releases, occupational radiation doses, and radioactive waste generation;

– effective protection against external hazards (hyrricanes, flooding, seismic loads, flight accidents etc.);

– unique balance of active and passive safety systems (active systems are able to function provided that, at least, one of alternative power supplies is available; passive systems are able to function independently without power supply and also without human intervention);

– innovative features of passive safety systems;

– full set of systems needed to manage any conceivable severe nuclear accident in a way that eliminates large radioactive releases to the environment, including core catcher, passive heat removal system etc.

– modern Russian NPP projects correspond with all international, including post-Fukushima safety requirements and the IAEA safety standards;

Rosatom is the world’s only company of a complete nuclear power cycle. Rosatom may offer the complete range nuclear power products and services from nuclear fuel supply, technical services and modernization to personnel training and establishing nuclear infrastructure.

The advantages on nuclear among other things are the procurement of local suppliers to partner with Rosatom. This will have a powerful impact to the development of local businesses contributing to the country’s economy and international investment which will boost the country’s GDP. This increases the competitiveness of energy intensive industries in the country.

And cost effectiveness? Is it nuclear power really affordable for Africa? So, what’s Rosatom’s plan for future cooperation with African countries?

VP: Today the market demands offers related to the cost price of one kWh of electric power, which is essential for the consumer. Actually, the consumer is not much interested in how electrical energy is produced; the most important thing is the price. We can guarantee a certain price for electrical energy generated by NPPs built by Rosatom, since we have constructed the entire process chain: from uranium production to construction of NPPs and sale of electrical energy.

Rosatom has been purposefully creating the entire chain specifically in order to achieve this objective, for example, we have included a machine-building division into the Corporation. Now, the control of the cost of every stage of production also enables us to control and guarantee the price of electrical energy generated at nuclear power stations built by Rosatom.

One of the challenges faced nowadays by the nuclear energy sector is to ensure its competitive advantage in comparison with generation on the hydrocarbon raw materials. Today, they often say that nuclear energy is quite expensive, but this depends on calculations. It is true that NPPs are expensive to build, but the process of generation of electrical power is much cheaper in comparison with gas or coal generation. Which is most essential, it is much more predictable.

We have studied the volatility in raw materials markets in recent years, and the way the price for natural uranium and gas has been changing. The price range is quite broad in both cases. But the resulting ultimate cost of electrical energy is different, since for an NPP the share of the fuel component is only 25-30% of the operation cost, and for a gas or coal plant the share of the fuel component is 80-90%!

In this regard, the cost of production of kilowatt-hour of electric energy on the nuclear power plant is subject in the smallest way to changes in the commodity market and is most predictable for the investor and the end user.

NPP construction is a driver for active development in different spheres of economy and social infrastructure. We are ready to offer our integrated solutions. As we have already said these solutions include wide range of products and services – from uranium extraction to NPP construction, consulting national legislative and regulatory frameworks, personnel training and investment attraction.

Rosatom integrated solutions in nuclear power can be adapted to meet the client’s needs and the specifics of a given project. It is only our proposal is able to provide a guarantee of the total cost of nuclear energy during its life cycle. Regarding the financial solution, we understand the importance of this ambitious project for South Africa and the necessity of choosing the right financial model. We are ready to offer our experience in two models (EPC and BOO) and create tailor made financial solution for South Africa, taking into account the scale of the project and duration of its project. We offer strategic partnership in the development of civil nuclear industry for South Africa and other African countries.

Kester Kenn Klomegah is an independent researcher and writer on African affairs in the EurAsian region and former Soviet republics. He wrote previously for African Press Agency, African Executive and Inter Press Service. Earlier, he had worked for The Moscow Times, a reputable English newspaper. Klomegah taught part-time at the Moscow Institute of Modern Journalism. He studied international journalism and mass communication, and later spent a year at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations. He co-authored a book “AIDS/HIV and Men: Taking Risk or Taking Responsibility” published by the London-based Panos Institute. In 2004 and again in 2009, he won the Golden Word Prize for a series of analytical articles on Russia's economic cooperation with African countries.

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South Africa: Returning tostatism?

