July 12, 2021

COVID-19 Vaccine Is New Supremacy Battlefront in EAC Bloc

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EAC Summit in held virtually February 27

The cold war between Rwanda and its northern neighbor Uganda is taking on a new shape; who will better deal with the raging COVID-19 pandemic.

In the six-member bloc of the East African Community; Rwanda, Uganda and Kenya are undergoing major infection waves that began in May. The neighbours Burundi and Tanzania have taken a completely different route; with almost no control measures we have seen everywhere. Little is happening in South Sudan.

When the virus emerged globally in late 2019, it found Rwanda’s border with Uganda already closed since March as they trade accusations of supporting each other’s opposition. As for border with Burundi, nothing much happens there since around 2016, following a failed coup which the Burundians blame on Kigali.

A new regional war is surfacing. Rwanda, Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania are flexing their muscles with recent announcements for COVID-19 vaccine production, despite all having significant bottlenecks.

Even the EAC neighbours make the announcements for covid-19 vaccine factories, it remains to be seen how these projects will succeed considering that these governments have ignored funding scientific research.

ALSO READ: EAC Region Unable To Raise $496m For Health Research 

Government of Rwanda announced June 21, that together with Senegal and South Africa, they were in talks with investors to start the production of coronavirus vaccines. Last week on Thursday, President Paul Kagame secured a $3.6m grant from the European Union to upgrade the country’s laboratory capacity to help it attract investors to manufacture Covid-19 vaccines.

Rwanda says it intends to start manufacturing coronavirus vaccines using mRNA technology after it secured international backing to build local capacity in the coming months.

For nearly a year, Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni has been promising his people that a locally produced vaccine for the virus is coming soon. Last week, the country’s finance minister Matia Kasaija told parliament that government needs $70m (Shs. 248billion) for a COVID-19 vaccine plant.

Kasaija explained that plans are underway to construct a local vaccines manufacturing factory in order to shield Ugandans from a pandemic that has so far killed more than 2,000 people in Uganda.

“[scientists] have already assembled the plan but they need that money to buy the materials to put up the factory. The factory, I think [needs] $70 million (about Shs248b) but they need that $14 million to bring in other partners from outside the country,” he said.

Earlier in mid-June, Uganda approved the use of a herbal remedy Covidex which the brain behind, Ugandan Prof Patrick Ogwang, said treats people infected with the Coronavirus.

As if to convince Ugandans that its scientific community had made a breakthrough, government lined up Prof Ogwang for many media interviews. He said that several countries including Rwanda and Southern African region have expressed interest in Covidex.

He said; “Yes, I have so many messages from India, from Malawi from Zambia from Zimbwabwe; they want to import Covidex especially now that [National Drug Authority – NDA] approved it. They really want to import it. I have heard that some people in Rwanda, Congo are already importing it extensively.”

In reaction to this statement which seems to imply that Rwanda is depending on Rwanda, there was hostile social media responses. Choreographed posts fired back saying Uganda was using purported Rwanda interest in the Covidex to raise the profile of its herbal drug.

“In Uganda, citizens are falling like leaves due to lack of treatment. Now you are mocking to yourselves that covidex is on high demand in Rwanda,” read one Twitter post.

Such social media reactions have been the norm since 2019 as each side trades attacks against the other over different things since the Rwanda-Uganda conflict erupted. 

In Kenya, its KAVI institute for Clinical research at the University of Nairobi has partnered with Walter Sisulu University (South Africa), the University of Bothwana, the South African Vaccination and Immunisation Centre, the mother and child University Hospital – Jeanne EBORI in Gabon.

All were brought together by the Sisulu Foundation for African and Pandemic Disease Response to work on a covid-19 vaccine, which they say should be in advanced stages by end of the year.

Tanzania for its part is not allowing to be left behind in the regional competition for vaccine supremacy. Its new leader President Samia Suluhu has abandoned her predecessor’s disregard for internationally approve COVID control measures like masks and social distancing. Now, she puts on a mask when in public.

In addition, President Suluhu has promised government funding for Tanzanian research into a local vaccine. The government has yet to accept any imports of the existing global vaccines, with many of its top scientists publicly dismissing them.

The visible spat within the EAC bloc comes as a response to a new trend. Africa has fallen behind in the race to vaccinate its 1.3 billion people against Covid-19. This is due to the fact that the continent faces severe shortage of vaccines for its population as new infections continue to rise.

Rwanda’s President Kagame and other leaders have openly accused the west of vaccine nationalism whereby they bought up all vaccines including future production – leaving Africa with no jabs.

ALSO READ: Uganda Mulls Bypassing Rwanda For Its Exports To Burundi Like Congo Roads

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