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SADC-Russia’s economic cooperation: Strategies, challenges and future perspectives

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In 1991, the globally recognized anti-western Soviet propaganda machine collapsed and disappeared. Russia and SADC Member States have had long-standing and time-tested bilateral partnerships for nearly 30 years after the Soviet collapse. In this long-ranging interview, the Executive Secretary of the Southern African Development Community, Stergomena Lawrence Tax, discusses various aspects of SADC-Russia’s economic cooperation, some strategies, challenges and future perspectives with Kester Kenn Klomegah from Moscow.

Russia and Africa mark nearly 30 years of bilateral relations after the Soviet collapse. What does this mean from the African perspectives?

Russia has a long history of bilateral engagements with the Southern African countries, which constitute the Southern African Development Community, a Regional Economic Community (REC). Russia, as part of the then Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), supported the concerted efforts of the Frontline States and the Liberation Movements to fight against apartheid and the existential threats posed by it.

The USSR, in this regard, provided technical and military support to most of the countries that were a part of the Frontline States in order to achieve total liberation in the region. Even after the break-up of the USSR, Russia has continued to play an important role in technical assistance, economics and military support to African countries, including SADC Member States – our relationship with Russia is therefore not new, it is very valuable, and need to be sustained.

The most recent visit (2018) of the Russian Foreign Minister H.E. Sergey Lavrov, to the Republics of Angola, Ethiopia, Namibia and Zimbabwe, (as we understand it) was largely focused on signing of economic cooperation agreements to attract Russian investments in key areas such as mining, aviation and energy sectors, as well as fostering military technical cooperation.

Southern African leaders are looking for investment in infrastructure, industry and trade. How would you characterize Russia’s role in Southern Africa, comparing it among BRICS?

Investment in infrastructure, industry and trade is seen as a catalyst for regional integration, economic growth, and sustainable development. In this regard, SADC welcomes investors from all over the world.  It is worth noting that one of the BRICS countries, South Africa, is a SADC Member State. Any comparison will therefore be limited to the other BRICS countries – namely Brazil, India and China.

While Russia as part of the then Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) supported SADC Frontline States and the Liberation Movements, a few years ago, it has not been that visible in the region as compared to China, India or Brazil. It is encouraging that, of recent, Russia has positioned herself to be a major partner with Southern Africa and being part of the BRICS promotes her engagement with the region, particularly in investment in minerals, aviation, defense and energy sectors.

Russia has also launched an Africa business forum, aimed at improving direct trade with the continent/region beyond the traditional sectors like mining, seeking to invest in areas like agriculture, industrial production, high technology and transport. The upcoming Russia and SADC Investment Forum that is to take place on 23 October 2018 in Russia, also seeks to provide an opportunity for businesses and partnerships.

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has reiterated during his last African tour that Russia’s preferred focus is on Russia-SADC in its diplomacy in Africa. Why is SADC region considered a strategic region for Russia?

We cannot obviously speak for Russia, but we could give you a general overview of why international partners and investors would consider SADC an attractive or strategic investment partner.

There are a number of inter-related factors for this, the first being peace and stability: The SADC region is peaceful and stable. A peaceful and stable environment is attractive to investors as it fosters confidence by assurance of longevity, property rights and fundamental freedoms, which underpin economic rights. Peace in SADC is sustained through cooperation between the 16 Member States of SADC as espoused in the SADC Treaty, and in particular, the Protocol on Politics, Defense and Security Cooperation whose general objective is to promote peace and security in the Region.

The Founding Fathers of SADC had long recognized that the region could remain stable by fostering common political values, building legitimate democratic institutions and mechanisms to sustain peace as a pre-requisite for regional integration and prosperity.

Secondly, is the integrated market resulting from a combined population of approximately 327 million people, and a collective GDP of US$ 600 billion (2016), which is supported by generally favorable weather conditions in most parts of the region.

