Covid-19 and Africa: a role for Ireland…and you!

On April 23rd, President of Ireland Michael D. Higgins made a detailed statement on Ireland’s potential role in the COVID-19 crisis and its implications for those most at risk worldwide. This is a summary of his main observations.

3 key ideas

  1. Worldwide, societies differ hugely in their capacity to respond to the virus. As we already know, the poorest people in Africa were in a perilous situation even before the virus with the vital resources necessary to deal with the current situation fundamentally weakened or entirely absent.
  2. Ireland’s relationship with Africa is unique, unlike the relationship of former empires. Ireland’s role (energised today by its NGOs and by Irish Aid) has largely been about identifying with the aspirations of Africans for lives of freedom from hunger, access to education, and achievement of basic rights.  It offers strong foundations upon which to develop a future relationship based on African realities and African capacities.
  3. Coronavirus is clearly a global problem, one that requires a global response. Yet, we watch and listen as that needed international response is undermined and as multilateralism is weakened.  This moment of crisis offers an unprecedented opportunity for all of us – including Ireland – to create a new, fairer and more sustainable relationship with Africa.

Covid-19 in Africa

  • Covid-19 has now arrived in virtually all African countries – a continent with over 1.3 billion people (2018), representing 16% of total world population today.
  • UN Secretary-General António Guterres argues that if Covid-19 is to be countered, developed countries must assist those less-developed, or potentially ‘face the nightmare of the disease spreading like wildfire in the Global South with millions of deaths and the prospect of the disease re-emerging where it was previously suppressed’.
  • Recent research suggests that COVID-19 could double chronic hunger in the poorer parts of the world with up to 800 million people at risk. The virus itself and the restrictions to curb its spread are disrupting planting, harvesting, the movement of farm labour, and the scale and distribution of produce.
  • For example, in the Central African Republic (population of 4.5 million – similar to Ireland) there are three ventilators; in Sierra Leone (8 million) there is one. Given such most basic inadequacies there is a real fear that the pandemic could be difficult to keep under control in Africa resulting in mass fatalities with the wider associated socio-economic problems.
  • While we applaud the work of those on the frontline of response here in Ireland, we also need to remember those working on the frontline abroad in over-crowded shanty towns where there is a shortage of water, where the advice for hand-washing has little meaning. In such settings, in refugee camps, shelters, the suggestion of social distancing remains impossible, where isolation in circumstances that require the daily balance of work in order to eat could mean the choice of waiting to starve.

A role for Ireland?

  • We be proud of the Irish citizens and NGOs who are responding and of the way in which the Irish Government has responded to the special appeal by the UN Secretary-General for a special response to Covid-19 in Africa. Ireland was the first country to respond to the appeal and Irish support for the World Health Organisation so far in 2020 is 4 times that of 2019. These responses have saved lives.
  • Given Ireland’s relationship and credibility with many African nations, we can offer a lead in addressing those unfair and imbalanced trade terms that, for example, confine Africa’s benefit from its coffee trade to 10% or the scandal of a trade concession that limits the tariff concession to raw cocoa beans but does not allow it on a finished product.
  • Debt issues present a continuing challenge – ‘a wall of debt payments awaits African nations based on current policy’.
  • Responding adequately not only to Covid-19 but to the structural global inequalities in areas such as trade and debt can help achieve necessary sustainable connections between economy, society and ecology not only in Africa but worldwide. Our response also offers an opportunity to recognise and promote Africa’s own capacity, skill and ability.
  • Ireland can also give a lead at the UN in calling for an urgent review and redesign of global financial institutions.

Surely now is the time for real multilateralism, for solidarity and for universal basic services’.


‘However, we must allow ourselves to realise that – coronavirus being a global problem, and requiring a global response – societies differ in their capacity to respond…’

‘Ireland’s relationship to Africa is a unique one… largely one of identifying with the aspirations of Africans for lives of freedom from hunger, access to education, and achievement of inclusive rights. These are powerful foundations upon which to develop a future relationship…’

 ‘It is not a time for withdrawing behind borders. In the African countries where Covid-19 has arrived, there are immense problems.’

For the full text of President Higgins opinion piece catch it on The Irish Times.

  • Watch the April 21st speech by Michael D reflecting on COVID-19 and Africa (at the African European Parliamentarians Initiative web Conference).

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Covid-19 highlights the importance of our Global Citizenship and Development Education. Check out’s 3-part series introducing 10 teaching strategies for adapting and exploring with learners.