Editorial: French leader hits the right Covid notes

Johannesburg – French President Emmanuel Macron, who was in South Africa this week for official bilateral talks with President Cyril Ramaphosa, is one of a few world leaders who truly inspire confidence.

Before he touched the shores of South Africa on Thursday, Macron was in Rwanda where he delivered a remarkable and truly poignant oration about France’s lack of action in preventing Rwanda’s 1994 genocide.

It takes courage, humility and political maturity for a world leader to humble himself before a small African country, which has for years consistently decried France’s indifferent attitude that opened the way for the atrocities that accounted for more than 800 000 deaths.

It is significant that Macron’s visit to Rwanda followed hard on the heels of the release in March of a report by a French inquiry panel, which delivered a damning verdict of a colonial attitude that blinded French officials and the government, and their lack of “serious and overwhelming” responsibility for not foreseeing the slaughter.

“Only those who went through that night can perhaps forgive, and in doing so give the gift of forgiveness … I hereby humbly and with respect stand by your side today, I come to recognise the extent of our responsibilities …,” said a dignified Macron.

The venue of Macron’s oration could not have been more symbolic.

He was speaking at the Gisozi genocide memorial. That is where more than 250 000 genocide victims are buried and where rows of skulls lie in a mass tomb with their names inscribed on a black wall.

Even Rwandan President Paul Kagame acknowledged this political candour, describing Macron’s words as “more powerful than an apology”, from a man who appeared to be seriously prepared to confront racism of former colonial powers.

Macron did not disappoint when he arrived in South Africa as he again immediately hit the right notes by offering his support to South Africa’s fight for a waiver to allow African countries to manufacture Covid-19 vaccines. South Africa and India have been at the forefront of efforts to persuade the World Trade Organisation to push for a waiver on certain intellectual property rights regulations that prevent generic manufacturers from producing the Covid-19 vaccine.

Ramaphosa has been vocal that if wealthy nations monopolised Covid-19 shots while millions in poor countries die waiting for them, it would amount to “vaccine apartheid”, and Macron appeared to be firmly in agreement with his South African counterpart on this issue. The monopoly on vaccines not only amounts to greed by rich European manufacturers, but is also a demonstration of racism by the West, as only 2% of Africans have received the vaccine thus far.

Macron’s visit has been refreshing.

It has been a clear demonstration of social justice, human rights and solidarity with poor African countries by a young leader who also recognises that “as long as the virus continues to spread in one part of the world, it will equally remain a threat to the whole world indeed”.

The world needs more young and progressive leaders of the calibre of Macron.

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