Thirdly, the region has abundant natural resources ranging from vast energy resources, arable land and forestry; to precious minerals such as diamonds, gold, platinum, copper, cobalt, oil, and natural gas to mention but a few. These are vital for the global economy and strategic partnership.

Notwithstanding, the above mentioned comparative advantages, the region has relatively under-developed human capabilities and infrastructure, which are essential for bolstering the region’s efforts to exploit and maximize benefits from these natural resources. Hence, the need for the region to cooperate with external partners, such as Russia, which has advanced technologies and capacities that could be transferred to the region. A peaceful and stable environment surely presents a ‘strategic’ imperative as well.

Russian Federation’s priorities are also in line with SADC priorities as evidenced by the priorities of the Foreign Economic Strategy in the region as indicated below:

  • Prospecting, mining, oil, construction and mining, purchasing gas, oil, uranium, and bauxite assets (Angola, Namibia and South Africa);
  • Construction of power facilities—hydroelectric power plants on the River Congo (Angola, Namibia and Zambia,) and nuclear power plants (South Africa);
  • Creating a floating nuclear power plant, and South African participation in the international project to build a nuclear enrichment centre in Russia;
  • Railway Construction (Angola);
  • Creation of Russian trade houses for the promotion and maintenance of Russian engineering products (South Africa).
  • Participation of Russian companies in the privatization of industrial assets, including those created with technical assistance from the former Soviet Union (Angola).

In your estimation, what is the level of Russia’s engagement with SADC region?

Russia and SADC Member States have had long-standing bilateral partnership for development for decades, providing substantial results in the priority areas of cooperation. Through such significant historical ties, the peoples of SADC and of Russia have strengthened friendship and mutual understanding for developing comprehensive, equitable and fruitful cooperation.

The ten (10) SADC Member States represented in the Russian Federation, namely: Angola, Democratic Republic of Congo, Madagascar, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe provide an extensive representation for engagement.

At the regional level, SADC and Russia are expected to sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on Basic Principles of Relations and Cooperation on 23rd October 2018, in the following areas, among others, Technical Cooperation and Assistance; Capacity Building; Peace, Security, Conflict Prevention and Resolution; Preventive Diplomacy; Trade, Industry, Finance and Investment; Infrastructure Development, and Energy; Information Communication Technology (ICT); Transport, Communications and Meteorology; Water, Agriculture, Ocean Economy, Food Security; Minerals, Natural Resources and Protection of the Environment; Education and Science; Healthcare; Technology and Innovation; and Culture, Tourism and Information Exchange. In addition, a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) in the area of Military – Technical Cooperation, with the aim of promoting cooperation between the Parties in regional and international peace and security was signed in July, 2018.

Outcomes of Russian Foreign Minister’s March 2018 visit to some SADC Member States

In March 2018, the Russian Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov, visited the Southern Africa region where he held talks with the Presidents of Angola, Namibia, Mozambique and Zimbabwe. In his statement, the Minister noted that Russia together with Africa wanted to elevate trade, economic and investment relations to a level that would meet political and trust-based relations.

It is our considered view that the bilateral engagements served to strengthen the already existing ties, coming up with win–win bilateral cooperation between Russia and these Member States. This will be augmented by the two Memorandum of Understanding: MOU in the area of Military–Technical Cooperation, that is to promote cooperation between the Parties that was signed in July, 2018, and MoU on Basic Principles of Relations and Cooperation to be signed on 23rd October 2018.

What challenges and setbacks, in your view, still remain to get both parties (Russia and Southern Africa) towards result-oriented and effectively closer in their post-Soviet economic cooperation?

SADC works closely with the International Cooperating Partners (ICPs) in achieving its developmental results. As such, SADC’s cooperation with the ICPs is guided by the principles of partnership and commitments. Both SADC and Russia value their adherence to the aims and principles of the United Nations Charter, seeking to contribute to the establishment of a democratic and just world order and to strengthen regional and inter-regional ties to ensure peace, stability, socio-economic development, and mutual confidence.

