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Kenya Shows Why China is Crucial for Covid-19 Vaccines in Africa

(The Southern African Times) – Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta has ordered his country’s Ministry of health to look towards China for a covid-19 vaccine. As reported in the country’s leading newspaper, The Star, the country had been “waiting for a vaccine to be delivered through the Covax facility”.

However, owing to the dominance of the program by western countries and America’s refusal to participate in it, the article states: “there is growing frustration because most of the western manufacturers have already sold billions of doses to rich countries in advance” and that on such a trajectory: “Kenya will not gain full access to affordable vaccines until after the rich world has vaccinated its people, probably past 2022”.

Why should Africa have to wait? And why should rich countries come first and put Africa last? China stands ready to help and make the difference. Xi Jinping has repeatedly pledged to make Africa a “priority” for the vaccine, to make it a “public good” and has set aside up to $2 billion to make this happen. In doing so, China continues its longstanding traditions of developing world solidarity and will help the continent overcome the obstacles of western elitism in its fight against covid-19, making a route out of this crisis possible.

For weeks now there has been rolling news about Pzifer, Moderna and Astrazenca vaccines, as well as bulk orders of them by governments in the west in quantities which far exceed their own population. But what about the rest of the world? What about countries who can’t afford these expensive for-profit vaccines? Or have much larger populations?

The pattern is basically this: The west are monopolizing their own vaccines first owing to their poor handling of the covid-19, leading to the world’s poorest countries being placed at the “back of the que” to receive it after everyone else by a charitable means. 

The WHO COVAX program is a great initiative in principle, but Kenya offers an African perspective on its limitations. Firstly, the United States has refused to participate in it completely as part of Trump’s “America First” initiative, and then secondly European countries who would normally play a role in assisting, are not able to help at all because of the continent’s disastrous handling of the covid-19.

The “Order” of the world is that the west state they have the “Moral obligation” to “save Africa” because they live the “superior way of life” and long assumed they “do not suffer from pandemics”. But covid-19 has changed everything and as a result, unless African countries can pay for the vaccine themselves, which is impossible to do price and logistical challenges, they are “at the back of the que”.

This is where China comes in. Beijing’s policy towards African is built upon a decades long tradition of postcolonial “developing world solidarity” which emphasizes a common heritage and cooperation against the challenges posed by the west.

This has included so far the construction of an Africa centre for disease control (CDC) headquarters and China-Africa friendship hospitals, the servicing of medical terms, personnel and resources, an acceleration of debt relief programs to help mitigate Africa’s economic struggles due to the virus and most importantly, commitments on the vaccine. In the China-Africa summit in June 17th, Xi Jinping stated: “We pledge that once the development and deployment of a COVID-19 vaccine is completed in China, African countries will be among the first to benefit”.

Although it is early days, this promise is materializing. Last week, Morocco became the first African country to procure vaccines from China and as clinical trials for CanSino, Sinopharm and Sinovac candidates come to the completion, hundreds of millions are expected to be donating to various countries across the developing world, as well as through the COVAX program.

Ultimately, China is ensuring that Africa is not being left behind and is not being forced to linger with Covid and economic depletion whilst western countries clean up their own houses and cater to the profits of big pharmacy firms. Kenya is turning to China because it recognizes that the west is ultimately, unreliable, and that Beijing will offer an affordable, economic and practical solution to getting the country back on track. Many more will follow.


Tom Fowdy is a Political Columnist for The Southern African Times. He is a British political and international relations analyst and a graduate of Durham and Oxford universities. He writes on topics pertaining to China, the DPRK, Britain, and the U.S.

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