The SI Africa Committee held a virtual session on Saturday 5 June 2021 with the participation of member parties from across the continent. Delegates addressed some of the most important issues of the day from a national, sub-regional and African perspective, focusing on continental priorities in relation to defending and strengthening democracy in the region, the impact of Covid-19 and its social and economic challenges, and overcoming conflicts and ensuring peace.
The meeting was opened by SI Secretary General Luis Ayala, who emphasised the common nature of the challenges that would be discussed during the course of the meeting and the opportunity that it presented to engage in a meaningful conversation in order to advance common positions and be a strong voice for democracy, resolving conflicts and to ensure access to vaccines for all countries of Africa. Our International has today a clear profile on the continent through the work of its members, and a record as a force for progress and development, with respect for freedoms and rights.
The chair of the committee, Bokary Treta (RPM, Mali), referred in his opening remarks to the importance of the committee as a valuable platform for exchanges. He considered that discussions from an African perspective on issues of common concern for all members was of great benefit, and underlined the need to promote multilateralism in the face of the challenges of inter-community armed conflicts, terrorism and drug trafficking. Referring to the recent coup d’état in Mali, he stressed the fundamental need to restore a solid democracy and respect for the will of the people.
At the heart of many of the contributions made was the subject of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic and its devastating impact on health, social cohesion and economic well-being. In the face of the immediate health crisis, there were unanimous calls for more equality of access to vaccines, at a time when delivery and distribution of these life-saving doses is exposing vast inequalities on an international scale, with less than 2% of the population of Africa having received a vaccination at the time of the meeting. There was enthusiastic support for the Socialist International’s stand for fair and equal access to vaccines and prevent Africa becoming marginalised. Any and all necessary measures to facilitate the rapid manufacture of vaccines for use in Africa, including waivers of intellectual property related to these vaccines would be strongly supported.
In addition to the cost in terms of human health and life, the pandemic continues to disproportionately affect the most vulnerable countries and populations in economic terms, in particular women and the poor. The potential for the economic damage of the coronavirus crisis to cause long term harm to developing economies must be addressed on a global scale, and with this in mind there were calls from a number of participants for debt relief and annulment in order to enable developing economies to allocate funds to addressing the devastation caused by the pandemic and create the conditions for the achievement of the SDGs. With Africa potentially heading for its most serious recession as a result of the pandemic, measures were also proposed to boost cooperation and bolster trade across the region with a focus on investment and sovereignty.
With regard to the conflicts and insecurity that continue to scourge multiple African countries, a number of interventions were made by those directly affected. Terrorist groups continue to destabilise many regions of the continent, with a significant presence in the Sahel. The threat was gravely underlined by reports of a terrorist massacre on the morning of the meeting on a village in northern Burkina Faso that claimed over 100 lives. This despicable act was condemned by members of the committee, who called for the international community to redouble efforts to bring stability to the Sahel.
The committee was updated on the continued crisis in Cameroon, where the SI and its member party have spoken out over several years on the need for an end to violence and respect for the rule of law. The multiple conflicts in Africa were responsible for a sense of insecurity extending beyond those countries suffering most directly, leading participants in the meeting to underline the importance of developing dialogue, democratic consent and regional collaboration to achieve the goals of our movement for peace and security, as mentioned, among others, by Senegal. The recent end to the ceasefire in Western Sahara was also a cause for concern among the attendees at the meeting, who listened to the views of representatives of the parties in Morocco and Western Sahara. The situation continues to require the full engagement and mobilisation of the United Nations and the international community to ensure that a peaceful solution is reached.
Another challenge that is central to the identity of SI member parties in Africa is the struggle to defend and strengthen democracy. In many countries, a democratic system is the result of a hard-fought struggle by member parties of the SI against colonialism, dictatorships and authoritarianism, but recent events have demonstrated that democratic gains cannot be taken for granted. Military influence over the political process remains a serious threat in many countries, a fact underlined by recent developments in Mali and Chad and the committee reiterated the importance of taking a firm stance against any attempt to seize power through military force.
Speakers equally warned of the need to remain vigilant to efforts to manipulate or undermine democracy in favour of ruling parties, and the danger that governments that come to power through free elections can then seek to deny the same opportunity to their political rivals in the future, with particular concern over recent anti-democratic developments in Ghana and Mauritius. Interventions from a South African and Namibian perspective equally underlined the importance for ruling parties to continue to grow and strengthen democracy and foster African democratic institutions to safeguard advances on a continental level. The Democratic Republic of Congo was one such country where regional support was needed for the defence and reinforcement of democracy, a viewpoint shared in Angola where a concerted strategy involving governments, the African Union and sub-regional organisations was a priority.
The difficult conditions faced by opposition parties in countries across the continent were underlined by accounts of democratic crises in Djibouti, where there had been a massive boycott of the presidential elections by the electorate, and Togo, where a political crisis was ongoing and the regime had used the pandemic as a means to achieve its ends. In Algeria, the conditions were not present to conduct snap elections scheduled for June in a safe manner, leading to a boycott by opposition parties and a loss of inclusiveness and legitimacy in the political process. Though Tunisia had seen positive change through a new constitution, democrats there needed to be vigilant and persistent in order to build democratic institutions and prevent a return to the previous system.
The perseverance of Socialist International member parties in Africa and their willingness to work towards the common aims of the organisation were in evidence throughout the meeting. Diverse views were heard and appreciated, and there was a shared resolve to advance the well-being of the people of Africa by making progress on peace and democracy, and actively working for a global response to the pandemic that takes into account the needs of Africa for fair access to vaccines and a path to economic recovery.