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Best practices from Africa: Collaboration in the time of COVID-19

Strive Masiyiwa


In our weekly round-up on 26th June, CSG highlighted the launch of the new Africa Medical Supplies Platform. The platform shows what can be achieved through international cooperation across government, business, and civil society, and in using new technology to answer old problems. One of the leading figures in delivering the platform was Zimbabwean philathropist and founder of Econet Global, Strive Masiyiwa. We asked him to tell us more about the platform and the challenges overcome.


About two weeks ago, South African President, Cyril Ramaphosa, in his capacity as current Chair of the African Union, launched the Africa Medical Supplies Platform (AMSP). Designed in Africa by African IT and eCommerce experts drawing upon best practices from online marketplaces such as Jumia, Amazon and Alibaba, the AMSP is an African-led centralized procurement mechanism to provide urgently needed medical supplies across Africa. The not-for-profit platform was put together in historic collaboration with partners including the African private sector, the African Union, Africa Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Afreximbank, UN Economic Commission on Africa, African Union member states, African and global suppliers, African and global philanthropists, and the governments of France, China and Canada.

Strive Masiyiwa

In my own brief, since I was appointed an AU Special Envoy by President Ramaphosa about two months ago, I was tasked to look at the acute problem in the global supply chain for urgently required COVID-related supplies. My remit was specifically focused on procurement needs of Africa’s 55 nations, with key priorities:

1) immediate availability of essential medical items to all African countries;

2) immediate access to these items;

3) access to high quality and certified items;

4) affordability with FOB pricing for all countries (made possible by creating a bulk purchasing system to get volume discounts at best prices);

5) onboarding of African suppliers and manufacturers;

6) simplified and transparent payment processes;

and 7) efficient logistics and delivery across Africa.

Upon receiving my brief and looking at the urgent challenges, I saw a big supply chain problem with most of our 55 African countries at the back of the global queue. With the crisis escalating in Europe and the USA, only the strongest nations were at the table to procure supplies and pricing was all over the map. Drawing on my own expertise in building digital platforms, I decided to pull together some of the best technology teams in the world which happened to be African, including Dr Fatoumata Ba who co-founded Jumia and now runs Janngo, my own team at Vaya Africa led by Oswald Jumira, and Dr Precious Lunga, founder of Baobab Circle.

It is amazing what is possible so quickly when a crisis is this huge. AMSP strategic partners so far include Virgin Unite (as well as Virgin Orbit and Galactic), Skoll Foundation, Rockefeller Foundation, Susan Thompson Buffett Foundation, Mastercard Foundation, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Higherlife Foundation, Elma Foundation, Jack Ma Foundation, The Global Fund, Microsoft, Gavi The Vaccine Alliance, and UNICEF. Commercial logistics partners include African national carriers, logistics and global freight forwarders: Alibaba, EgyptAir, Kenya Airways, Ethiopian, RwandAir, South African Airways, Fedex, DHL, UPS and ASky. AMSP partnerships are growing so I am just mentioning those who joined us in the earliest days.

While we designed AMSP in a general sense to be an immediate, integrated and practical response to COVID-19, we were most keenly focused on enabling African Union Member States to purchase diagnostic test kits, PPE and clinical management devices with increased cost effectiveness and transparency.

While my own remit was to deal specifically with procurement, other Special Envoys including Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iwela, Tidjane Thiam, Dr Donald Kaberuka, and Trevor Manuel are focused on the money and other priorities. For example, for the money, because transparency and accountability is so critical in this centralized procurement mechanism, Afreximbank is facilitating payments both to suppliers and to pay for deliveries which are flown periodically from Johannesburg and Addis Ababa. Afriexim is doing this by bringing to bear its $3-billion Pandemic Trade Impact Mitigation Facility (PATIMFA), of which $200 million has been reserved to support food production as well as the manufacture of, and trade in, medical equipment and supplies.

AMSP is just one innovation that African countries have developed to help mitigate the devastating impact of this pandemic, threatening both the health of our people and our national economies. We have now received requests from other parts of the world to license the AMSP concept and over the next few days will be adding Caribbean island nations to the AMSP platform as they were so impressed by the economies of scale offered.

Whilst the deadly peaks of the pandemic have yet to hit most Africans - and because of the difficult preventative measures taken by many governments so far, we hope they never will - our vision is that this innovative AMSP initiative will help enable African governments urgently access much needed life-saving supplies. In the process, we all have drawn upon best practices and difficult lessons learned so far across the world.

If anything good has come of this pandemic, it is the historic collaboration and rapid-fire innovations resulting from the best of humanity coming together in this fight for our lives, the livelihoods of our people and the survival of our national economies.

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Strive Masiyiwa is the Founder and Executive Chairman of the Econet Group, an international technology group, and one of the early pioneers of the mobile telecoms industry in Africa. In May 2020 he was appointed as a private sector AU Special Envoy to assist with the procurement of urgent medical COVID-19 supplies for Africa. He served a similar role during the Ebola epidemic in West Africa 2014-2015.


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