Africa must stop crying in the ‘market’ and work for dignity


A colonial police officer on horseback, Nairobi, 1961. [File, Standard]

When South Africa became the first nation to identify a new Covid-19 variant - Omicron – the world’s reaction caught the nation, and indeed the continent, by surprise.

There is a sense in which Africa may have hoped the world should have applauded such a discovery, especially from a continent that has not produced many significant scientific breakthroughs.

But alas, the world slapped us right on the face! Several nations, especially from the West, immediately imposed travel restrictions on all traffic from certain southern Africa nations that had reported the variant.

The response from Africa was not only swift but vicious. Africans of all cadre were united in castigating the global north for their “arrogance” and “xenophobic” conduct. Social media was awash with pithy epithets for the Western world.

A video clip of a BBC interview with one angry South African lady doctor went viral. She seems to have captured the feelings of many – anger over perceived discriminatory, racist, and colonialist profiling of Africa and Africans.

Interestingly, I was all with my sister until I posed to mull over the matter – why we were so angry. Why should we spend so much energy castigating governments simply fulfilling their mandate of protecting their citizens from an unknown variant of a deadly virus?

In any case, such restrictions have been applied before by and upon other non-African nations. The US, for example, on November 8 lifted the entry ban in place for almost twenty months on travellers from 33 countries – including 26 EU countries, Ireland, and the UK. Had this been discriminatory, racist, or colonialist?

Truth be told, this vitriol against the developed world is neither new nor isolated. It is becoming increasingly fashionable for Africans to bash the western world for our woes.

Of course it is a fact of history that developed nations have exploited Africa. Our men and women were mercilessly carted away in ships like goats to slave markets. Our minerals and natural resources have been exploited without shame. But 60 years after political independence, Africa should have charted its own destiny.

Unfortunately, the continent remains largely economically dependent. The scarcity mentality that pervades this great continent has been our greatest undoing.

Nearly every African who gets any opportunity for service or leadership, takes up the responsibility with one single objective – grab as much as I can while stocks last. Thus, almost all nations of Africa are found at the top (or is it bottom) of the corruption index. This leaves Africa a net beggar – extending the charity bowl for almost all essential goods and services.

The truth is no one who consistently cries at the gate of his neighbour to be assisted with food can be taken seriously at the baraza of elders.

Worse still, when such a person is doled some food for children but consumes it all by himself, they cannot expect to be trusted with more. Likewise, a man who idles at the market square while people are at work will inevitably lose his voice and dignity among peers.

Thus, while we celebrate scientists in South Africa – a nation with the most sophisticated genomic sequencing facilities on the continent – we must ask ourselves some hard questions. Where is the research by our doctors on vaccines?

What contribution are our universities making to the repository of applied knowledge? Why should we remain so dependent on solutions from our neighbours when some of the best brains are found in Africa?

Who bewitched us that even resources meant to save our people get siphoned into pockets of well-connected individuals? Yet, we lament at the slightest action taken by our western neighbours in the interest of their citizens.

I fear that the more Africa complains and laments over minor issues, the more we reduce our value and relevance in the global arena. The negotiating table is never for puppies that wait for crumbs to fall from the table, but for serious contributors to the potluck.

Economic freedom is the only mark of true independence – the foundation for honour and respect. Let’s work on it.


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