In view of the above, the thrust for SADC-Russia Cooperation shall be aligned with global, continental, regional, and national policies. By so doing, both sides will be able to contribute and create favourable conditions for socio-economic development, cooperation, and mutual confidence.

Soft power and public diplomacy are largely or significantly not in Russia’s engagement with Southern Africa. What are your objective views on these issues?

If you follow the history of Russia’s engagement with Africa, and Southern Africa in particular, from the days of the USSR to the present, one is likely to find that Public Diplomacy by Russia has encompassed many forms. These have included, educational programs, cultural exchanges, scholarly visitor programs, and of course, the use of media to cover and project issues on Africa from a Russian perspective. These are all instruments and forms of public diplomacy, which would ordinarily have the effect of reaching audiences on our continent and beyond, and impacting positively on what Russia has to offer the world. In the same vein, this can be seen as a form of “soft power” as its aim is to appeal and attract partners rather than coerce them into a relationship of one form or the other.

Arguably, do you think intermediaries will be required, for example, the private equity and commodity trading communities to play a supportive role in forging business links between Russia and Southern Africa?

Like most of the developing countries, Southern African countries have, over the years, largely relied on multilateral and regional development financial institutions to fund their development projects. However, given the huge demand for resources, policy makers have realised that these cannot be met solely from these traditional sources, and therefore, the need to explore alternative and innovative sources of funding. Private equity and commodity trading exchanges can play a critical role in mobilising resources mostly from the private sector to fund projects in the Southern African countries.

For the region to realise its enormous potential, it needs the support of the next generation of financial instruments and intermediaries to capitalise on opportunities, navigate challenges, and build the businesses and economies, that will enable the continent to thrive. Private equity could become a major force for accelerating growth in African countries. While regional penetration is low, smaller markets and modest penetration create significant potential for high risk-adjusted returns. Major growth sectors are: natural resources, transportation, energy, real estate, fintech, healthcare and hospitality. Many private equity funds are nurturing the requisite skills and experience to invest, grow and add value to portfolio/innovative companies.

Similarly, the establishment of commodity trading exchanges can play a critical role in boosting the region’s economic development. Successful securities exchanges all over the world are key to the economic development, providing the most efficient channel for savers (domestic and foreign) to channel funds into long-term productive enterprises, creating growth and increased prosperity. Since the region has a comparative advantage in the vast natural resources sector, and in line with SADC objective of developing and adding value and beneficiation concept, the setting of the commodities trading exchanges present attractive growth opportunities.

In this context, SADC has already undertaken initiatives to develop the interconnectivity project whereby the aim is to link the SADC stock exchanges, and to encourage cross border trading of shares/stocks. Efforts are also being made to improve the operational, regulatory and technical requirement underpinnings and capabilities of the region’s exchanges to make the securities markets more attractive to both regional and international investors.

The region remains a top destination for investment as its attractiveness to investment has risen dramatically over the last several years, and this should continue to present attractive growth opportunities for private equity for the foreseeable future. Private equity represents a new source of capital, complementing traditional sources and project finance, with private equity investors offering more than just funds, but also the needed skills. All said, there are positive directions in the relationship, we look for a bright future.

MD Africa Editor 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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African Union’s Inaction on Ethiopia Deplorable – Open Letter

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The crisis in northern Ethiopia has resulted in millions of people in need of emergency assistance and protection. © UNICEF/Christine Nesbitt

A group of African intellectuals says in an open letter that it is appalled and dismayed by the steadily deteriorating situation in Ethiopia. The letter, signed by 58 people, says the African Union’s lack of effective engagement in the crisis is deplorable. The letter calls on regional bloc IGAD and the AU to “proactively take up their mandates with respect to providing mediation for the protagonists to this conflict”.

The letter also asks for “all possible political support” for the AU’s Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa, Olusegun Obasanjo, whose appointment was announced on August 26, 2021. A United Nations Security Council meeting on the same day welcomed the former Nigerian president’s appointment.

