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29.06.2020 Opinion

COVID-19: A Test And A Lesson For African Leadership

By Senator Suleman Pelpuo Ikyei
COVID-19: A Test And A Lesson For African Leadership
LISTEN JUN 29, 2020

Throughout history, pandemics have had both negative and positive shapes on the world economies. From the Black Death through the Spanish flu to HIV/AIDS, pandemics have spread across countries. Affecting global trade routes and deactivated economies of the places they passed through.

They wiped out millions of lives across the globe and threatened the extinction of many civilizations. For instance, the 14th century Black Death swept half of Europe's population and it was estimated that about 35 million people worldwide lost their lives to HIV/AIDS.

The corollaries of these pandemics and epidemics to the world is shortage of labour, low economic output, unemployment, unhealthy population and sometimes shutting down of a whole civilization are always the remaining relics for nations to battle with. This is where great civilizations and nations which cannot cope with the exigencies of the strikes slump down for new nations and civilizations to emerge and take charge of the world's economy.

It is revealed that the advent of Black death saw a sudden slump of the kingdom of England and kingdom of France, and the Ilkhanate empire and Golden Horde lost their roles as great superpowers in Eastern Europe. This created labor demand in the European markets and therefore brought an end to sefdom and feudal land ownership in that part of the world. So in short, wages and purchasing power of laborers appreciated and what was previously viewed as a threat to existence has sudden became a form of economic empowerment and redistribution of wealth for the downtrodden class in those Societies. Moreover, the fall of these great empires led to the emergence of new superpowers like the Ottoman empire, the Mali empire and the beginning of the Italian Renaissance. The literature evinced that West Africa and the Indian subcontinent enjoyed great economic prosperity during this century. There was a shift of economic power simply because these countries took advantage of the gaps created by the 14th century pandemic.

Analogously, Black death and Covid-19 viruses emanated from the Asian continent and their effects on lives and on the world economy are no different. Irrespective of Europe being the worst affected continent in the Black Death pandemic, they later came out of this mess strongly to dictate the world's economy and shaped the path for all the other continents to follow. Europe just didn't come out of this miraculously, history had it that the ingredients that aided the West to rebuild itself in the 14th Century health crisis is hinged on innovation, effective and proactive leadership which were at the same time the drivers that sparked the Renaissance era. Europe's ability to find solutions to fix the development gaps at that time set it on the path of new direction and prosperity, which today serves as the development benchmark for the rest of the continents to mimic. And has since being the consumption and accommodating ground for African wealthy and aristocratic men.

The sudden appearance of Corona virus didn't only put fears in the hearts of developing countries but the powerful ones as well. No one could ever imagined that Covid-19 has the potential of switching off economies and disconnecting nations to stand alone like how the great island of Madagascar is separated from the rest of Africa. And consequently hang every nation's destiny on its own neck like an unexpected honorary degree conferred on a poor leader without his stir; leaving him on the dais to make a judgement to either accept or reject the honor dawned him. Alas, but it is on this stage that the African leaders have to make a decision to revolutionize or continue to be victims of illusory economic standards and maintain their role as footstools of the world economic table.

Today, the strings that hoist Africa's economic survival have been untied by the excesses of COVID-19. No continent has been spared and all countries have witnessed the snowballing effects of this deadly virus on its economy. All the so-called charitable countries that pull Africa to stand on the string of handouts have not only turned their backs but shuttered their doors of sweets for African imports. And Africa is now a blockade against Africa, making the already weak continent helpless. Every country is acting to protect its own and not any other.

In the novelty of this deadly virus without cure, one could literally find himself in the prayer dictum of the dog in the African adage which says, "if everywhere is hot, let my sleeping place be cool". The African man can only find solace and tranquility in the novelty of the disease whose vaccines have since not been discovered by his pacesetters and thus renewed hope in the intervention of that imaginary God whom he was taught to believe and trust for his needs than the one who discovered and introduced him to that "God".Though a test for all groupings of the African leadership but it has also created a space for the African to rethink his/her affairs well. It is a lesson for that African priest who chants " _believe and trust in him for everything_ " on top of the pulpit in oblivion without thought and action. Again, it is a test and a lesson for those armchair African leaders and hoax Unions who see the land as a collateral for their personal enhancements to the detriment of the many and the collective good.

