Coronavirus: A sober reflection for African Leaders.
Africa is rich and not poor, Africa has immense actual and potential wealth, gold, timber, bauxite, manganese and a host of other minerals; it is Africans who are poor, not Africa (Osagyefo Dr Kwame Nkrumah).
The African continent is blessed with an abundance of natural resources and yet remains the poorest continent on earth. PLO Lumumba once said:
“When we are sick in Africa, particularly if we belong to the political class, depending on which country colonized you, if you were colonized by the British you rush to London. If you were colonized by the Spaniards, you rush to Madrid Spain. If you were colonized by the Portuguese, you rush to Lisbon, and if you were colonized by the French you rush to Paris. And recently, because the Asians are beginning to get their acts together we run to India and very lately because the Arabs are beginning to get their acts together we run to Dubai. Notwithstanding that we have the Korlebu Teaching hospital of this country, the Bombo hospital of Tanzania, the Diani beach hospital of Kenya and a host of other hospitals but we have no faith in our doctor[s].”
Our leaders have led our countries astray and continue to lead us astray.
They bankrupted the national coffers to fill their own desires, stealing several millions of dollars wrung from the sweat of the poor, of the rural cocoa farmer toiling in a village in the Ashanti Region, or of the poor schoolteacher from Savelugu in Northern Ghana. They use the ill-gotten gains to buy themselves opulent houses in London, Dubai, and New York among others while the rest of the impoverished population continue to languish in deplorable conditions. The country is criss-crossed with decaying infrastructure, where access roads have become death traps, and freshly harvested crops turn into compost heaps on farms. When the heavy rains pound our cities, the gutters overflow and the streets and alleyways become cesspools of festering sewage that can drown those caught in the sudden gush of floods.
The healthcare system seems designed to support the growing industry of churches and funerals parlours, which sprouted up to replace the need of the citizenry to congregate for healthy social gathering and entertainment. Our leaders transferred, and continue to transfer, the wealth of our continent to Swiss Banks, or to purchase Treasury Bonds in other governments; and the rest they hold in cash. The result is always the same, an immoral ignorance and wilful disregard of the developmental constraints we face as a continent.
The western world could stop the haemorrhaging by stemming the flow of funds out of Africa, just as they were able to prevent wealthy and sick Africans from departing to receive treatment at the better-equipped western hospitals during the Coronavirus outbreak! Yet, the western world faces a dilemma of its own making – they need our money in their banks so that they can lend them back at inflated interest rates to the same government officials who embezzled those funds to begin with.
However, sad as the outbreak of the novel Corona virus may be, it nevertheless should teach important lessons to the leaders of these nations, and serve as a clarion call to all Africans.
We Africans tend to take life for granted and hesitate to do the things required to guarantee our survival as nations. As Dan Pena subtly put it, “it’s not what happens to you in life that matters, it is how you interpret what happens to you that matters”.
If African leaders have learned anything from the Corona Virus outbreak, it is this. That in very critical and difficult times, every country has to rely on its own health institutions; that it is survival of the fittest when it comes to global issues; and that Africa should always be prepared to defend the integrity and sanctity of its borders and freedoms.
Most Africans would agree that, given the opportunity, their leaders would have flown with their children to the UK, Spain and Italy, USA and Europe to escape the threat of contamination. That is, if Covid-19 was just an African pandemic, the seats of government would be emptied. Similarly, if there were no travel bans by other countries, African leaders who contracted the virus would have relocated their families as well and sought medical treatment abroad. As of this writing, it is unfortunate that several prominent African leaders have succumbed to the ravages of Covid-19. For example, there are reports of an incident in Ghana involving the death of the renowned Professor Jacob Plange-Rhule after contracting the Covid-19 disease.
The government spent tremendous resources to save this one life by sending the presidential jet to South Africa to procure the one drug that could save his life. Given the opportunity, and without implying anything beyond the facts, the late Prof would have found the help he needed abroad to possibly save his life.
Today as the death toll continues to mount, all that remains as lessons from the past are the consequences of the actions of our leaders. As a result, we have no other options but to rely on decrepit health facilities, which lack the most basic infrastructure and logistics necessary to save lives under serious emergencies.
Today many developed countries including the UK, Spain, Italy, and Germany amongst others are either in complete or partial lockdown.
The time for sober reflection is now, and the youth of these nations should call upon their leaders to rethink their strategy or lack thereof, with respect to purposeful nation building. It is time for them to rethink the damage their self-interest and the vicious cycle of official corruption rains down upon the motherland. They should reflect upon their manhood, and their native statures, especially how their timidity and poor negotiation skills helped transform African countries into low-status third-world countries. Today in Africa, whether you are looking at Ghana, Nigeria, Togo, Zimbabwe, or indeed any country in Africa, our young men and women express neither pride nor interest in the continued advancement of their own nations.
It is no secret that we all live in countries today overshadowed by poorly funded and poorly managed health systems. These countries operate national health insurance schemes that only cover painkillers and fall very short of the level of care required to foster health on the continent. Many institutions fail to provide adequate bed facilities and a patient has to pay out-of-pocket for a clean bed.
The conventional wisdom is that some doctors are not qualified to practice as medical professionals, which is why government officials cannot entrust their lives to them and prefer to fly abroad for treatment. There is an anecdote of a Ghanaian gentleman who received his medical degree from Russia. He came to the U.S. to practice but could not pass the medical board exams after several attempts. He decided to downgrade his ambitions and went for the nursing exams. He failed that, too. In desperation, he returned to Ghana, and I am happy to report that he became the Medical Director of a hospital in Northern Ghana.