Klaus Kotzé

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The South African state of disaster has been evolving since its declaration on March 15th. Following local and global acclaim for its responsive, science-based approach, the government has come under increased scrutiny for its turn towards command and control. Following the extended 35-day lockdown, President Ramaphosa announced a staged relaxation which paradoxically included strict limitations which were not part of the preceding ‘hard’ lockdown. For the first time in its democratic history, South Africa is under a nightly curfew. While the global health pandemic associated with COVID-19 may be novel, the government’s response appears awfully familiar. Different as the situations may be, to understand the present one should turn to past.

Since 1994, South Africa has abided the post-Cold War international order to pave its path along Western liberal norms. The newly elected liberation party assumed the power of government at a time when it had little choice but to accede to these prevailing internationalist truths. It could either stand secure inside a global arrangement of states which ensured wealth and privilege along mandated rules and lines of thought or it could perilously go at it alone.

Based on hegemonic international practices and due on the injustices and vagaries of country’s brutalized past, the ANC sought to salvage the state it inherited in accordance with the international system; it gave up an element of sovereign independence, chose to reconfigure its revolutionary strategy and became a casualty of its time by acquiescing to fantastical end of history persuasions. South Africa chose indirect governance over direct government.

This approach to power is captured in the dogma of good governance, the conformity to a set of prescribed indicators of administrative best practice; a managerial approach to political authority. Good governance does not interrogate peculiarities, nor is it based on the lay of the land. Instead, it accedes to specific standards. Having never executed power, the ANC alliance assumed leadership by following.

Through efforts to advance the rights-based democratic ideals which gave expression to the Constitution, it pursued development along international governance norms. The constitutive initial phase of democracy, characterized by consultation, policy formulation and institutional consolidation adhered to this dogma. Government’s aspirational approach aligned to the aspirational character of the new Constitution. The modalities of good governance were, however, as foreign to the ANC as they were to South Africa. In according international norms, the history of the state was suppressed.

When Nelson Mandela assented to the presidency, a new nation was not birthed. The South African state remained; it was given another life. This is the reason the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) rebuffed Fw de Klerk’s presence at the SONA earlier this year. This was no argumentum ad hominem.It was a politically astute move to delegitimate the government. It charged the ANC with ruling over the state of De Klerk. By rejecting the government’s legitimacy, its authority over law and order, the EFF seeks to bring down the edifice upon which government rests. Potentially portending a move toward coup d’etat, it presciently recalls the architecture and history of the state. While the ANC government prefers to limit the debate about the history of the state, the EFF critically reminds South Africans of their history. It invokes an awakening to the history of the state.

To accurately perceive the frenzied national condition, South Africa needs to shed the veil of ignorance that conceals the history of the state.

The late 1970s saw the introduction of a total national strategy that was legitimised by what the state labelled a total onslaught; today benignly referred to as the ‘struggle’. These analogous approaches shaped the national order which emerged in 1994. The total national strategy as laid out in the 1977 White Paper on Defence called for a “comprehensive plan to utilize all the means available to a state… A total national strategy is, therefore, not confined to a particular sphere, but applicable at all levels and to all functions of the state structure”.

As was the case under the total strategy, today’s concern is security. Security oriented government by decree is being justified in the fight against the nebulous COVID-19.

The ominous rise of the ambiguous National Coronavirus Command Council begs serious questions. It reminds of how under the total national strategy, power moved from cabinet to be concentrated into the State Security Council and later the National Security Management System. Vigilance must persist against decreed rule by selective committees.

Whereas the pragmatic Prime Minister PW Botha essentially portrayed the role of a crisis manager, today the similarly astute administrator Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, regarded by some as a sort of Prime Minister, rules by regulation. Botha was obsessed with security; to maintain law and order Botha insisted upon an expanded militarisation despite the government recognition that there was no military solution. Today command and control again reign supreme. Reminiscent of the 1980s, the defence force is again (mainly) wielding sjamboks in townships. With more than 70 000 troops deployed to maintain law and order, South Africa is clearly no longer in the domain of governance, it has returned to statist government. The state is again seeing a total strategy whereby the resources of war are mobilised at political and economic levels. What really is the perceived threat upon which government’s strategy is based? Is the defence force called upon because the state is fearful of its ability to maintain trust and legitimacy? Is it facing a potential loss in law and order? Though the virus is new, South Africa has been here before.

