Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma and AU under fire for ‘slow’ Ebola response

2014-10-26 16:00

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African Union Commission chairperson Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma this week embarked on a very public tour of three countries affected by the Ebola crisis, amid criticism of the AU’s slow response.

Even though the epidemic was declared in Guinea seven months ago, it is the first time that Dlamini-Zuma, herself a medical doctor, has embarked on such a mission.

There is unhappiness with the way she has been doing her work, a source with close links to the AU said.

“Critics in the AU have been saying it is time [for Dlamini-Zuma] to redeem herself,” the source said.

Dlamini-Zuma has been slow to respond, among other things, to security crises on the continent, preferring instead to focus on the development and anti-poverty work done by the continental body.

“Many of us supported her election, so we are trying to make the best of it, but it doesn’t look like she will get a second term,” the source said.

Dlamini-Zuma, whose term at the AU ends in 2016, is punted as a possible – and very popular – candidate to succeed her ex-husband President Jacob Zuma as ANC president in 2017.

When asked during an interview in August whether she was interested in standing for ANC president or whether she would remain at the AU, she said she hadn’t decided yet.

Dlamini-Zuma was the most popular ANC leader at the party’s conference in Mangaung in 2012, receiving more votes than Zuma to serve on the party’s national executive committee.

This week, as the official Ebola death toll was recorded as 4?877, Dlamini-Zuma visited Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Ghana.

The latter hasn’t yet recorded any Ebola cases but it plays an important role in the Ebola-affected region.

Dlamini-Zuma was accompanied by Carlos Lopes, executive secretary of the UN Economic Commission for Africa, and the president of the African Development Bank, Donald Kaberuka.

Part of the reason for the visit was to advise that harbours and airports remain open for travel and trade despite the virus, but it was also to show solidarity with the affected countries, the AU said.

The AU took a decision to send humanitarian assistance to the affected countries only on August 19, almost two weeks after the World Health Organisation declared Ebola an “international public health emergency”.

In response to questions at a panel discussion during the US-Africa Leaders Summit in Washington early in August, President Jacob Zuma said African governments had the virus under control.

Tanzanian president Jakaya Kikwete, when asked what Africa was doing about Ebola, said the epidemic was in West Africa and, contrary to perceptions, the whole continent was not suffering from the disease.

Alain Aimé Nyamitwe, Burundi’s permanent representative to the AU Commission, this week told the Institute for Security Studies’ Peace and Security Council Report online that the Ebola epidemic was shaming Africa.

“Africa is yet to be seen to take action. Where are we? We have made a decision to deploy a humanitarian mission. How many countries responded to the call?” Nyamitwe said.

Teething problems were partly to blame for the AU’s slow response.

This is the first time the AU has dispatched a humanitarian mission in terms of Article 6 of the AU Charter.

When the team of 28 health workers was finally dispatched, their efforts to reach affected countries were hampered by anti-Ebola travel restrictions imposed by AU member states – restrictions which the AU has publicly criticised.

Even though there are moves in the AU to be more self-sufficient and to find “African solutions to African problems”, its intervention team is funded largely from outside the continent.

The US has pledged $10 million (R109.3 million), the European Union $5 million and China $2 million.

While countries like the US said they would donate $1 billion in total, South Africa has so far set aside R32.5 million to fight the deadly virus inside and outside the country. It aims to raise R250 million in total from local business.

Africa’s biggest friends during the Ebola crisis

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