TO WAKE UP OR NOT TO WAKE UP, THAT IS THE QUESTION FOR AFRICA.
My two daughters are awesome. One of their latest joys is story-telling. It reminds me of our time growing up when stories were all the rave. One particular one comes to mind: this man, up a tree, on one branch is a leopard walking towards him. On the other branch a huge, poisonous snake, also hissing and making it’s way, not slowly but rapidly towards the man trapped in peril. When it would seem his best hope would be to jump down from the tree and try to flee, it somehow turns out that there is a lion at the foot of the tree, roaring at him, staring intently, waiting for him to get down. There were no hyenas when I was told this story, but I will throw them in for good measure. Yards off behind the lions, a pack of hyenas surrounded the tree, all round, hoping against hope that somehow beyond the leopard, snake and lion, something would be left of the man in existential peril for them to take a bite of. Indeed to us as children, it seemed as though there was no way out of this nightmare for this man. Except, being a nightmare, all the man had to do to get to safety was to wake up.
COVID-19 is ravaging countries across the globe and has possibly changed forever our way of life as we know it. Whereas countries such as Italy are presented learning points on lack of adequate preparation, Africa is in a particularly perilous position. Years of neglect have left most health systems in shambles. We barely manufacture anything: some of the most basic personal protective equipment we require is imported. We have an insane shortage of healthworkers, but that statistic is only believed by healthcare workers: the rest of us seem to view it as routine psychobabble and rants of elitist and entitled doctors. American and European car manufacturers are changing their production lines to produce critical medical equipment such as ventilators: Lamborghini, Ford and quite a few others. Within weeks of being reported, some Western and Eastern Countries developed testing kits for detecting SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. Studies are underway looking into potential vaccines and treatment options. The US of A is able to provide 2Trillion dollars US as a stimulus package to help mitigate the effects of COVID-19, while many African families are faced with no more than tough times, job losses and hunger. Should treatment be found, we have no reason to demand that Western countries ignore their populations and remember us. They won’t. In all this, we, as Africa, are largely waiting for our benefactors to spare some left-overs for us. There are videos alleging that Africans are being evicted from homes and hotels in China for whatever reason. One friend was considering importing N95 masks from China to help alleviate the shortage in Kenya and also help fight the profiteers who have priced these masks way out of reach of most healthcare institutions. Yet another friend in the clearing and forwarding business advises new importers of masks not to try doing so unless they are willing to part with “facilitation fees” for the customs officers at the inland container depot in Kenya. Even without COVID-19, try buying anything from Amazon: the American whose income and purchasing power is much higher than that of an African doing the same job will buy the same product for half the price, while the African pays 100% more in the name of shipping and taxes. That being in this surreal period of a most dangerous outbreak. It would seem like Africa is indeed in a nightmare , quite like that of the man in the story above and we probably are.
With a nightmare for our reality, what can we do? The answer to this is to wake up: wake up and build the same structures that we have seen in Western and Eastern countries, set our priorities right, and cease our utter dependence on the expensive goodwill of others. We should wake up and stop having such low bars and standards for our leaders. For once, we should see the value of electing someone for what s/he has done in the past, his/her record, the values their lives demonstrate, and the promise they hold. This instead of the emotions they whip, their parties, tribes, or bribes. We should take this pandemic as our wake-up call to prioritize, build and sustain effective, responsible and accessible healthcare systems, entrench good visionary leadership as our standard, and position ourselves to provide global solutions. Don’t we breathe same air? Don’t we argue that Africans are non-inferior and in some cases more blessed as compared to human beings from other areas? We should begin to manufacture most of what we need, strengthen research bodies in each country and be the centre for innovative concepts. We should take this season as constructive criticism in relation to what we have not done, and go ahead to do them.
Fellow Africans, we may demand respect from others on the basis of being as human as any other. However, the surest way is to earn it. Let’s rebuild our society, manufacture, produce and go back to a time when common good outdid selfishness all day everyday.
The one thing that would be a greater disaster than COVID-19 is to learn nothing from this crisis as continent and fail to wake up. It would be a tragedy if this pandemic doesn’t cause a shift in how we operate. If however we do wake up from our slumber, the even the sky will not limit Africa, my motherland, the cradle of mankind. By God’s grace!
As always, you have my permission to copy, print and publish, provided you clearly cite the source.