The ongoing state of exception presents a Manichean situation whereby claiming one’s rights, one necessarily stands outside the law. The threat of a normalised state of exception isthe temporary if not permanent loss of freedom. In the words of famed American whistle-blower, Edward Snowden: “a virus is harmful, but the destruction of rights is fatal”. 

South Africa’s bewilderment has largely been based on the perception that there is no precedent to demonstrable state control. COVID19 may be novel, but limitation, South African government by regulation, is not. There is an urgent need to wake up to history, to view the past in order to discern the present. While the ANC government has consulted widely and the state of exception is administered under the relevant Act, any limitation of rights and privileges must be challenged. Learning from the past, South Africans must be cautious of securocrats’ use of security as a central means of government.

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Despite Criticisms, Madagascar Moves Ahead With COVID-Organics

Kester Kenn Klomegah

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While Western and Europeans and Asians race to find vaccines for coronavirus, Africa can no longer wait for that scientific discovery that experts have said it would, most probably, be ready in a year or two. Some experts have argued that coronavirus would never disappear, but rather becomes endemic.

Indeed, the crisis has put the global science to practical test. Every individual country is busy fighting the pandemic in its own way, trying to make sure that it gains from the crisis. As the virus persistently sweeps across the world, southern African island of Madagascar seems desirous with an initiative to tap into its local herbal science to produce COVID-Organics to save human lives.

Madagascar, a southern African island in the Indian Ocean, has found an alternative to fight the fast spreading coronavirus, beginning on experimental basis and with a rudimentary approach at home. With increasing number of coronavirus, Madagascar is steadily depending on its natural resources to help Africa. As a result of the island’s isolation, Madagascar is home to various unexploited plants found nowhere else on Earth. Many native plant species are used as herbal remedies for a variety of afflictions.

On April 21, the President of Madagascar Andry Rajoelina officially launched a local herbal remedy claimed to prevent and cure the novel coronavirus. The drink is simply called COVID-Organics and is derived from Artemisia – a plant with proven efficacy in malaria treatment.

During an African Union meeting late last month, he stressed the importance of the herbal cure – a variant of which prevents the virus, while another cures it. Speaking to colleague heads of state with a bottle of COVID-Organics on his table, he reiterated the viability of the herbal cure.

“There are two treatment protocols (curative and preventive). The state of health of COVID-19 patients who took Tambavy CVO CovidOrganics improved after 7 days and fully recovered after 10 days. These patients have taken no other product than COVID-Organics,” Rajoelina said.

In an exclusive interview with FRANCE 24 and RFI, Rajoelina defended his promotion of a controversial homegrown remedy for COVID-19, stressing that COVID-Organics works really well. He further claimed that if a European country had discovered the remedy, people would not be so skeptical. “What if this remedy had been discovered by a European country, instead of Madagascar? Would people doubt it so much? I don’t think so,” the president told FRANCE 24’s Marc Perelman and RFI’s Christophe Boisbouvier.

“What is the problem with COVID-Organics, really? Could it be that this product comes from Africa? Could it be that it’s not OK for a country like Madagascar, which is the 63rd poorest country in the world… to have come up with (this formula) that can help save the world?” asked Rajoelina, who claims the infusion cures patients within ten days.

“No one will stop us from moving forward – not a country, not an organization,” Rajoelina said in response to the WHO’s concerns, and added the proof of the tonic’s efficacy was in the “healing” of “our patients”, calling it a “preventive and curative remedy,” according to the report.

In a similar argument, Dr. Charles Andrianjara, Malagasy Institute of Applied Research (IMRA) Director General pointed out straight “COVID-Organics will be used as prophylaxis that is for prevention, but clinical observations have shown a trend towards its effectiveness in curative treatment.”

In a response to an email media query, an official at the presidency wrote: “We are committed to taking the traditional therapies through the same clinical trials as other medication. It’s about time to participate and not only observe. As the opportunity emerges, we have the resources to use as a remedy against coronavirus, and to save lives. We need to think how to use it productively and profitably now.”

