Jean-Jacques Cornish

COVID 19 puts a heavy burden on Cyril Ramaphosa as AU chairman

by Jean-Jacques Cornish

President Cyril Ramaphosa had his work cut out when he took on the chairmanship of the African Union this year.

He is committed to steering the continental body along its final bumpy stretch of road to the ambitious goal of silencing the Guns in 2020.

More importantly, the bean counters argue, he  has to oversee  the final implementation of the African Free Trade Agreement.

Both of these face an existential threat from COVID 19.

Silencing the guns means ending all wars, civil conflict, violence conflict, and gender-based violence on the continent.

Herculean does not being to describe this task.

Since their inception, African conflicts have gobbled up the lion’s share of United Nations peacekeeping operations.

Deploying the blue helmets currently takes up an amount approaching $8 billion a year. That is $1 billion more than the overall budget of the world organisation.

Of the 13 active UN peacekeeping operations around the planet, no fewer than seven – Western Sahara, Darfur, Central African Republic, Abyei, South Sudan, Mali and the Democratic Republic of Congo – are in Africa.

The latter is the largest and most expensive blue helmet operation, taking up 20 000 of the 100 000 UN peacekeepers deployed worldwide.

To put some perspective on this, the number of UN troops deployed in the DRC is half the number of US troops stationed in Germany.

The United States currently picks up 28% of the UN peacekeeping tab which is less than one percent of total US defense spending – about as much as Washington spends in a month on its military operation in Afghanistan.

African leaders have for a time sought to pay more for peacekeeping in their determination to give credibility to the principle of African solutions for African problems. 

The best they can manage is a 25:75 split in costs with  the UN and this has yet to be inked.

As the battle with the COVID 19 pandemic turns the G7 economies on their heads, African countries know that they will feel the cost even  more keenly.

They are having to go to the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund for money simply to feed their people.

The Bretton Woods institutions are obliged to make their assistance conditional on the recipients adhering to strict austerity policies.

Silencing the Guns and implementing an African Free Trade Agreement are undeniably desirable.

Silencing the Nevertheless AU chairman Cyril Ramaphosa will be hard pressed to convince the lenders that these projects take priority over fiscal discipline and  financing the bare necessities.  

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Jean-Jacques Cornish is a journalist and broadcaster who has been involved in the media all his adult life.

Starting as a reporter on his hometown newspaper, he moved briefly to then Rhodesia before returning to South Africa to become a parliamentary correspondent with the South African Press Association. He was sent to London as Sapa’s London editor and also served as special correspondent to the United Nations. He joined the then Argus group in London as political correspondent.

Returning to South Africa after 12 years abroad, he was assistant editor on the Pretoria News for a decade before becoming editor of the Star and SA Times for five years.

Since 1999 he’s been an independent journalist writing and broadcasting – mainly about Africa – for Talk Radio 702 and 567 Cape
Talk, Radio France International, PressTV, Radio Live New Zealand, Business Day, Mail & Guardian, the BBC, Agence France Press,
Business in Africa, Leadership, India Today, the South African Institute for International Affairs and the Institute for Security Studies.

He has hosted current affairs talk shows on Talk Radio 702 and 567 Cape Talk. He appears as an African affairs pundit on SABC Africa and CNBC Africa.
He lectured in contemporary studies to journalism students at the Tshwane University of Technology and the University of Pretoria.

He speaks on African affairs to corporate and other audiences.
He has been officially invited as a journalist to more than 30 countries. He was the winner of the 2007 SADC award for radio journalism.

He’s been a member of the EISA team observing elections in Somaliland, Democratic Republic of Congo, Madagascar, Zimbabwe, Egypt and Tunsiai.

In October 2009 he headed a group of 39 African journalists to the 60th anniversary celebrations of the Peoples’ Republic of China.

In January 2010 he joined a rescue and paramedical team to earthquake struck Haiti.

He is immediate past president of the Alliance Francaise of Pretoria.

Jean-Jacques is a director of Giant Media. The company was given access to Nelson Mandela in his retirement years until 2009.
He is co-producer of the hour-long documentary Mandela at 90 that was broadcast on BBC in January 2009.