Since the outbreak of the Covid-19 virus, Europe has been the epicenter and the worst affected continent in terms of lives lost globally. In spite of all these, one thing that separates Europe from the rest of the continents is their frontal and collective respond to the fight against the virus. The European Union (EU) which serves as the political and economic bloc of Europe, first called for unity in all fronts among its member states and mapped out strategies that are aimed at mitigating the spread of the pandemic. Then followed by allocation of €93 billion to strengthen its health systems, support Small Medium Enterprises (SMEs) and companies that are affected by the disease to keep them afloat in their activities. This is to mitigate the adverse impact the disease will exert on the European economy. Their final strategy in fighting this pandemic is to finance research to develop vaccine for Covid-19. This is an opportunity for Europe to recreate market for their pharmaceutical industries. These are deliberate actions they have taken to maintain Europe on the position of economic dictatorship. That's what leadership and concrete union mean for the Europeans.

On the other hand, the African story of the Covid-19 fight is a combination of positives and negatives as far as leadership and cooperation are concerned. Contrary to the EU, the abstract unity of the African Union (AU) and ECOWAS was brought to bear again. They embarked on their usually position of silence as if there isn't flames of destruction in the continent but behind the shadows of this silence is the wailing and protestations of that poor man in South Africa who has been locked down for days for wanting of food. Their actions and inactions on the Covid-19 pandemic are like a bunch of stray dogs that bark in unison under the umbrella of unity but dismember to fight in solitude when a single threat strikes. The very things that should have provided the pillars and safety net for Africa to stand firmly against the virus were too weak. There wasn't a frontal fight as witnessed in the case of the EU. Neither AU nor ECOWAS was able to devise a pragmatic strategy or mobilize the African effort to fight the pandemic and give the people a relief of hope. This therefore exposed the inefficiencies of the African systems and the nakedness of its leaders that find comfort in economic statistics of GDP and rhetoric grammar to seek loans and debt service relief from the same baits that serve Africa's impoverishment. It is announced that about 25 African countries ran to the IMF for loans to prop up their economies of which I know Ghana received its share of $1billion and another $100 million support from World Bank. Let's hope these monies are put into their intended purposes and not find their way into "bigmen" pockets. Verily, for Africa, the battle is always the Lord's!

Despite the dark past of Africans approach to issues, Covid-19 seems to present the other flip of Africa's ingenuity on their response to the crisis. There's a saying that if a misfortune forces you to think and act rightly, then, that misfortune is a blessing. Even so, the African Politicians were pushed by the demanding forces of this Covid-19 to shift from the old ways to new strategies of doing things. A highlight of this view is found in Yoweri Kaguta Museveni's speech prior to the country recording its first case of Corona virus. He closed down all the borders of Uganda and tasked the people to " _turn misfortune into opportunity_ ". This is how far the African has been forced to change by circumstances! How could one come to the acceptance that Africa could be food sufficient and survive Covid-19 fight? In fact, a continent that imports food to an annual estimated cost of $35 billion yet possessed 60% of global uncultivated arable land. But in this case, Africa was able to distribute free locally produced food to cushion the impact of Covid-19 on its population. How did we do it may not matter now, rather, it portrays the signal that Africa can do without imported food. This is not only a learning point for the African politician who embraces importation as a rule to governance but a lesson for that family head who has that insatiable taste for exotic goods.

In addition, the threat of Covid 19 has activated the ingenuity of the African technocrats. Materials and equipments that were imported to Africa before the advent of the pandemic are now manufactured in Africa. For instance, in Ghana, companies and individuals started manufacturing Personal Protection Equipments (PPEs) like face masks, hand gloves and sanitizers which are sine qua non to the fight against the Corrona virus pandemic. Also, engineers like Fred Mcbagonluri, institutions like Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology and Kenyatta University in Ghana and Kenya respectively have step in and invented ventilators to help provide oxygen for patients that are severely affected by the disease. Technical institutions like Wa Polyclinic has manufactured sanitizers which are sold in the markets and news of students who have developed sensitive handwash and sanitize equipments took over the media space and greeted with all the praises that they deserve. Isn't beautiful for Africa to carve its own development path and walk on it? As if that was the end, Scientists from the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology have also developed a Rapid Diagnostic Test (RDT) kits to aid the rate of testing in the country. In fact, Esther Boserup was right when she said "necessity is the mother of all inventions". This is how Africa was faring even times of trouble! That's how great the African can turned a misfortune into opportunities! The African has shown his innovation, the task now lies on the African leaders to capitalize on this ingenuity and press the economic change button for Africa's transformation.

The way forward.....

Stereotypically, the geographical North has perceived Africa as a continent of consumers of their goods and not producers of anything worth their consumption. And thus the continue misconception of Africa as a continent of their immediate and proximate solutions regardless of the nature of the African problem. They do this in sophistry manner with external agencies (like IMF, WHO, World Bank and the rest) that they had greater control to suppress the development effort of Africa through standards they deem fitting for world existence.