Earlier in August 2021, UN  chief Antonio Guterres appealed for a ceasefire, unrestricted aid access and an Ethiopian-led political dialogue. He told the council these steps were essential to preserve Ethiopia’s unity and the stability of the region and to ease the humanitarian crisis. He said that he had been in close contact with Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and had received a letter from the leader of the Tigray region in response to his appeal. “The UN is ready to work together with the African Union and other key partners to support such a dialogue,” he said.

August 26, 2021 was only the second time during the conflict that the council held a public meeting to discuss the situation. Britain, Estonia, France, Ireland, Norway and the United States requested the session.

Fighting between the national government and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front broke out in November 2020, leaving millions facing emergency or crisis levels of food insecurity, according to the United Nations. Both sides have been accused of atrocities.

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Africa: The G20 Must Recommit to Covax

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It is one year since the international community gave its backing to the COVID-19 Vaccine Global Access (COVAX) facility to lead a worldwide effort to end the acute phase of the pandemic. The initiative aimed to ensure that every country, and not just those with sufficient money or resources, could access life-saving vaccines once they became available. As G20 health ministers prepare to meet in Rome on September 5-6, they are in a position to ensure that COVAX fulfills its mission.

A year ago, no one knew when or even if it might be possible to develop a safe and effective vaccine against COVID-19, let alone the 20 that are available today. But since making its first international deliveries in February, COVAX a partnership established by the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, the World Health Organization, UNICEF, and Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance has delivered more than 235 million vaccine doses to 139 countries, and expects to deliver another billion doses in the fourth quarter. Only China, India, and the United States have delivered more. This start to the largest and most complex vaccine rollout in history has given hope to millions of people and laid solid foundations for how we respond to future pandemics.

Yet, so much more could, and should, have been achieved by now. It is unacceptable that only 1.8% of people in low-income countries have received their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, compared to 82% in high- and upper-middle-income countries. This shocking inequality is as economically senseless as it is destructive to human life, with the latest estimate of the cost of the slow rollout amounting to $2.3 trillion.

The world was woefully unprepared for a pandemic, and this is reflected in the challenges COVAX has faced. By the time initial funding arrived, wealthy countries had already locked up early vaccine supplies. Export bans affecting key suppliers, and difficulties experienced by many manufacturers in scaling up production to the required level, also undermined COVAX’s ability to access doses early.

Given increasing global vaccine inequity and the rise of new, more contagious coronavirus variants, we must put these challenges behind us. Thanks to the support of almost all G20 governments, alongside that of foundations and private businesses, COVAX has now raised nearly $10 billion and secured more than 600 million donated doses. All the preparations are in place for the most comprehensive vaccination effort that the world has seen.

Based on the committed orders COVAX has placed with vaccine manufacturers and the additional donations, hundreds of millions of new doses should now be available each month. We need to make sure they reach poorer countries and get into people’s arms. To avoid further delays, and for the facility to succeed, we need support from G20 leaders in four key areas.

First, we need doses, and we need them now. The premise of COVAX was always that the facility should be able to negotiate and buy its own doses. With our early vaccine access compromised, donations have played a vital role in maintaining our ability to keep doses flowing to those most in need. Of the 600 million doses pledged to COVAX to date, 100 million have now been delivered. We need more, and soon, with longer shelf lives and greater certainty so that recipient countries have time to plan their rollout. This can be achieved without jeopardizing high-income countries’ national vaccination efforts.

We also need G20 leaders to support our call for transparency. COVAX has legally binding agreements with manufacturers for more than four billion doses, but has all too often faced delays in accessing them. Without greater clarity regarding firms’ order books, it is impossible to know whether these holdups are due to production challenges or preferential treatment for bilateral arrangements. Insisting that manufacturers are transparent about their order timelines can ensure a level playing field where no one particularly those living in developing countries gets bumped to the back of the vaccine queue because of another bilateral deal.

