African Union audit, COVAX shipments, and Ethiopia access: This week in development

Workers and volunteers from the International Committee of the Red Cross and Ethiopian Red Cross distribute relief supplies to civilians in Tigray region, Ethiopia. Photo by: ICRC / Handout via Reuters

The African Union’s workplace problems, COVAX’s first delivery, and Ethiopia’s humanitarian access gaps. This week in development:

The African Union Commission is under pressure to reform after an independent audit found nepotism, employment problems, and compensation discrepancies at the institution. The findings describe a workplace environment where short-term contracts leave some employees vulnerable to harassment and abuse, while others are hired despite inadequate qualifications.

 • A separate internal investigation in 2018 pointed to pervasive issues of harassment inside the commission, which is the Addis Ababa-based executive branch of the African Union. “[O]ur view is that very little was done,” Sabelo Mbokazi, president of the AU Staff Association, told Devex.

• The new audit, which covered 2012-2018, found that 71% of the 3,328 staff members were on short-term contracts. They also found that the contracts of 382 fixed-term staff — one to two-year contracts renewable three times — were renewed at least once beyond the stipulated terms.

• The insecure and variable employment structure creates opportunities for abuse and harassment. “If you know your contract is only three months you will be begging the person that supervises you and ready to give anything for your contract to be renewed,” said Désiré Assogbavi, former resident representative to the AU for UNFPA and Oxfam.

The first global delivery of vaccines from the COVAX Facility arrived in Ghana on Wednesday, marking the beginning of a new phase in what is expected to be the largest vaccine procurement and supply operation in history. As Ghana welcomed 600,000 doses of the AstraZeneca-University of Oxford vaccine, advocates continue to push for governments to provide more funding to the initiative to ensure equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines.

• The COVAX Facility plans to deliver about 2 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines this year, according to forecasts released earlier this month. Countries will receive doses in proportion to their population size. Vaccines distributed through the facility are expected to reach 20% of the population in funded countries.

• COVAX has struggled to raise sufficient funding to deliver on its goals. So far it has secured only $10.3 billion of the more than $30 billion required, as some countries pursue bilateral vaccine purchase agreements outside of the facility.

• The facility’s leaders are considering a new “burden-sharing model” for financing, which would call on donors to contribute funds in proportion to their gross domestic product. “You can’t strip the health ODA budget to do this, but your ODA budget is going to fail if you can't deal with the [COVID-19] crisis,” Bruce Aylward, senior adviser to the WHO director-general and coordinator of the ACT-Accelerator work, told Devex in an interview.

Humanitarian leaders are calling on the government of Ethiopia to grant access to parts of the Tigray region that remain cut off from relief operations. International observers have grown louder in their criticism of the government’s ability to provide an accurate assessment of humanitarian and human rights challenges following a military offensive and reports of civilian casualties.

• Pekka Haavisto, the European Union’s envoy, reported back this week on a visit to the region, and charged that the government seems to be in, “denial of the magnitude of the problems in the country.” Even within the federal government, there are varying accounts of humanitarian access and human rights violations he told reporters on Tuesday.

• In December, the EU postponed €88 million in budget support to the Ethiopian government in protest of the conflict, which Haavisto said he hoped would be “a wake up call.” He warned that if the situation starts “getting from bad to worse,” other donors should review their support for the country.

• Humanitarian leaders urged that Ethiopia’s historic role as a generous refugee host nation should not prevent criticism of its reluctance to grant humanitarian access right now. The government’s arguments that it has kept areas off limits in order to protect aid workers is, “a facade for just continuing to deny access,” said Catherine Wiesner, head of external engagement with the UN Refugee Agency’s Regional Bureau for East and Horn of Africa and the Great Lakes, on Monday.

About the author

  • Michael Igoe

    Michael Igoe is a Senior Reporter with Devex, based in Washington, D.C. He covers U.S. foreign aid, global health, climate change, and development finance. Prior to joining Devex, Michael researched water management and climate change adaptation in post-Soviet Central Asia, where he also wrote for EurasiaNet. Michael earned his bachelor's degree from Bowdoin College, where he majored in Russian, and his master’s degree from the University of Montana, where he studied international conservation and development.