African regional responses to COVID-19

Alfonso Medinilla, Bruce Byiers and Philomena Apiko look into regional responses to the Corona-crisis in Africa, which differ depending on a range of factors, including the organisation's institutional history and size. Although COVID-19 will surely impact regional health cooperation, its long term effects on African integration more broadly remain to be seen. 

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    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.

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