KAMPALA: Billionaire philanthropist Mo Ibrahim is sharply criticizing the hoarding of COVID-19 vaccines by wealthy nations, urging the international community to “walk the talk” of equitable distribution as Africa desperately lags behind.
Ibrahim, a British mobile phone magnate who was born in Sudan, is hailed as a voice of moral authority across Africa. The 75-year-old earned his fortune by establishing the Celtel mobile phone network across Africa in the 1990s.
He is now using that fortune to promote democracy and political accountability on the continent, including through his sponsorship of the $5 million Ibrahim Prize for African leaders who govern responsibly and who give up their power peacefully.
He lamented the global “competition” for vaccines. He said he views the pandemic-era phrase “nobody is safe until everybody is safe” as a meaningless slogan until there is an equitable distribution of COVID-19 vaccines around the world.
“They say that while they are hoarding the vaccine. Can you walk the talk? Stop just talking like parrots, you know, and do you really mean what you said?” Ibrahim said in a Zoom call from London, where he is based.
He argued that “at least a reasonable portion” of the vaccines should go to frontline workers in Africa.
The World Health Organization said that COVID-19 vaccine shipments have ground to “a near halt” in Africa at a time when some countries face a spike in cases.
Africa has administered vaccine doses to 31 million of its 1.3 billion people. But only 7 million people are fully vaccinated, according to WHO Africa director Matshidiso Moeti.
Sub-Saharan Africa has on average administered only one vaccine dose per 100 people, compared to a global average of 23 doses per 100 people, she said, reiterating Africa’s ongoing plea for richer countries with significant vaccination coverage to share some of their remaining doses.
President Joe Biden has said the US would share some of its vaccines.
Ibrahim warned also that Africa cannot afford to sit back, citing a need for greater accountability by governments which pledged in 2001 to spend at least 15 percent of their national budgets on public health.