History has taught us that the African political class has very little interest in developing the continent’s health infrastructure, since they can always fly to Europe and America even for a slight headache. The vast majority of Africans die in poverty or continue to live and suffer from the dehumanizing conditions of extreme poverty whilst the corrupt elite politicians squirrel away pilfered stashes of cash in their Swiss and European Account.
Today, the Corona virus has taught Africa a vital lesson, giving us warnings about the kinds of cataclysmic events that can engulf the continent. The Corona virus is a global pandemic that has brought the civilized world to a standstill. These are poignant lessons for the whole world no matter how gruesome the consequences have been. The evidence shows that these countries were better prepared for pandemics, but still experienced great loss of life. If this does not ignite Africa enough to wake up and pay attention, then nothing ever will.
One of the primary lessons should teach Africa the critical importance of the national infrastructure, and that the best place to expend your resources is to develop your own home, the very country and continent where you have your roots. As of now, most countries have closed their borders to the rest of the world, except for minimum travel exceptions. Health facilities in highly developed countries like Italy, USA, Germany and China are overwhelmed, including the Health facilities in Ghana, Togo, Zimbabwe, and Sudan among others, some of which are not even equipped to detect a simple malaria parasite.
What our leadership seems to ignore in their calculus is that this continent, Africa, is the envy of many. When we negotiate terms of contracts with other countries, we should think outside the box rather than simply signing our name on the dotted line. For example, we should not lease land to the Chinese to collateralize a loan and then allow them to exploit the resources on the land while we are still paying the loan off. Would it not be best to exploit the exhaustible resources on the land to pay off the loan from the revenues and at the same time provide jobs for the people?
How long can we as Africans continue to live like second-class humans? In the age of enlightenment, René Descartes coined the phrase, “Cogito, ergo sum”, which means I think, therefore I am. The ability to think is a prerequisite for nation building. Not only should we actually think, but we should also question what we are thinking. This is where we fall short as Africans.
Africans tend to take defensive positions when you question their thoughts. It is as if just getting a degree from a university entitles you to think anything, issue directives and apply untested ideas. Most of the degreed individuals avoid the hard thinking that is required, and instead occupy ivory towers and impede progress from the top. Without developing this ability and encouraging the same in others, it is difficult to conceive any future moments where we as Africans can begin to make meaningful contributions in our own affairs.
We have many Universities and well-trained engineers, but African engineers are not constructing our roads. Instead, the Chinese become the beneficiaries of these opportunities to build our roads. Furthermore, our political classes introduced what they call “free education”, but in the words of PLO Lumumba:
“It is free, indeed free of knowledge. Because we are so suspicious of those institutions that the typical African politician would not dare take their children to those schools. Their children will rather be educated in the British system, in the American system, not that there is anything wrong with those institutions but the agenda is wrong, because our leaders long lost the script and ought to be described for who they are, our misleaders”
There is a sinister side to the approach that gives these opportunities to foreigners. Specifically, in order to build a great nation, you need to provide your trained engineers with the resources to gain useful experience from tackling human problems in the country. These opportunities help create an upwelling of talent that can ripple throughout society. However, though our national governments provided free education to train our engineers and chemists, there is widespread failure to provide them with the opportunity to gain the knowledge and experience necessary to help build a great nation. Instead, the Chinese send their fresh graduates to gain that experience at our expense.
Notwithstanding the fact that we Africans are the architects of our own destruction, an old man once remarked that the windmill naturally moves in the direction of the wind. Imagine our politicians are the windmill, and the people of Africa are the wind. Unfortunately, the African voter is not sophisticated enough to distinguish between honesty and deception when it comes to casting their vote in an election.
It is also unfortunate that though the different politicians may bear different labels, their values and ethics likely parallel one another, to confuse the unsophisticated voter.
This is the challenge for Africa as a whole. The right to vote in Africa is akin to getting a blank check. This blank cheque entitles the voter to, say, go to the auto showroom and choose between a BMW and a Mercedes, all the while unaware that these labels merely describe refurbished bicycles.
Therefore, the African, regardless of the brand he or she buys, has to settle for an inferior quality of merchandise. It is like buying a bicycle and expecting it to function like a Mercedes. In effect, the African voter elects Hyenas and Wolves to take care of the sheep in their kraals. Is it any wonder that the Hyenas and the Wolves devour the sheep?
To all African leaders, my humble plea goes out to you today. For the sake of Africa, let us think, for the sake of the generations yet unborn, let us think, for the sake of our rich continent and yet a third world economy, let us think.
Let us think of how to rebuild Africa, let us revive the hope of the youth in Africa, so that they can realize their dreams here in Africa and not seek to flee to Europe and America in search of greener pastures. For the sake of the youth of Africa whose dreams are constantly drowning in the Mediterranean Island off Lampedusa, let us think.
Let us revive our continent by building industries, reducing the imports of goods and services, which we can easily produce and re-produce in Africa. Let us capitalize on our superior competitive advantages, and create jobs for the teaming unemployed youth of this continent. Let us rid ourselves of the inferiority complex which makes us see ourselves as lesser humans and incapable of managing our own affairs.
For the sake of Africa let us think, for Africa is all we have.
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