The global scientific community has become curious. Scientists at Germany’s Max Planck Institute in Potsdam are among a group of researchers from Germany and Denmark collaborating with the United States company, ArtemiLife, to explore whether the Artemisia plant can really be used against the coronavirus.

“It is the first study in which scientists are investigating the function of these plant substances in connection with COVID-19,” the Head of the Study Group, Peter Seeberger, said in an interview with DW.

On April 28, while in a video conference with Foreign Ministers from Brazil, China, Russia and South Africa, the Indian Foreign Affairs Minister, Dr. Subrahmanyam Jaishankar noted that the pandemic not only poses a great risk to the health and well-being of humanity but also severely impacts on the global economy.

According to Jaishankar, India is providing pharma assistance to nearly 85 countries, including many countries in Africa, to support their response to the pandemic, and emphasized the need to provide support to businesses, especially small and medium scale enterprises, and the efficacy of traditional medicine systems.

Chinese are highly sensitive to opportunities, leverage indiscriminately to almost all sectors in Africa. Now China is showing interest in adopting and collaborating with Madagascar’s herbal initiative. China has already promised to scale up its assistance to Africa by creating a health care initiative that allow African countries to access funds to address challenges in the healthcare delivery. It plans to build the headquarters of the African Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

One area that presents the world with opportunity, and has be explored in the search for treatment is the field of herbal medicine. So far, many countries are adopting supportive care and non-specific treatment options to relieve patient symptoms. Chinese traditional medical practices in China and herbal preparation from Madagascar raise hopes for COVID-19. The potential here gives credence for consideration as traditional and herbal remedy for COVID- 19, argued Justice Ray Prah from the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST).

Madagascar’s scientific initiative has drawn wide criticisms, instead of encouragement and support. The World Health Organization (WHO), established to monitor and tackle global health problems, research for innovative ways to ensure health of people, was rather the first to punch Madagascar. The officials have explained that the local African brew safety and effectiveness have not been assessed internationally, nor has any data from trials been published in peer-reviewed studies. Mainstream scientists have warned of the potential risk from consumption of untested herbal brews.

The African Union (AU), Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) have made similar claims and said they would only support and endorse products that proved effective through scientific study.

But, the African Union, all African Governments and Regional Organizations have to get committed to taking “traditional therapies” through the same clinical trials as any other medication. It is worth to say that it is necessary to make collective or continental efforts toward finding a remedy against coronavirus.

African leaders have to understand that an effective COVID-19 vaccine, if it ever arrives, has to be treated as a public good for the whole of the global society, but at a cost not as a humanitarian aid. The combination of national self-interest and pressure for the pharmaceutical industry to make a profit is already triggering a geopolitical bust up over who actually gets access to the vaccine first.

Several media reports said an increasing number of African countries are opting for the COVID-Organics. About 10 African leaders have, already ordered for it since its launch in April. The countries include Chad, Comoros Islands, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Equatorial Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Niger and United Republic of Tanzania.

With COVID-19, Africa has to explore its own resources. African countries and the African Union (AU) have to reinforce scientific cooperation among its member states so that the continent can be ready for quick and concerted efforts to deal with unexpected health crises such as coronavirus, recently argued Dr Aminata Touré, former Prime Minister of Senegal and currently President of the Economic, Social and Environmental Council in Dakar, Senegal.

It is certainly too soon to draw some lessons on the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic since it continues to dramatically affect significant segments of the world population and still remains a puzzle, an enigma for the world scientific community. Some African governments, at different levels, have mobilized their resources and expertise, elaborated innovative strategies and carried out bold and strategies to contain the spread of the coronavirus, she explained.

“The African Union has to reinforce the scientific cooperation among its member states in order to ensure our common health sovereignty. This is urgent today, to put in place a genuine scientific partnership between our African universities so that we can identify anticipatory and preventive therapeutic and pharmaceutical solutions to human suffering. We must actively encourage the African scientific diaspora to build solid cooperation, exchange network systems with our counterparts from the continent in order to build African centers of research and laboratory excellence,” suggested Touré.

