The novel coronavirus has set back Africa’s development aspirations as resources meant for development are channeled to fight the pandemic, the African Union (AU) chairperson and South African leader told the United Nations Tuesday.  

“The resources we have had to redirect to fighting the pandemic has set back our efforts to provide housing, health care, water sanitation and education to our people,” Cyril Ramaphosa said in his capacity as AU chairperson during the General Debate of the 75th session of the UN General Assembly. 

Ramaphosa called on the international community to support the rollout of a comprehensive stimulus package for African countries in the fight against COVID-19 and after the pandemic is over.

“This will enable African countries to not only mitigate the health impacts of COVID-19 but to aid us in the immense task of rebuilding our shattered economies,” he said.  

Lift sanctions 

Ramaphosa also said to ensure that no country is left behind the African Union calls for the lifting of economic sanctions against Zimbabwe and Sudan to allow their governments to respond adequately to the fight against COVID-19. 

The US has sanctions imposed on Sudan, accusing it of sponsoring terrorism, while Zimbabwe was sanctioned for rights abuses and irregular elections during the leadership of the late President Robert Mugabe. 

As a result of the sanctions, the two African countries cannot access much-needed aid to fight COVID-19 and purchase medical supplies. 

More than 1.4 million people have been infected with COVID-19 in Africa and 34,072 have died. 

The African Union leader also called for the suspension of interest payments on Africa’s external and public debt. 

“As the African Union we are encouraged by the collaboration of the G20, the IMF, the World Bank and the UN towards finding solutions to debt sustainability in developing countries.” 

He said the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the urgency with which global leaders must strive to meet all the Sustainable Development Goals, but more importantly Goal 1 to end poverty in all its forms across the global. 

“For until we eradicate global poverty, we will always fall short of realizing the vision of the founders of the United Nations,” he said, adding that leaders must expand economic opportunities to all people around the world, but most especially to the young, to women and to the vulnerable people in the world. 

“We must boldly pursue avenues of redistribution and redress as a means of advancing shared prosperity,” he said. 

Ramaphosa also said global leaders must deal decisively with the rot of corruption that is robbing people of the opportunities and services that are their right. 

“Together, we must raise our level of ambition to ensure that every man, every woman and every child has an equal chance at a better future. It is a future free of hunger, disease, insecurity and war,’’ he added. 

He also called for a world that affirms the dignity and worth of all, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, religious affiliation or social circumstances.

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