Ramaphosa slams West for 'vaccine apartheid' and travel bans, while EU cautions against 'dramatic statements'

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  • President Cyril Ramaphosa says the US and EU calls Africa their partners, but don't follow science in relation to travel restrictions.
  • European Council president Charles Michel says there is no discrimination against Africa.
  • He did not make any commitment to end the travel bans, despite pleas by Ramaphosa.

While President Cyril Ramaphosa has made an impassioned plea to end the travel bans imposed by Western countries on South Africa during a conference in Dakar on Monday, the European Council president Charles Michel would not make any commitment on whether they will reconsider their stance on the matter. 

The latter went as far as inferring that the assertion that the EU was imposing vaccine and travel apartheid against Africa was an exaggeration. 

Speaking during the opening to the 7th Dakar Peace Forum, Ramaphosa questioned where the science was in the decision to ban travel from southern Africa. 

READ | EU to consider easing Omicron travel curbs on southern Africa

"Another disappointment thrown our way, when South African scientists discovered omicron, the new variant, they immediately took on the responsibility of informing the entire world that a new variant has been found," Ramaphosa said, adding:

And what was the response? The northern countries decided to punish the excellence from Africa. They basically said, we will not allow you to travel. Low and behold! Omicron is spreading all over the world.

Senegalese President Mackay Sall, in his opening address at the conference, warned that Western nations were risking countries withholding information on Covid-19 out of fear of possible repercussions.

Ramaphosa reasserted the message during his West African tour that the travel bans had little to do with science.

"You ask yourself, where is science. They always said to us, base your decisions in science, but when the moment comes for them to be more scientific they are not."

READ | Omicron variant: Rwanda first sub-Saharan country to ban flights to SA

Ramaphosa doubled down in his fight for vaccine equity - a position he has held since the onset of the pandemic. 

"I have personally really been disappointed in the approach the rich countries have taken on the issue of vaccines. They hoarded vaccines, they ordered more vaccines than their populations require.

"They are just giving us the crumbs from their table. The greed they demonstrated was disappointing, particularly when they say they are our partners. Because our lives in Africa are just as important as lives in Europe, North America and all over."

But Michel vehemently denied the existence of a vaccine apartheid. He said the EU had been looking at ways to assist Africa with vaccine rollouts and sharing. 

South African president Cyril Ramaphosa listens on
Cyril Ramaphosa during the opening of the 7th edition of the Dakar International Forum on Peace and Security on Monday.

Michel said the references to a "vaccine apartheid" - which Ramaphosa had mentioned - were "dramatic statements".

Referencing the EU’s efforts to support Covax, Michel said there was no discrimination against Africa. "We have to build capacity on vaccines so there’s no discrimination in the future."

Michel called on African leaders to assist in the formulation of a treaty to prevent further discrimination.

READ | Omicron: New Covid-19 variant sparks fresh 'vaccine apartheid' outrage

Ramaphosa maintained that the EU and the US stance on Africa was disappointing, "because they call ourselves their partners".

He said the continent had to prepare for more waves of the pandemic as new strains of the virus emerged.

He made the case for the continent manufacturing its own vaccines, not only to deal with the pandemic, but as a key part in the continent’s economic recovery.

Africa was building a manufacturing base, despite the rich countries looking down on the continent for its low industrial levels, Ramaphosa said.

"Africa is on the move! We are improving ourselves! We want the world to recognise that." 

He lambasted global financing companies for allowing rich countries to borrow at favourable interest rates.

"When we borrow, we borrow at high interest rates. In my own country for instance, we have a rising deficit. Most of our revenue goes to servicing debt. We want to borrow at preferential, including zero, interest rates so when we get funding we can use it for developmental needs," he said.

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