Opinion article | Coronavirus: «We, local elected representatives of France, are particularly worried about the African continent»

24 abril 2020

This op-ed by local and regional elected officials members of Cités Unies France, was originally published in French in Le Monde/Le Monde Afrique on 23 April 2020. Translation below by PLATFORMA.

French city elected officials call to support their African counterparts in strengthening solidarity during and after the health crisis.

Today, no country or territory is spared by the pandemic of the new coronavirus. Beyond human tragedies, this global health crisis has and will have social and economic consequences that we do not measure the consequences yet.  The time to make assessments will come and allow to draw the lessons learned about our lifestyles, our economic and social development choices, our relationship to the preservation of resources.

But the priority today is to stop the spread and save people. Each state is taking the generic national measures it considers necessary to stop the spread of the virus and allow time to treat those affected by Covid-19 disease. These national measures are roughly the same in each country: containment and hygene measures.

If the safety and health of the inhabitants of a country constitute of course the primary concern of the States, what will happen when, once the developed countries are «cured», the epidemic could continue to decimate the populations the most vulnerable countries, especially in Africa? A concerted and united approach between States, articulating local action and international action, is essential to be effective. It is in progress. The President of the Republic led the way by deciding to cancel the debts of African countries and a moratorium was implemented in record time by the G7 and G20 countries.

Local actions

At the local level – elected officials are well aware of this – the effectiveness of crisis management also depends very much on the capacity of local authorities to take charge of local action: enforcing confinement; educating the population on effective hygene measures; setting up solidarity systems to meet the needs of the most vulnerable; being attentive to the consequences of confinement on domestic violence and psychological damage; ensuring the continuity of public health and daily life services; detecting contamination and isolating cases as quickly as possible.

Solidarity within French territories is remarkable, essential. But it does not make sense if it is limited to the borders of our country or even to those of the European Union. It must also be international and aim at acting together against the Covid-19. Acting locally while ensuring international action is the way forward for this fight to be effective and, above all, to prevent the spread of the virus in areas that are so far not affected significantly.

In this global struggle, we, local elected representatives, are particularly worried for the African continent which must face several challenges in this struggle to limit the pandemic: health systems, without underestimating the African experience and resilience in the face of epidemics are most often too fragile; population concentrations are extremely high in urban areas, but also in places where people displaced by humanitarian crises, armed conflicts or terrorist attacks are grouped; the absence of detection tests is obvious; the unverified belief that Africa could be protected thanks to its warm climate and its youth lowers guard and vigilance.

All of us, States, local elected representatives, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), associations, companies, researchers, must act together to support the action of African States and local authorities in order to halt the spread of the epidemic and limit the consequences on economy, food and health.

Mutual learning

So we, members of Cités Unies France, who are elected officials from French local authorities – mayors, presidents of departmental & regional councils, intermunicipal associations, heads of national associations, local elected officials – all of us who are involved, often for a long time, in cooperation projects with our African partners who are our friends, we have decided to mobilise without delay. We have thus launched a solidarity fund, funded by French communities, intended to support African local authorities in their daily efforts to support the population before, during, but also after the crisis.

We are also committed to supporting local authorities for the implementation of local resilience initiatives, the revival of local economies and mutual learning: a number of African countries, ho already faced in the past serious health crises, including Ebola in particular, have taken innovative initiatives that can inspire us. It will also be a question of building together future partnerships, around economic, social, ecological and democratic transition projects.

We also ask for the creation of a global fund for African local governments supported and fed by the European Union, as well as by the States, the major donors for development and the Global Network of local authorities – United Cities and Local Governments.

Signed among others by Roland Ries, Mayor of Strasbourg and President of Cités Unies France, Jocelyne Bougeard, deputy mayor of Rennes, Anne Hidalgo, Mayor of Paris, Marie-Hélène Nedelec, vice-president of Nantes Metropole, Agnès Rampal, regional councilor of the region Sud-Provence-Alpes-Côte-d’azur, Jérôme Tebaldi, deputy mayor of Tours, Jean-Louis Testud, deputy mayor of Suresnes or André Viola, president of the Aude department.

Read the oped in French in Le Monde/Le Monde Afrique.

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