Touré explicitly concluded that only these would be capable of helping to inspire widely recognized African initiatives on the cutting edge of research and development for medicinal and vaccine cures. This is the true path to health sovereignty.

Nearly a quarter of a billion people across Africa will catch coronavirus during the first year of the pandemic, the World Health Organization has said in a new study published in the British Medical Journal. The study further warns that 190,000 Africans could die of COVID-19 in the first 12 months of the pandemic unless urgent action is taken.

According to the latest figures from the WHO, Africa has more than 60,000 cases of COVID-19, which implies that Africa has been spared the worst of the pandemic. Experts say that the low number of tests in Africa is certainly hiding the true scale of the crisis. The African countries most affected by the pandemic included South Africa and Maghreb countries of Algeria, Egypt, and Morocco. Ghana and Nigeria have disturbing infected numbers in West Africa.

Thirty-five (35) African countries have each recorded less than a thousand cases. Eritrea is among a handful of African countries that have not recorded deaths as of May 15, others are Madagascar, Central Africa Republic, Mozambique, Namibia, Seychelles, Lesotho, Rwanda and Uganda. Mauritius declared total recoveries (332) from coronavirus infections (332) as of May 11.

Madagascar reported no deaths. Out 238 cases, it claimed 126 active and 112 have recovered. Madagascar’s natural resources include a variety of agricultural and mineral products. Its major health infrastructure, in poor conditions, similar to many African countries. Madagascar, located in southern Africa, has 26.3 million population and belongs to the group of least developed countries, according to the United Nations. It is a member of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and African Union (AU).

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In the Era of COVID-19, Russia’s Strategic Politics of Aid Takes the Stage in Africa

Kester Kenn Klomegah

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With coronavirus rapidly spreading among the population of 148 million, Russia took the third position in the world. According to the official data provided on May 11, Russia had an aggregate total of 221,344 COVID-19 cases. The United Kingdom and Italy earlier reported 219,183 and 219,070 cases, respectively. Spain comes in second with 224,390 coronavirus cases, and the United States ranked first with nearly 1.4 million cases.

That is a huge gap compared to over 50,000 cases among 1.3 billion population of Africa, at a first glance, and readily offered an understandable story. South Africa and Maghreb region are the hardest hit and worse affected with the coronavirus in Africa. As expected, the pandemic places diverse impact on the global economies and the society, recommended measures have been taken in a bid to prevent the coronavirus spread.

According to the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) report, Africa still behind European countries when it comes to the COVID-19 outbreak and is far from seeing its peak. While Africa has only reported more than 50,000 confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus early May, the UNECA-released report “COVID-19 in Africa: Protecting Lives and Economies” said “anywhere between 300,000 and 3.3 million African people could lose their lives as a direct result of COVID-19, depending on the intervention measures taken to stop the spread.”

According to the Regional Office for Africa of the World Health Organization (WHO), the hardest hit are South Africa and mostly Maghreb countries of Algeria, Egypt, Morocco and Tunisia. These Maghreb countries have strengthened information controls, instead of upholding transparency during the health crisis, but generally reported to have more than 5,000 infections, while in Tunisia, there are 1,018 patients and 43 people have died. In sub-Saharan West Africa, Ghana and Nigeria are also among the top ten African countries affected the pandemic.

While Russia, for a time, appeared to escape a serious coronavirus outbreak, the situation there has changed drastically during these two months of April and May, – passing Germany and France to become the third most-infected country in the world, according to The Moscow Times. Russia now has the fastest rate of new cases in Europe, and second-fastest rate of new cases in the world behind the United States.

In an important part, Russian health workers are still reporting a shortage on protective equipment. With the picture getting highly scary, Russian President Vladimir Putin worries about any slightest missteps when, in one of his live television speeches, he warned: “We cannot jump ahead of ourselves. Any carelessness or haste may cause a setback.”

Despite its internal difficulties, Russia has been offering coronavirus assistance to a number of Africa countries. Russia is using it bilateral and multilateral mechanisms in addressing these requests filed by African countries since March after the coronavirus pandemic had spread to the continent that consists of 54 countries. However, Lesotho and Comoros are free from the coronavirus.

