Former Prime Minister PJ Patterson is encouraging the international community to collaborate on strategies to combat the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19), and wants the African Union and Caricom in particular to urgently co-ordinate their policy approaches in the global institutions managing the crisis.
“The pandemic is just beginning to mutate in Africa where public health systems are fragile and poverty makes populations extremely vulnerable. Here, as elsewhere, people of African descent have suffered disproportionately, particularly in the United States, as minorities and migrants. Globally dispersed African peoples are seriously at risk in the Caribbean and Latin America,” Patterson said in a news release he issued last week in his capacity as statesman in residence at the PJ Patterson Centre for Africa-Caribbean Policy Advocacy.
He said to date, the response to COVID-19 has been national in focus. However, it is clear this cannot address the international spread of the virus which has killed more than 190,000 people and infected over 2.7 million worldwide since it first emerged in Wuhan, China, last December.
Patterson, 85, argued that multilateralism and the institutions which give tangible expression to the national focus on COVID-19 are now fragmented and demoralised, consequent on the failure by the most powerful country to realise that putting one’s nation first cannot ignore that we all live in a single universe.
“This epidemic in the era of globalisation requires international solution, at a time when there is now a palpable vacuum in global leadership,” said Patterson, who has gained international respect for his work in organisations such as the United Nations, Group of 77, Commonwealth, Non-Aligned Movement, African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) Group, Association of Caribbean States, and Food and Agriculture Organisation.
Patterson was also one of the leading architects of the Lom Convention between the ACP states and the European Union which was first signed in 1975.
Stating that pandemics thrive on poverty, ignorance, hunger, stress, and social inequities, Patterson argued that the peoples of African descent need to forge, through dialogue, a consensus agenda to articulate a vision of a reordered world in which their governments and regional organisations have a leadership role.
“The crisis engendered by the COVID-19 virus provides the basis for the urgent mobilisation of a transglobal coalition,” he said, adding that the Centre for Africa-Caribbean Policy Advocacy is calling for a dialogue at the level of heads of government to agree on a common agenda and initiate a programme of international cooperation among countries in Africa and its global diaspora of people of African descent.
The stated objectives of that initiative, he said, would be:
• First, to develop a menu of initiatives for cooperation to supplement the public health strategies being employed to control the impact of the COVID-19 virus.
• Second, establish an institutional dialogue to formulate strategies for effective intervention in the post-pandemic social, economic, and political recovery.
• Third, establish and maintain a voice in the design of the future post-pandemic world in a proactive and strategic manner that ensures the centrality of our interests.
The centre also urged the African Union and Caricom to:
• Attach priority to the availability of water so that the basic efforts to halt the spread of COVID-19 can be ensured.
• Extend special attention to food and the development of the agricultural sector as well as protect human rights and well-being of the poorest and most vulnerable groups and countries in this crisis.
• Place greater emphasis on the integration of science and technology in their educational systems to support online learning and employment.
• Recognise the wealth of therapeutic knowledge within their population, in the processing and use of plants for complementary medicine.
The Centre also said that while it welcomes the actions of the International Monetary Fund for the suspension of official bilateral debt payments for the poorest countries through to the end of 2020, the case is compelling for the debt cancellation to poor countries.
Additionally, the centre wants the African Union and Caricom to “lobby international financial institutions to restructure the criteria which eliminate so-called middle-income countries from debt relief”.
It also called on both groups to “renew international campaigns for reparative justice against the enslavement of African people and its residual consequences on affected populations in the African Diaspora”.
Said Patterson: The centre “holds that there is a compelling need for the African Union and Caricom to act in tandem in the international organisations to ensure that the rights and interests of the regions’ peoples, especially women, children, and persons with disabilities, are actively defended”.
He commended the prompt and pre-emptive actions taken by many countries in Africa, Asia, and the Caribbean, especially many led by women, whose actions in response to the pandemic have saved thousands of lives.
He also called on Caricom and the African Union “to actively combat global racism wherever in the world this is manifested, and to promote a deeper understanding of the historical processes that have engendered poverty and social injustice on our planet earth”.
Looking to the future, the former prime minister said the world after COVID-19 will be entirely different from the one we now know. “Trade, travel, the workplace, health control, study will never be the same. The reconfiguration of global power and the restructuring of the global economy cannot be left to the market or the dictations of a few, determined to continue to shape the future by unilateral decisions without international consultation,” he said.
“In such a dispensation, the interests of the less developed, less powerful, and most vulnerable will not be taken into account unless we take the decision to make our collective voices heard and our interests reflected in the new world order,” Patterson added.
He expressed the centre’s profound sympathy and condolence to the families of the people killed by the virus, including those of deceased front line staff in medical and emergency services worldwide.
“We commend and encourage continued co-ordination of health protocols to combat the virus across the African continent by the African Union and ministries and National Centres for Disease Control and Prevention supported by the World Health Organization. This coincides with a similar process taking place in the Caribbean Community, with the involvement of Caricom presidents, prime ministers, and ministers of health in advancing protocols to mitigate and control COVID-19,” Patterson said.
He also applauded the “generosity of the Government and people of Cuba in sending hundreds of doctors, nurses, and other health experts to countries in Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, and Italy to be on the front line in their fight against COVID-19.
“Cuba’s sustained training of its medical and technical personnel and those of other countries, and its scientific research in developing medicines, have enabled it to provide invaluable support to many other countries around the world,” added Patterson.
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