MAJOR GLOBAL EVENTS

Vaccine geopolitics and Covid-19

In Summary
  • In my lifetime I have witnessed two historical events of global magnitude, which I had never previously imagined I would live to see: fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989
  • This global war against the coronavirus pandemic is the second world-changing event that I had certainly never guessed would occur in my lifetime.

For a while there, a widespread prediction, both here in Kenya and elsewhere, was that although the miracles of modern science had produced a vaccine against Covid-19 with unprecedented speed, this blessing would only descend on wealthy nations.

And that the earliest that any Kenyans could hope to have that life-saving vaccine injected into their arms, was in 2022 or even 2023.

The allegation was that the rich nations were out to implement a policy of “vaccine imperialism”.

This in practice would have meant that only when the very last citizen of the rich nations had been vaccinated would there be any consideration as to how the poorer nations may also receive supplies of the vaccine.

But instead, with most rich nations just getting started on their own vaccination campaigns, the vaccines have already been made available to Kenya, and other African nations.

What was also probably overlooked by such false prophets is that just as modern biomedical science is far more advanced than you would ever guess if you have not personally visited a cutting-edge research laboratory – so too is the capacity of scientific logistics to create new supply chains, more advanced than you could guess.

For me, a telling moment of the speed with which such new supply chains could be created was when I learnt of Kenya Airways refitting their precious Boeing 787 Dreamliner jets to enable them to take advantage of the current demand for aircraft to transport vaccines around the world.

In what now seems like a different lifetime – a long time ago in a galaxy far far away – I occasionally flew to Europe on a Kenya Airways Dreamliner: an aircraft which is in so many ways superior to other passenger jets. And the last thing I ever imagined was that I would one day see Dreamliners used as specialised cargo planes, bringing refrigerated life-saving vaccines to Kenya.

All this is a reminder that mother nature may be absolutely terrifying and vengeful when she unleashes her wrath on mankind – whether in the current form of a global pandemic or in some other form.

It would seem that the Kenyan political establishment has implicit faith in Chinese engineering prowess – the Chinese are invariably the contractors of choice for national infrastructure projects. But that faith falters when it comes to Chinese biomedical research.

But mankind, all the same, has the capacity for innovation and the operational flexibility to turn the tables on her, provided the entire global community focuses on a single overarching priority, and brings all its resources of technology and intellect to bear on this one thing.

In my lifetime I have witnessed two historical events of global magnitude, which I had never previously imagined I would live to see.

The first was the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, and – with it – the end of the Cold War. This was significant to much of Africa because having won that Cold War, America was then free to end its decades-long policy of supporting whichever tyrants and dictators in developing nations they considered to be on their side in that war.

With the end of the Cold War, long-serving despots in vassal states (such as our own Daniel arap Moi here in Kenya) suddenly found that they were coming under irresistible pressure from the Americans to “open up democratic space”. And with that came the return to multiparty politics – and a restoration of individual liberties – which we have now enjoyed for three decades.

This global war against the coronavirus pandemic is the second world-changing event that I had certainly never guessed would occur in my lifetime.

And once again, there have been geo-strategic factors at play. And at the purely local level, there is a rather interesting revelation to come out of this final phase of the war against the coronavirus:

It would seem that the Kenyan political establishment has implicit faith in Chinese engineering prowess – the Chinese are invariably the contractors of choice for national infrastructure projects.

But that faith falters when it comes to Chinese biomedical research.

Because if we are to judge by what is happening in nations that have been eager to access supplies of the Chinese vaccine, millions of us would possibly have been vaccinated by now if the Kenyan leadership had given priority to vaccines from China.

But, on the face of it, the Kenyan leadership was distrustful of the Chinese product, and preferred to wait until the “European vaccines” were available.