Russian Foreign Ministry said a number of African countries have requested Moscow’s assistance in combating the coronavirus. “A number of countries on the African continent have requested Russia’s assistance in combating COVID-19. African nations need a wide range of medical equipment, including ventilators, as well as testing systems, individual protective gear, disinfectants and consumables. These requests are carefully studied and the situation in a particular country is taken into account,” it reported, adding that coronavirus spread rates were relatively low in African countries, with the exception of Algeria, Egypt, Morocco and South Africa.

“However, this issue is causing serious concern to many countries on the continent. The social and economic situations in many of these countries are complicated, while high population density, poor healthcare systems, various crises and conflicts, transparent borders and uncontrolled migration can lead to a sharp rise in cases and unpredictable consequences,” the statement said.

According to the Russian Foreign Ministry, the pandemic may negatively affect African countries’ ability to carry out major tasks to overcome poverty, ensure sustainable development and implement integration projects. Russia had been assisting African countries in responding to natural disasters and the spread of infectious diseases, including the Ebola fever. “We will do what we can to help the continent combat the coronavirus pandemic, using bilateral mechanisms and those of international organizations,” the ministry said, noting that “when making decisions, we will take a whole set of factors into account, including Russia’s coronavirus spread rate.”

Understandably, wholesale provision of coronavirus assistance is, absolutely and practically, impossible to Africa. Therefore, in the shadow of COVID-19, Russia is strategically choosing for its coronavirus aid destinations inside Africa, experts argued. Historically, Russia has had a high preference for the Maghreb region and southern African countries. Thus, in the months of April and May, aid was delivered to Algeria, Egypt, Morocco and Tunisia in North Africa. Ethiopia and Djibouti in eastern Africa. In southern Africa, the beneficiaries included Mozambique, South Africa and Zimbabwe, according to various media reports inside Africa.

On May 11, at the National Institute of Biomedical Research (NIBI) of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), more than 28 thousand units of laboratory supplies and 8 thousand units of personal protective equipment including protective clothing, respirators, reusable full-face masks with a set of filters and gloves were delivered. According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs media report, the cargo was sent by Russia’s Rospotrebnadzor.

The delivery event was attended by the DRC Minister of Health, Dr Eteni Longondo, Advisers to the President, P. Muanda Congo and S. SialSial, as well as the Director of the National Institute of Biomedical Research (NIBI), Professor J.M. Muyembe Tampam and Russian Ambassador Aleksey L. Sentebov.

According to WHO, Congo confirmed its first case of coronavirus mid-March, and as of May 5, there were only 264 confirmed cases and 11 deaths in a country of some 80 million people. Therefore, the Russia’s assistance provided is extremely timely, since epidemics of coronavirus, Ebola, Cholera and Measles broke out, at the same time, in the country. In difficult sanitary and epidemiological conditions, DR Congo is experiencing a sharp shortage of equipment, tests, medicines, vaccines, and there are not enough masks, gloves, and disinfectants.

In this regard, the Congolese are looking forward to the arrival of two mobile laboratories at the end of May this year, which, due to their versatility, can be used to combat the spread of a number of especially dangerous infections, including COVID-19. Russia plans to train Congolese personnel in these microbiological complexes.

In addition, as part of the provision of gratuitous anti-epidemic assistance, Rospotrebnadzor plans to send modern laboratory equipment, diagnostic preparations, vaccines against BVE, cholera, plague and measles, test systems for the detection of Ebola, dengue fever, malaria, cholera and coronavirus to Kinshasa.

Russian-Congolese health contacts are quite extensive and are backed by an agreement signed between the Federal Service for Supervision of Consumer Rights Protection and Humanitarian Affairs and the DRC on the sidelines of the Russia-Africa summit in October 2019 in Sochi. Over the course of several years, Russian virologists have repeatedly visited this country in order to identify its urgent needs, held meetings with local specialists and, in the most difficult period of the global spread of coronavirus in the Republic of Congo.