In addition to ensuring that manufacturers keep their commitment to COVAX, governments should make global vaccine access their highest priority. Countries with pending orders for doses that they currently do not need should allow COVAX to take their place in the queue so that we can get doses to needy countries now.

Finally, lower-income countries require continued financial and technical support for their COVID-19 vaccine rollouts. Strengthening national health systems will help these countries to ensure delivery of doses and mitigate the pandemic’s secondary effects, and will leave in place infrastructure critical to future global health security.

By recommitting to COVAX, G20 leaders will recommit to a multilateral solution that builds on the astounding scientific progress of the past year. Based on COVAX’s latest forthcoming supply forecast, when topped up with doses through bilateral deals, equitable COVID-19 vaccine access can protect up to 60% of the adult population in 91 lower-income countries. This would represent a huge step toward the WHO target of 70%, which is needed to suppress the coronavirus everywhere, and COVAX represents the best opportunity to achieve it.

Failure would mean more lives lost, broken health-care systems, even deadlier and more transmissible variants, and a pandemic with no end in sight. The G20 must not allow that to be an option.

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More African Countries Register Russia’s Sputnik Vaccine

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Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) is a specialized technical institution of the African Union (AU) that strengthens the capacity and capability of Africa’s public health institutions as well as partnerships to detect and respond quickly and effectively to disease threats and outbreaks, based on data-driven interventions and programmes.

During the outbreak of the coronavirus, the African Vaccine Acquisition Task Team (AVATT), was established by African Union, as a component in support of the Africa Vaccine Strategy and was endorsed by the AU Bureau of Heads of State and Government on 20th of August 2020.

Dr John Nkengasong, Director of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC), has emphasized: “Africa has to team up with development partners to achieve its 60% continent-wide vaccination in the next two years. I think that is why we should as a collective of the continent, and of course, in partnership with the developed world make sure that Africa has a timely access to vaccines to meet our vaccination targets.”

An official media release in February 2021, the Africa Vaccine Acquisition Task Team from the African Union (AU) informed that Russia would supply and deliver 300 million Sputnik V vaccines to Africa. That step was intended to support African countries to attain their targeted immunization of 60% of the population by the year-end. That vaccine story disappeared, but instead what become so common is the speedy registration of Sputnik V on bilateral basis in various African countries.

According to the latest, Nigeria has become the 68th country in the world to approve the Russian vaccine. The use of the Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine has been approved in Nigeria, the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF) said in an official statement.

“The Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF, Russia’s sovereign wealth fund) announces the approval of the Russian Sputnik V vaccine against coronavirus by the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control of Nigeria (NAFDAC). Nigeria has become the 68th country in the world to approve the Russian vaccine. Total population of all countries, where Sputnik V is approved for use, now exceeds 3.7 billion people, which is nearly half of the global population,” the statement said.

“Nigeria is the most populous nation in Africa, and the approval of Sputnik V will provide for using one of the safest and most effective vaccines in the world. Sputnik V is based on a proven human adenoviral vectors platform and is successfully used in over 50 countries. Approval in Nigeria will make an important contribution to the country’s fight against the pandemic,” CEO of the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF) Kirill Dmitriev said.

Besides Nigeria, other African countries have registered Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine. Reportedly, the vaccine has been registered in Algeria, Angola, Djibouti, Egypt, Gabon, Ghana, Guinea, Kenya, Morocco, Namibia, Tunisia, the Republic of Congo (DRC) and Zimbabwe.

Russia’s drive to share Sputnik V vaccine, of course, offers a chance to raise its image and strengthen alliances in Africa. Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation has made efforts promoting the vaccine using all its channels. But supply and delivery have largely lagged behind, the pledges have simply not been fulfilled. Russian authorities have oftentimes said that they would step up efforts for fruitful cooperation in combating coronavirus in Africa.

