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Malawi after a bitterly contested election and COVID-19

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Malawi’s new president Dr. Lazarus Chakwera

As a sign of accountability Malawi’s new president Dr. Lazarus Chakwera promised to declare his assets perennially during his swearing-in ceremony on July 6, 2020. Keeping his promise, the newly elected president declared his assets and property. This ground-breaking development follows the agenda of the ruling Tonse Alliance (TA) government to operationalize an easy access to information (ATI) act and initialize an effective way to curb corruption and end endemic government mismanagement of meager resources that has crippled the nation’s economy for years.

In February 2017, the outgoing president Peter Mutharika approved of the act to be passed into a law. However, the public did not witness the fruits of the development as operationalization date of the act was left undisclosed.

Tonse alliance’s campaign Promises

During the 2020 election re-run campaign the Tonse Alliance focused primarily on three pillars that included, curbing corruption, creating one million jobs and providing cheap farm inputs to boost agriculture.

President Chakwera’s declaration of his assets could not have come at a better time considering the wave of rage caused by his cabinet appointees. It seems to slowly restore the lost confidence in the president’s choice of Cabinet which faced harsh criticism from both the alliance’s supporters and the opposition.“This is the most incestuous cabinet since 1994”, said one of the local Law experts describing the 31member cabinet comprising seven individuals that are closely related.

In an interview with the South African Broadcasting Cooperation, SABC, a South African based broadcaster, the President defended the cabinet appointees citing that it was based on merit and track record to deliver to the people of Malawi and being a government of service to the people. Moreover, he gave the ministers a grace period of five months to prove themselves on given guidelines in their respective ministries or get sacked if otherwise.

Furthermore, government parastatals are on the forefront in cleansing corrupt individuals that were involved in plundering public resources through dubious contracts in the previous regime. Indeed, the vice president, who is also the minister of Economic planning and development has been on tour around the country meeting the board of parastatals to discuss reform proposals and deadlines to deliver.

On a promise to provide cheap farm inputs especially fertilizer to smallholder farmers, about 3.5million identified farmers are yet to benefit from the subsidy, said Felix Mlusu the new minister of finance. During the campaign, Tonse alliance promised to reduce fertilizer tofour thousand four hundred and ninety-five Malawi Kwacha (MWK4,495) an equivalent of $6 as one way of ensuring food security in the country and moving beyond subsistence to commercialization of agriculture.

Combating Covid-19

On 3 February,2020 the WHO finalized its Strategic Preparedness and Response Plan (SPRP) with the purpose of increasing the capacity to detect the novel Corona virus that struck the whole world by storm. Meanwhile the Supreme Court in Malawi released a 500-page landmark ruling after 3months of court hearing on the May 2019 Presidential election case.

A court ruling that came by surprise on the continent of Africa, however, ignited joy in the heart of Malawians and the continent at large.

Wave of campaign rallies across the country commenced prior to the historical election re-run that was due in 150 days of supreme court ruling. Malawi did not have any Covid-19 registered case until April 3, 2020 but with the rallies across the country it was just a matter of time until a surge in covid-19 cases emerge.

For the people of Malawi, the historic election re-run was a fight to restore democracy that even a pandemic disturbing as covid-19 could not hamper. This however laid a foundation to a much tough job in a fight against the pandemic for the side that would emerge victorious from the election polls.

As of 8, August 2020 Malawi has recorded 4,624 confirmed cases and 2,429 recoveries indicating a 50% recovery rate and so far, 143people have succumbed to the pandemic. The country is still registering over 100 cases per day which serves as a one of the major concerns for the 18million populated South-Eastern African nation.

Moreover, tests conducted in 14 labs stationed across the country are done mainly for suspected cases due to limited testing kits.

As of 1 May2020, Malawi has received SDR66.44 million (USD91million) from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) under the Rapid Credit Facility (RCF) to help cushion against pandemic.

Presidential task force on Covid-19 has given outlines on measure in containing the pandemic but a full Lockdown like that of developed nations is totally out of the picture. According to U.N. stats, Malawi has 70% of its population below the poverty line.

An attempted lockdown by the previous regime received criticism including a court injunction on the basis of poor planning and a sound socio-economic buffer to protect the poor.

Measures include mandatory wearing of masks, closure of bars and cancelation of public gatherings including Churches and Mosques if otherwise could jeopardize the fight against the pandemic.

Moreover, the presidential taskforce chairperson, John Phuka, has communicated that they are in contact with local mask manufacturers to produce enough mask for the population and provide for those who cannot afford to purchase them.

Will Malawians witness the change they needed?

Since independence Malawi has had five presidents and is yet to witness a new regime of the sixth president since then. In search of a transformational leader Malawians have been promised development of Singapore, Germany and even USA status in ambitious campaigns to accumulate votes. In a bizzare campaign promise the electorate were even promised shoes and good living standards with no blueprint of how such visions will be achieved – a parody that symbolizes Malawi’s long-list election promises that never materialize.

After a month and a few days in office the Tonse Alliance government has been working to serve and impress the Malawians that are watching with an Eagle’s eye than ever before.

The new government will have to make sure that public resources are used effectively, ensure food security and provide the one million plus jobs they promised to Malawians or face ‘eviction’ from office come 2025 elections.

Mustapher Faque is a Malawian graduate student at Ibn Haldun University’s Financial Economics department, Istanbul, Turkey. He writes about politics, society and economy in Malawi and Southern Africa.

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Africa

Money seized from Equatorial Guinea VP Goes into Vaccine

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As a classic precedence, the Justice Department of the United States has decided that $26.6m (£20m) seized from Equatorial Guinea’s Vice-President Teodorin Nguema Obiang Mangue be used on purchasing COVID-19 vaccines and other essential medical programmes in Equitorial Guinea, located on the west coast of central Africa.

“Wherever possible, kleptocrats will not be allowed to retain the benefits of corruption,” an official said in a statement, and reported by British Broadcasting Corporation.

Obiang was forced to sell a mansion in Malibu, California, a Ferrari and various Michael Jackson memorabilia as part of a settlement he reached with the US authorities in 2014 after being accused of corruption and money-laundering. He denied the charges.

The agreement stated that $10.3m of the money from the sale would be forfeited to the US and the rest would be distributed to a charity or other organisation for the benefit of the people of Equatorial Guinea, the Justice Department said.

The UN is to receive $19.25m to purchase and administer COVID-19 vaccines to at least 600,000 people in Equatorial Guinea, while a US-based charity is to get $6.35m for other medical programmes in Equatorial Guinea.

Teodorin Nguema has been working in position as Vice-President since 2012, before that he held numerous government positions, including Minister of Agriculture and Forestry. Known for his unquestionable lavish lifestyle, he has been the subject of a number of international criminal charges and sanctions for alleged embezzlement and corruption. He has a fleet of branded cars and a number of houses, and two houses alone in South Africa,

Teodorin Nguema has often drawn criticisms in the international media for lavish spending, while majority of the estimated 1.5 million population wallows in abject poverty. Subsistence farming predominates, with shabby infrastructure in the country. Equatorial Guinea consists of two parts, an insular and a mainland region. Equatorial Guinea is the third-largest oil producer in sub-Saharan Africa.

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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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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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