Russia’s Sputnik News, under the headline, “Tunisia Asks Russia for Respirators, Masks, Medical Equipment Amid Pandemic” quoted the Tunisian Ambassador to the Russian Federation, Tarak ben Salem who said: “This request for assistance is a part of friendly relations between Tunisia and Russia. Tunisia, like many other countries, is facing an unprecedented health and economic crisis. We need respirators, masks and medical equipment that will help provide services in public hospitals.”

“Tunisia, a country close to Italy, appreciated the assistance provided by Russia to this neighboring friendly country,” Salem explained and added “Tunisia hopes for a step forward from Russia, which has promised to consider our request. This can only confirm the quality of friendly and fraternal relations between our countries and our peoples.”

Nevertheless, Russia is also exploring the opportunities in Tunisia, and as part of its geopolitical expansion and influence in Maghreb region. According to the ambassador, Russia has pledged to look into Tunisia’s request.

The United States had granted $500,000 in health assistance to address the coronavirus outbreak in Djibouti. Shortly thereafter, the Russian Foreign Ministry also posted to its official website that Russia had delivered humanitarian assistance to Djibouti in East Africa. Late April, Russian humanitarian aid to the Ministry of Health of the Republic of Djibouti was delivered and was described as part of a joint project with the World Health Organization. It was financed by the Russian Government to enhance Djibouti’s potential in the field of medical emergency readiness and response.

“This humanitarian action comes in response to an official request from the Djiboutian authorities in view of the serious deterioration in the sanitary and epidemiological situation in the country caused by heavy floods and the spread of the novel COVID-19 infection. A consignment of humanitarian aid weighing a total of 13.5 tons and consisting of more than 20 multi-purpose medical modules to fight dangerous infectious diseases was delivered to Djibouti’s seaport. The shipment included tents and components to build two medical units for rendering skilled assistance to over 200,000 people,” according to report of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The report indicated that “the ceremony was attended by Russian Ambassador to Djibouti Mikhail Golovanov, WHO Representative Dr Ahmed Zouiten and Djiboutian Minister of Health Mohamed Warsama Dirieh. The Djiboutian leadership expressed its sincere appreciation to the Russian side for the assistance amid such a complicated epidemiological situation.”

Djibouti has seen a rapid spike in coronavirus cases with the Horn of Africa nation, as the population largely ignores measures imposed by authorities. As a tiny country, it shares borders with Somalia in the south, Ethiopia in the south and west, Eritrea in the north and the Red Sea. Djibouti is a multi-ethnic, with a population about one million, but strategically important country that hosts the United States and French military bases, has recorded 1,116 positive coronavirus cases — small on a global scale. Only two (2) people have died to date, according to the report from the Ministry of Health.

With its burgeoning commercial hub, it serves strategically as the site for various foreign military bases. The hosting of foreign military bases is an important part of Djibouti’s economy. The United States pays $63 million a year to rent Camp Lemonnier, France and Japan each pay about $30 million a year and China pays $20 million a year. The lease payments added up to more than 5% of Djibouti’s GDP of $2.3 billion in 2018.

China has, in recent times, stepped up its military presence in Africa, with ongoing plans to secure an even greater military presence in Djibouti specifically. China’s presence in Djibouti is tied to strategic ports to ensure the security of Chinese assets. Djibouti’s strategic location makes the country prime for an increased military presence.

Undoubtedly, Russia has shown interest in strengthening its ties with the country. Russians believe it could take steps to overcome the impasses in the disputes between Ethiopia and Eritrea, between Ethiopia and Djibouti, as well as international support for Somalia’s efforts to restore its statehood in the Horn of Africa. It has proposed an elaborate plan from maintaining peace and security to promoting socioeconomic development in the Horn of Africa and that includes Djibouti.

Over the past few years, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has had extensive discussions on investment in high technology and transport logistics in Djibouti and Eritrea, both neighboring countries in the region.

It is worth to note that Russia and Algeria has friendly sustainable relations. A Russian cargo aircraft has delivered personal protective equipment to help tackle the novel coronavirus pandemic in Algeria. Algeria’s Minister of Health, Population and Hospital Reform Abderrahmane Benbouzid and Russian Ambassador Igor Belyaev were at the air base of Boufarik, Blida (50-km south of Algiers), to take delivery of the cargo, Algeria Press Service reported April 30.

