By Professor Robert DUSSEY
Minister for Foreign Affairs, African Integration and the Togolese Nationals Abroad, Togo
ACP Group Chief Negotiator for the post-Cotonou Agreements
The coronavirus pandemic, which has shut down the world for several weeks, challenges us, as humans, and brings us up against certain existential questions: where are we going so fast? Is humanity going to its loss or is it following its own destination? These questions, which must serve as an alarm for the human consciousness, convince us of one thing: the human experience of freedom in History, which is the theater of contrasts, can lead to the best or the worst of situations for humanity. When the worst happens, it is an ordeal, but it also constitutes an invitation for humanity to a reorientation of its existential behaviour. Generations pass, but humanity remains, and it has a duty of lucidity towards itself as the coronavirus has once again reminded us.
This pandemic has broken down national and continental borders, and the ACP tricontinental space is not immune to its sphere of extension. If the African, Caribbean and Pacific States are less affected by the Covid-19 pandemic, both in terms of contamination and mortality rate, which for the moment contradicts all the apocalyptic predictions, the impacts of the pandemic on the three regions of the Organisation of the African, Caribbean and Pacific States (OACPS) are very real and must lead the Group to develop an internal pandemic response strategy and put the human and social matters at the base of the relations with its partners.
Indeed the Member countries of the Organisation of the African, Caribbean and Pacific States, beyond national and regional specificities, have one common characteristic: vulnerability. This vulnerability is plural because it is multisectoral. The coronavirus crisis is straining very fragile health systems and putting pressure on national solidarity mechanisms and very vulnerable economies. Several countries in the Organization are already experiencing the economic impacts of the crisis. The consequences are humanly costly, socially paralyzing and economically dangerous. The economic growth, which enabled certain ACP countries to rise to the rank of middle-income countries, is today strongly brought into question. The economic crisis that covid-19 imposes on countries risks eventually tipping an even larger proportion of populations into “objective poverty” and amplifying, so to speak, the level of vulnerabilities in the three regions.
The common vulnerability condition of the ACP countries, which is an expressive sign of fundamental ontological fragility, and which they share with the entire human community on a global scale, makes them less predisposed to the response to the pandemic at operational and economic levels. However, coordinated and collective action at the ACP level and an internal response strategy could support the fight at the scale of the three regions. Following the new spirit of the recently revised Georgetown Accord and in response to current health, social and economic challenges, the group must step up its cooperation internally. The coronavirus crisis invites the ACP countries to explore their possibilities for internal cooperation, from which innovative actions can emerge. “In the beginning was the Act” (Goethe) and we must act and above all quickly, the present being “the moment of choice and action” (Simone de Beauvoir).
Fortunately, intra-ACP cooperation is at work as evidenced by the initiatives and measures taken last April by the Group in collaboration with the Pan-African Farmers Organization (PAFO) in response to the socio-economic impacts of the pandemic on the agricultural production and food supplies systems in member countries. It must be amplified on the ACP transcontinental scale and lead to a common strategy and a solid ACP coronavirus response plan. The strategy must be driven by a joint commitment to meet a common challenge in a sense of common membership and common destiny and have a substantial economic component intended to support the economic recovery of Member States. The Extraordinary Intersessional Virtual Summit of Heads of State and Government, held on June 03, 2020 on the theme “Transcending the Covid-19 Pandemic: Building Resilience through Global Solidarity” meets this requirement and it has enabled the Organization to internally harmonize pandemic response strategies and actions.
External partners support the Organisation of the ACP States in the response, as the EU has already done through the Europe-Africa-Caribbean-Pacific Liaison Committee and especially the Team Europe initiative with a budget of 20 billion Euros presented on April 8 at the launch of the European response to the coronavirus pandemic at the international level within the framework of cooperation. The extraordinary summit of June 03 was also an opportunity for the OACPS to call for more global solidarity towards its Member States during this period of crisis. In times of crisis, solidarity is what saves us.
“Nature doing nothing in vain” (E. Kant) and as dictated by historical coincidence the ongoing talks in the current context of global health crisis between the Organization of the ACP States and the EU, with a view to redefining the normative and regulatory framework of their partnership in its post-Cotonou phase, should clearly include clauses relating to pandemics and their socio-economic consequences. The human, social and health matters must be at the heart of the post-Cotonou agreements since we know that “the distribution of the benefits of world relations does not only depend on internal policies, but also on a whole range of international agreements of social nature, including trade treaties, patent law, global health initiatives, international framework for education, the ways to facilitate the dissemination of technology, ecological and environmental moderation agreements, the management of accumulated debts ”(Amartya Sen, 2012).
The shared and clearly stated ambition of the ACP States and the EU to bring the partnership into line with the global reality and the new challenges linked to human progress means that we cannot go to the signing of a new cooperation without questioning the consequences of covid-19 and their implications for the partnership. As an action, negotiations take place against a background of coronavirus that they cannot ignore. Any action, as Edgar Morin puts it, enters the “inter-retro-action game” of the context, in which it takes place and bears the imprints of such context. The question about the implications of covid-19 for the ACP-EU partnership is not without interest for the future of the partnership. Underestimating the implications of covid-19 for the ACP-EU partnership in the negotiation process would reflect a lack of imagination at odds with the ambitions of the two parties regarding human progress. The coronavirus crisis ultimately becomes a factor, which obliges us to develop the ACP-EU partnership in the direction of history.