Promising more than can be delivered appears to be a universal problem with coronavirus vaccines, and it is a real risk for Russia as well, said Theresa Fallon, Director of the Brussels-based Centre for Russia Europe Asia Studies. “They have won the gold medal for creating this very effective vaccine,” she said. “But the problem is how are they going to implement production and delivery?”

Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF), with profit motivation, has attempted supplying the Russian vaccines through, Sheikh Ahmed Dalmook Al Maktoum, from the Monarch family and a third party in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, to a number of African countries. For instance, the Republic of Ghana reportedly signed US$64.6 million contract for Sputnik V vaccine from Russia through Sheikh Ahmed Dalmook Al Maktoum. It was double the price from the producer as reported in the media.

On the other hand, Russian President Vladimir Putin has noted, in a speech early September, that advanced countries that produce vaccines against the coronavirus do little to protect humanity from the pandemic.

“The benefits of vaccination are enjoyed mostly by advanced economies. The bulk of the vaccines is made there, and it is used to protect their own population. But very little is being done to protect humanity in the broad sense,” Putin said at the plenary session of the Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok, the Far East of Russia. “This is very bad for the producers, because all this boomerangs around the globe. For instance, in Africa the level of protection with vaccines is minimal, but contacts with the African countries continue. There is no getting away from this. This infection will return again and again.”

According to an official release obtained late February, the Sputnik V vaccine the following advantages:

• Efficacy of Sputnik V is 91.6% as confirmed by the data published in the Lancet, one of the world’s oldest and most respected medical journals; It is one of only three vaccines in the world with efficacy of over 90%; Sputnik V provides full protection against severe cases of COVID-19. 

• The Sputnik V vaccine is based on a proven and well-studied platform of human adenoviral vectors, which cause the common cold and have been around for thousands of years. 

• Sputnik V uses two different vectors for the two shots in a course of vaccination, providing immunity with a longer duration than vaccines using the same delivery mechanism for both shots. 

• The safety, efficacy and lack of negative long-term effects of adenoviral vaccines have been proven by more than 250 clinical studies over two decades. 

• The developers of the Sputnik V vaccine are working collaboratively with AstraZeneca on a joint clinical trial to improve the efficacy of AstraZeneca vaccine. 

• There are no strong allergies caused by Sputnik V. 

• The price of Sputnik V is less than $10 per shot, making it affordable around the world. 

In February, peer-reviewed medical journal The Lancet published an analysis from Phase III clinical trial of the Russian vaccine, showing its 91.6-percent efficacy against symptomatic COVID-19. The Sputnik V vaccine was developed by the Gamaleya Research Institute of Epidemiology and Microbiology.

Sputnik V was registered in Russia on August 11, 2020 as the world’s first officially registered coronavirus vaccine. Russian vaccines have advantages as no deaths have been reported after vaccination with the Sputnik V, Alexander Gintsburg, Director of the Gamaleya Center, the vaccine developer, said and was reported by TASS News Agency. “As of today, no deaths after vaccination with Sputnik V have been registered,” he said.

Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF) is Russia’s sovereign wealth fund established in 2011 to make equity co-investments, primarily in Russia, alongside reputable international financial and strategic investors. RDIF acts as a catalyst for direct investment in the Russian economy. RDIF’s management is based in Moscow.

In Africa, during first of September, the coronavirus-related death toll has topped 196,190, while more than 6.9 million recoveries have been reported. South Africa accounts for a majority of coronavirus cases and deaths across Africa – 2,777,659 and 82,261 respectively. The death toll in Tunisia climbed to 23,451, and 664,034 cases have been confirmed. Egypt recorded 16,736 deaths and 288,441 coronavirus cases.

In Sub-Saharan Africa, Ethiopia is ranked second to South Africa (308,134 cases and 4,675 deaths) and is followed by Kenya (235,863 cases and 4,726 deaths) and Nigeria (191,805 and 2,455). The total number of COVID-19 cases has reached almost 8 million in Africa, according to the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Regional Office for Africa.

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