President Cyril Ramaphosa. Picture: Siyabulela Duda
President Cyril Ramaphosa. Picture: Siyabulela Duda

An Africa medical supplies portal, a single continental marketplace which allows countries to access critical medical supplies, will ensure that the continent is not at the back of the queue for critical life-saving supplies during the Covid-19 pandemic.

President Cyril Ramaphosa, who launched the online portal in his capacity as AU chair on Thursday, said the platform will help African states to address shortages and security of supply. It will also ensure price competitiveness and transparency in procurement, reduce logistical delays, simplify payment processes and provide a common platform where governments can access services from certified suppliers.

“Think of it as the Amazon, the Alibaba or even the eBay of coronavirus resources on the African continent. Made in Africa by Africans. The fundamental difference being that on this platform the buyer is not an individual, but governments,” he said.

Through the portal African countries will be able to directly source supplies from manufacturers in the necessary quantities and at competitive prices. The portal will sell Covid-19 vaccines once they are available.

African businesses

AU commission chair Moussa Faki said priority would be given to African suppliers, but there were not enough on the continent, which had lead to countries buying from China.

Ramaphosa said resources will be secured by governments on a quota basis determined, among other things, by a country's vulnerability level.

“Countries will have ready access to an online marketplace with the click of a button, as opposed to the onerous and time-consuming process of scouring the globe to procure these medical supplies.”

He said connecting manufacturers and suppliers with governments directly removed the “middle man” in supply chain processes that too often became the doorway to corrupt practices such as inflated prices and large agent management fees.

“By pooling the needs of the continent, we manage to achieve quantities of scale and present suppliers with a large and assured market.”

The African Export-Import Bank (Afreximbank) will facilitate payments while logistics partners, such as SA's ailing state-owned airline SAA, will expedite delivery.

AU special envoy Strive Masiyiwa said it was a simple platform which had critical items that governments had sought.

He said about 200 suppliers had already applied to join the platform.

Masiyiwa explained that each country had a special account with Afreximbank and could buy supplies with cash or on credit provided by the bank.

Our platform aggregates the demand from the different countries and that is handled through Afreximbank so that one cheque goes out to a supplier, handed through the bank. Once the orders are placed ... one of the African carriers Ethiopian Airlines or SAA is assigned the trip,” he said.

The airlines will paid commercially through a fund at the bank.  

Ramaphosa said the platform was laying another building block towards the African Continental Free Trade Area, whose launch was delayed because of the pandemic.

He said the platform provided an opportunity for suppliers and manufacturers to realise the incentive and capture the market that Africa presented to its business people.

“We want to see a real genesis of the trading capacity of the African continent and it is going to be through platforms like this,” Ramaphosa said.

quintalg@businesslive.co.za