Who will deliver first vaccines, is the question, as Governments of Rwanda and Uganda shift their geopolitical battle to setting up expensive vaccine production plants.
A new regional war emerged in June. Rwanda, Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania all made announcements flexing to set up COVID-19 vaccine production, despite all having significant bottlenecks.
But then Kigali and Kampala have taken a further step.
On October 26, an agreement was signed between Rwanda and BioNTech, the German-based biotech start-up, which became world-famous for producing – alongside the US pharmaceutical giant Pfizer – what was considered the most effective Covid-19 vaccine.
Construction of the new production site is due to begin in mid-2022 and, to enable vaccine production to begin as quickly as possible. The plan is to first assemble a complete first production line with a capacity of 50m doses per year. The aim is to then add more lines to gradually increase production capacity.
According to the deal, the Rwandan site will be home to Africa’s first “robust and decentralised production network, offering a production capacity of several hundred million doses of mRNA vaccine.”
The idea is not just to produce anti-Covid serum, but also to later manufacture malaria and tuberculosis vaccines using the same technology.
Yesterday, the Ugandan government also made its move. The Ugandan government endorsed the setup of a USD300 Million vaccine production plant in Uganda.
The project is managed directly by State House, the Office of President Yoweri Museveni, indication of how strategic it is for him personally.
A company named ‘Serum Africa Medical Research Institute’ (SAMRI) is the entity to set up the facility. The firm’s CEO Prof Annd Iyer told a news conference in Kampala that they “will start to manufacture vaccines in Africa within 12 months”.
Among the vaccines that the facility intends to produce include Malaria, Ebola, Covid19, and Polio vaccines.
Even as the EAC neighbours make the announcements for vaccine factories, it remains to be seen how these projects will succeed considering that both governments have invested very little in scientific research.
Relations between Kigali and its northern neighbor sunk to an all-time low starting February 28, 2019.
Government of Rwanda accuses Ugandan President Museveni of personally orchestrating regime change in Rwanda by providing political and financial support to Rwandan dissident groups.
Uganda, for its part, says Rwandan government is sending spies into Uganda to destabilize it.
While plans to establishment of vaccine plants by either Government appears like development initiative, it has all the hallmarks of geopolitics.
Talks to try to diffuse the fallout, initiated by Angola and DR Congo, have only given photo opportunities.