The evidence is in the the corona pandemonium where there's no cure, and the island country of Madagascar herbal remedy to save the world from the deadly virus was rejected by WHO as a way to undermine whatever that is African in the cloak of so-called standards. Even though the World Health Organization (WHO) has not certified the herbal medicine, the Madagascan government has defied their so-called set standards and tested the efficacy of the drug and it has proven effective for the treatment of Covid-19 patients in the country. But why is WHO not approving the drug to save the world from this pandemic? Is WHO not putting its stamp on this herbal medicine simply because it is from a third world country and thus prefer the loss of thousands of lives in their respective countries and the globe than to accept a drug from a less developed country that will heal the world and generate revenue for Africa? Or in the guise of scientific and product standards, they're not endorsing the drug for use because this time round the loans African countries took from their bait institutions will remain in Africa and will not be flying back to the North? Alas, this is how Africa has always been blindfolded not to believe in their own ingenuity and strength. This is where AU was supposed to step in call on African countries to purchase Madagascar herbal product. If this is not a window of enlightenment for Africa to walk it's own path and charter its on development course then nothing else would be.

How can there be harmonization between Africa and the geographical north when there is no crossed-paths in our Journey? This reminds me of an incident in the pre-independence struggle in Gold Coast. In the midst of this struggle, a certain man wrote an editorial in The African Morning Post questioning the Europeans' (Whiteman's) belief in God. Insisting that if the European was having a God that they belive in, they wouldn't have subjected Africa and its people to a lot of abuses, molestations and restrictions in their own land. He however concluded that the European doesn't believe in God. In a response to this article, Nnamdi Azikiwe wrote a rejoinder titled "Has the African a God?" He said in this rejoinder, if the African has a god, why not worship him and leave the Europeans' God alone? Because he believed that the European has and believes in a god whose name is spelt Deceit and whose law is " _Ye strong, you must weaken the weak. Make ordinance to grab his (African) money so that he cannot stand economically_ ". This is an indication that the African shares nothing in belief and principles or whatsoever with the European.

So Africa must set its own standards and adopt them as their development benchmarks. The Madagascarn path must be the path that Africa should thread.

Also, the pandemic has unearthed that Africa can exist without depending on other continents for survival. This is backed by history of the Medieval ages of Africa where the continent survived and worked to feed its population without necessarily relying on any country or scientific and economic standards to develop. It is narrated that during the era of Mansa Musa, the West African Kingdom of Mali enjoyed great economic prosperity and the kingdom could do everything on its own without outside dependence. It is said that when Mansa Musa was on his pilgrimage back from Mecca, he gave out gold upon reaching any city on his journey and brought with him scholars to establish Islamic schools in the kingdom. Vestiges of these that defined Africa's economic prowess can still be found in the city of Timbuktu in Mali. You can imagine how resourful and great Africa was! I'm not in anyway insinuating that Africa should sever itself from the rest of the world, but Africa should take pregmatic steps to internalise its economy and prevent importation of certain goods that they have competitive edge over.

A cursory look at the resource map of Africa gives one both hope and despair. I think the first President of Ghana, Dr. Kwame Nkrumah was not out of place when he said " _Africa is far from being poor! It is Africans who are poor not Africa_ ". This statement best finds expression in the many precious minerals dotted across the landscape of the continent yet little do Africans drive benefits from them. Africa is a place where oil is found in all the four Cardinal points of the land yet Africa is the larger importer of petroleum products. It is a place where Cocoa and coffee are produced yet Africa imports chocolate and beverages for its population. It is a continent of gold, diamond, copper, iron ore, leather and cotton but adorn its Kings with foreign made jewelleries and clothed it citizens with imported second-hand clothes. This method has not been helpful to us. Correcting this African past requires visionary and valor leadership. The African leader must focus on two main strategies. Put up import substitution industries to turn extracted goods into finish goods and structure the educational curriculum to provide technical and vocational skills rather than the white collar system that we currently have. This must be done in consonant with promoting strong engagement with the African common markets and limit trade with the industrial economies.

These strategies are nothing new except that Africa has abandoned its own history and wants to wrongly copy a history that it doesn't belong. Dr. Kwame Nkrumah and Julius Nyerere adopted Import Substitution Industrialization (ISI) strategy and Self-Reliance policy respectively to transform their countries into higher growth in the late 1960s. Even this has proven to be the solution to the South Americans industrial rise. Besides, the closure of borders in the wake of this pandemic is a justification of the efficacy of these policies to the development and transformation of Africa.

Until Africa replaces "our way" with "their way", Africa will continue to be footstools of economic dominance and its people still the commoners of the human race worthy of no respect and recognition.

Senator Suleman Pelpuo Ikyei

[email protected]

Disclaimer: "The views/contents expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of the author(s) and do not neccessarily reflect those of Modern Ghana. Modern Ghana will not be responsible or liable for any inaccurate or incorrect statements contained in this article."

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