According to the information made available, the Russia’s humanitarian aid, consists of medical protective equipment was purchased by the Rosoboronexport, the State Arms Exporter, it was done upon the Russian government’s instructions in order to fight the coronavirus pandemic. “Among the medical items delivered to Algeria are infrared thermometers, suits, medical masks and other goods, needed by the friendly nation of Algeria and its healthcare sector,” the media said. Cooperation in fighting COVID-19 strengthens the humanitarian aspect of Russian-Algerian relations.

Given this global scenario of COVID-19, it becomes a conduit to play some game cards. For instance, Russia’s pursuit of playing a bigger role in global political realm is grounded on the consequences Russia faced in the aftermath of the collapse of USSR. That was followed by a huge political chaos and instability of its socio-economic space. However, Russia cling to it as the new game changer and now plays the catch-up. Russia seems to have neglected the potential opportunities in Africa, according to PunsaraAmarasinghe, a former research fellow at the Faculty of Law, Higher School of Economics in Moscow, and now a PhD candidate in international law from the Sant’Anna School of Advanced Studies in Pisa, Italy.

“Perhaps, Russia needs a lot more of efforts to revive old ties in African countries, to engage in a large scale investments and energy. Humanitarian assistance could be a strategic mechanism, the lack of Russian soft power in African states is another main trouble that continues to hinder Russia’s realization of its policy projects,” Amarasinghe wrote in his emailed discussion.

He further compares how Britain, France and even India are performing with the use of their soft power in African space, added finally that “Russia still has the opportunities, Moscow only needs to address more on African states beyond arms trade and offering assistance, but covering much important issues such as education, energy politics and investment. These have to be taken in practical terms, not just mere rhetoric.”

On April 29, Russian International Affairs Council (RIAC), a powerful autonomous Russian NGO that focuses on foreign policy, held an online conference under theme “The Future of Africa in the Context of Energy Crisis and COVID-19 Pandemic” – with participation of foreign policy experts on Africa.  Chairing the online discussions, Igor Ivanov, former Russian Foreign Affairs Minister and now RIAC President, made an opening speech. He pointed out that Russia’s task in Africa following the pandemic is to present a strategy and define priorities with the countries of the continent, built on the decisions of the first Russia-Africa Summit, held in Sochi in October 2019.

On the development of cooperation between Russia and African countries, Igor Ivanov strongly reminded that “Russia’s task is to prevent a rollback in relations with African countries. It is necessary to use the momentum set by the first Russia-Africa Summit. First of all, it is necessary for Russia to define explicitly its priorities: why are we returning to Africa? Just to make money, strengthen our international presence, help African countries or to participate in the formation of the new world order together with the African countries? Some general statements of a fundamental nature were made at the first Summit, now it is necessary to move from general statements to specificity.”

The speakers presented scenarios of the development of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic on the continent, the impact of the coronavirus on various industries, the economic and social development of African countries. Experts discussed the role of integration associations on the continent, the existing and the expected problems in the work of humanitarian missions and programs supervised by international organizations.

For many African countries, it is the time to reflect on African countries’ responses to COVID-19. It is time to take the opportunity it offers to catalyze action on structural deficits. The current predicament triggers long-term shifts toward universal access to health and education. It is time to think of improving communities with the necessary infrastructure. Although it has abundant natural resources, Africa remains the world’s poorest and least developed continent, the result of a variety of causes include corrupt governments, and worse with poor development policies. It is time to prioritize and focus on sustainable development.

With its 1.3 billion people, Africa accounts for about 16% of the world’s human population. Africa, comprising 54 countries, is the world’s second largest and second-most populous continent after Asia. As the coronavirus spreads around the world, many foreign eyes, such as the United States and Canada, Europe, China, Russia and the Gulf States, are still on Africa.

Significantly, the global pandemic has exposed the weaknesses in Africa’s health system, adversely affected its economic sectors, it is therefore necessary for African leaders, the African Union (AU), Regional organization and African partners be reminded of issues relating to sustainable economic development and subsequent integration. It sets further as a reminder to highlight and prioritize the significance of these in the context of tasks set out by the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the African Union’s Agenda 2063.

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