African regional responses to COVID-19
There is widespread recognition that the novel coronavirus is a global challenge. In order to contain the virus and address its devastating secondary effects, global collective action will be needed. While the immediate responses in Africa were very much led by national governments, as elsewhere in the world, a key question is whether and how regional responses, and regional organisations, have been able to help address the above challenges and thus their role in the recovery.
COVID-19 has firmly set foot on the African continent, affecting all African countries. Any failure to contain the virus in one country ultimately threatens the safety of others. This ‘weakest link’ characteristic calls for a coordinated response across countries. Yet, the volume of analysis of international and national responses stands in contrast to what has been written or discussed about regional responses, particularly in Africa.
This note summarises and reflects on the different roles played by the African Union and a sample of the continent’s regional organisations in shaping collective, coordinated regional responses. It finds that the AU has played an effective role in communicating about and shaping African responses, with technical legitimacy provided through the Africa CDC. The AU has also been able to inspire collective action in a unified call for international solidarity.
At the regional level, responses reflect a spectrum of cooperation and complexity – rising from information sharing; to ‘nudging’ and guiding; to active coordination of state responses, to collective action. Different RECs are managing to operate at different levels, depending on their regional and institutional histories, structural features such as the size and coherence of the REC, as well as the political economy dynamics of the countries in its region. Existing regional response capabilities also partially reflect a problem-driven response to the past West African Ebola crisis.
One can expect that the COVID-19 crisis will have a similar effect on regional health cooperation, yet its long term impact on African integration more broadly remains to be seen.
This ECDPM Discussion Paper was prepared by Alfonso Medinilla, Bruce Byiers and Philomena Apiko. The views expressed herein are those of the authors.