By Musa Sawaneh
The recent demise of Abba Kyari, the Chief of Staff to the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, who was laid to rest on the 18th of April 2020, has sparked debates on the response of African leaders to the pandemic on the continent. The most important question Africans are uttering is, “What are the biggest lesson, the 2019 novel coronavirus disease(Covid-19) has for their leaders?”Africa is described as the poorest continent on earth. In fact, some Western analysts called it “The Hopeless Continent”, a term I will forever reject. A continent that constitute the “Bottom Billions” of which 33 countries are ranked amongst the least developed countries in the world.
It is an undisputed truth that some people in Africa are financially handicap but in terms of natural resources, Africa remains the richest continent on earth. If you do not know, let me tell you that 70% of the world’s cocoa bean production comes from Africa, yet many African cocoa farmers have never eaten chocolate. 63% of the world’s Coltan is from Africa.
Five of the top 30 oil-producing countries in the world come from Africa. Africa is rich in precious minerals, forests, diamonds, gold, and so on. Not forgetting the water and arable lands of The Gambia. So, Africa is not Poor. People are Poor. People are poor because of the failure of having true and incorruptible leadership. What we have are deceptive leaders that mask high poverty with mendacious photo opportunities. It is as if African leaders take delight in making their people poorer.
That is why I always call Africa as an ‘oxymoronic’ continent; rich but poor; with the richest presidents but the poorest people If you ask me, the failure to establishing and empowering the human capital of the continent is the sole intelligible explanation of why her people wallow in multidimensional poverty. Health and education are two human capital issues that are closely tied together and remain the threshold of any national development agenda. When it comes to human capital, African leaders have failed woefully. The positives of Covid-19 are that it has vindicated the weak and feeble status of our human capital system. Hitherto to this, the health and education system in Africa is in total disarray and has metastasized into an ugly monstrosity with little trust from her politicians, rich and ordinary citizens.
The lame excuse that has left my mind spinning for many years is the maxim that we “lack resources” to redefine, revamp, and refurbish our human capital system. This claim has left my thought to wander around because a lack of resources is no excuse for an African leader. Rather the lack of proper usage of the resources marred with a mythomaniacal character of the entire government institutions and her factions has cost the continent to be uncompetitive and pitiful to the outside world.
The healthcare system in Africa suffer from neglect and underfunding! Many African countries spend less than 10% of their total GDP on health care. The African leaders never see health care quality as a priority when combing for votes from the people whose consciousness is blind by social identities and stomach infrastructure. The African leaders argue not policies but tribe. The neglect from the government has caused serious inadequacy in up-to-date technologies and equipment. The cost of neglect is serious dilapidations in the health care infrastructure of most countries, compounded by poverty and brain-drain of most home trained doctors expatriating for better wages and standard of living. This also caused a low ratio of doctors at only 1 per 2000 inhabitants resulting in exacerbation of health inequality in some African countries. Today, there are more Nigerian Doctors outside Nigeria than inside. Equally, there are more Ghanaian Doctors outside Ghana than inside and so are many African countries. Africans are dying from medicable ailments. This is the unfortunate state of our health care system.
With these deplorable health systems, it remains the last resort for many African politicians and their relatives. Nigeria’s President Buhari was out of the country for several months in 2017 for treatment in London. He has done frequent visits for at least four medical trips with a high probability of being treated by a Nigerian Doctor in the UK. Zimbabwe’s former President Robert Mugabe died in a hospital in Singapore, Cameroon’s Paul Biya regularly seeks treatment abroad, Angola’s former President Eduardo Dos Santos was in Spain to seek medical treatment, Benin’s Patrice Talon also jetted out to Paris for two successful surgical operations. Former Presidents such as Zambia’s Michael Sata (Late), Ethiopia’s Meles Zenawi Asres (Late), Guinea Bissau’s Malam Bacai Sanha (Late), Gabon’s Omar Bongo (Late), Nigeria’s Umaru Musa Yar’Adua (Late) the list goes on, all sought for medical treatment aboard. African leaders are well known as medical tourists who prefer their people to use the derelict health systems while they use taxpayers’ money as medical tourists abroad.
Indeed ‘all animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others’
Since independence, this quote from George Orwell’s Animal Farm has been the character of most African Leaders, but for a few like Thomas Sankara of Burkina Faso (late), Samora Machel of Mozambique (late) and President John Pombe Magufuli of Tanzania. President Magufuli has never left Africa since being President in 2015 and his wife, the First Lady, has always used Tanzania’s public hospitals.
From health to the education system, accessibility and quality have always been the predicament in Africa. The African leaders and politicians prefer to send their children and relatives to expensive schools outside Africa. They loot and use taxpayers’ money to supposedly brighten the future of their few relatives at the expense of myriad citizens. Poor quality environment, poor quality content, poor quality processes, and poor policies have engendered the education system prone to absenteeism, indifference, and distrust. Today less than 10 percent of young people in sub-Saharan Africa are enrolled in higher education institutions compared to the universal average of 26 percent. There is overwhelming evidence to show that Africa is in a mess! A mess planted and perpetuated by our leaders and their bootlickers.
The Covid-19 pandemic has caused panic for many due to the well-known shabby conditions of the human capital systems across the continent. Today while developed and high developing countries are conducting lessons online, we were ill-prepared and now struggling to conduct lessons on TV with unstable power supply. Also, the watchword of this pandemic is ‘Ventilator’. According to the World Health Organization, 2000 working ventilators have to serve hundreds of millions of people in public hospitals across 41 African countries. In fact, 10 countries have no ventilators at all. This means that with the indiscriminative nature of the coronavirus and countries closing their borders to all, if African leaders get infected, they have to dance to their own played tunes by getting treatment with a sack of salt. Another byword is ‘washing of hands with soap’ yet some regions and counties have no portable water. With these severe shortages and gaps, the pandemic could be catastrophic in Africa. We pray it is not so. But prayers are backed by genuine actions. In the scriptures, we are told to ‘Hope in God but tie the camel’. As of now, there are over 42000 confirmed cases, over 14000 recovered, and over 1700 deaths of Covid-19 in Africa. We just pray and hope that Madagascar’s Covid-19 Organics (CVO) herb proves to be both preventive and curative for the African people because our health system is not the solution to this pandemic.
However, pandemics have happened, this is happening, and scientists are forecasting another pandemic in the next decade. Diseases are blind and do not respect frontiers. Prevent or face it. So, is Covid-19 the biggest lesson for African leaders? Will African leaders learn from it? Will they stop being ‘Stomach Infrastructuralists’? Will they stop their zombie policies and invest in human capital? I doubt it. Many doubts it too! Should we lose hope? Never!
Now is the time for the next generation of vibrant Africa leaders to identify this mess, hold our leaders accountable, and start working to fixing and changing the narrative to get the full measure of our dignity.
A word to the wise is sufficient!
Those who have ears should listen!