AU banks on digital solutions to stay afloat during pandemic
The Africa Union Commission is banking on digital solutions such as the PanaBIOS, an establishment of a Pan-African technology platform to enable citizens of African countries to travel across borders, to stay afloat in the Coronavirus pandemic.
Since the advent of the Covid-19 pandemic, the AU Commission, like most intergovernmental organisations around the world, has shifted most of its activities online.
PanaBIOS, a technology based on technical input from Koldchain BioCordon, the draft DABBIT protocol, and the latter’s reference archetype, can be used to manage congestion, assist contact tracing and enable cross-border travel, especially at a time where African countries, including Kenya, are reopening their borders. Countries like Ghana are even using it to keep their political calendar on track.
“The move towards digital solutions for the 55-member state intergovernmental union is critical even as the Union commits to meet the Africa Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) operationalization deadline of January 1, 2021,” said the Commissioner for Trade and Industry, Albert Muchanga.
He added: “This will help to ensure that African countries are able to meet the new date for the start of trading under the AfCFTA of January 1, 2021, as set by Africa Heads of State and Governments who are strongly committed to getting the AfCFTA agenda back on track after the postponement of the start of trading initially set for July 1, 2020.
The AU is also digitising the biosurveillance and bioscreening protocols of the Africa Centres for Disease Control & Prevention (Africa CDC), which are being developed as part of the AU Open Corridor Initiative, to reopen the region without risking a surge of infections.
In this context, the Commission believes that for the current AfCFTA operationalisation timeline of January 1, 2021 to be met, and the decision of African Leaders on the fast-tracking of processes leading to the commencement of trading to be implemented, outstanding AfCFTA negotiations must move online too. AU member states have outlined a number of concerns regarding the use of virtual systems, especially regarding infrastructure reliability, security and confidentiality.
The AU Commission continues to receive offers of support to help address these concerns that have come from the continental private sector, notably the African Virtual Trade-Diplomacy Platform (AVDP), itself a part of the broader AVRIVA (African Virtual Resilient-Integration for a Vibrant Africa) framework being developed as a public-private initiative between the African Union Commission and the over two dozen major multinational African corporations and pan-African institutions operating under the umbrella of the AfroChampions Initiative.
The AVDP and the AVRIVA concept aim to rally support towards a campaign to keep the AfCFTA on track using technology by enabling Member States to participate effectively and securely in the outstanding negotiations of the AfCFTA. This is also bearing in mind that all analyses and studies confirm that the AfCFTA represents Africa’s best insurance policy and strategy to recover from the Covid-19 pandemic.
The concerns about the timely commencement of AfCFTA trading come at a time when countries all over Africa are getting ready to reopen their borders and economies, and a coordinated and harmonised effort is therefore urgently required to prevent confusion in the integration agenda.
The design and deployment of a technology framework for aligning e-commerce and e-trading platforms, such as African Medical Supplies Platform (AMSP) developed by the Africa CDC, the “AfCFTA number” concept based on the draft TribeID protocol, and the African e-commerce platform Sokokuu promoted by AeTrade Group, with the needs of AfCFTA; and a broad initiative to enhance cybersecurity in multilateral affairs on the continent.
The recommendations of the High-level Expert Committee, which is being expanded to include other key stakeholders with in-depth expertise in digital solutions and wide knowledge of the African technology terrain will be submitted to Senior Trade Officials for consideration when they meet on 15 September 2020.
This comes ahead of full endorsement by the AU Member States during the upcoming meeting of African Ministers of Trade on 30 September 2020 to sustain the political commitment to the use of these solutions trans-continentally.