Ebola: Wake up call for Africa to build its own institutions

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THERE are instances when I agree with the ideals, principles and vision of pan African activists that include, but are not limited to the late Libyan strongman Muammar Gadhafi, former South African president Thabo Mbeki, and Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe on African renaissance. To a large extent I also agree with Gadhafi’s grandiose idea of a United States of Africa.
The African renaissance was advocating for, amongst many other benefits, the propagation, deployment and development of robust and resourced African institutions that enable the continent to be at the forefront of solving inherent and new challenges across the broad spectrum of health, economic, social, economic, legal, technological, safety and security and the environment in Africa.
If the continent had solid institutions it would not have reacted in a pathetic, confused, comprehensively irresponsible and tragic manner to the Ebola catastrophe. In as much as the “international” community must be of great assistance, Africa itself should have been at the forefront with a working governance value proposition, systems, structures and reasonable resources to help fight the scourge. Africa is for Africans – a mantra of the renaissance activists which is actually very true. Maybe the message was not taken by Africa due to the mistrust of the messenger(s) or the continents leaders are so drunk due to their efforts to please new and old neo-colonial masters.
The Ebola scourge is surely a wakeup call for the continent to build its own robust institutions. I say this because the continent seems to be completely outraged at the “international community” for what they believe is a lethargic reaction to efforts at containing the epidemic. Murmurs of disapproval within the social media are also that the death of our Liberian brother in United States was also some due to some sort of a racist action or negligence.
A more irrational and deep-seated critique of the international community’s relative inaction emerged in a recent BBC interview with Kofi Annan, the former U.N. secretary general, who is from Ghana who said, “If the crisis had hit some other region,” he’s quoted as telling that news organization, “it probably would have been handled very differently”. Unfortunately for Mr Annan, it’s true and further he (Koffi Annan) must be reminded that his generation of leaders in Africa failed the continent by not building institutions and resources that would have enabled a more resolute leadership in solving this health epidemic.Advertisement

The world should have followed our cues. Africa has a white population of a mere 8.9%. Africa also has an Ebola outbreak – and as a matter of fact, the reason it is called Ebola is that the first outbreak of the haemorrhagic virus was in 1976 near the Ebola River in Zaire. It’s an inconvenient truth but it is hard not to agree that race and geography do play a role in the world’s callousness. Race and geography help explain why “some other region” — any other region, really — would get more help. Africa must live with that “truth” and concentrate on developing its own institutions for this epidemic, future epidemics, and other challenges now and in the future.
A lot of African leaders are bad examples and more are jointly and severally liable for inaction because they failed to embrace the Africa renaissance initiative and the United States of Africa idea. In any case besides Ebola how does Africa explain that France is at the forefront of negotiating with Boko Haram; efforts to make the Gulf of Eden safe are led by Americans, that the ICC wants to superintend the trial of Omar Al Bashir and Uhuru Kenyatta, that Europeans and Americans are at the forefront in research and financing of the continents challenges on water, health, sanitation, defence, security, mineral exploration, education, democracy and governance? The list of the west’s footprint in Africa is innumerable to mention. They actually even have centres of African studies at their Universities!
Africa hosts some of the most resource rich countries in the world and yet at the same time harbours some of the greatest poverty, corruption and tribal warfare. Africa has huge potential to propagate forceful institutions as it is resource rich and it has a great pool of human capital with knowledge, expertise and skills scattered all over the world. If and only if we have a united Africa with minimal corruption, good governance, democracy, open and transparent societies and value addition of its primary resources, surely we would be in the process of conquering this epidemic as a continent.
The virus has been known since 1976 and the continent still has no capacity to play a pivotal role in fighting this scourge, 40 years later. The continent has not even invested in research on this virus like what the CDC and private pharmaceutical companies did. We have a misplaced belief that some country/ies in the world will do the research for us. Africa should wean itself of the dependency and donor economy syndrome because it has enough resources to sustain itself and run its institutions. Africa has the capacity to deliver a better standard of living to its citizens.
There are also murmurs of disapproval that United States of America provided 3,900 soldiers to help in the fight of Ebola instead of medical personnel. The question is how many doctors and nurses did Africa itself provide for this effort? Without doubt insignificant human personnel have been dedicated so far by the continent itself to this effort because of the belief that the world owns our lives and the ever present dependency syndrome.
America and Europe have spent hundreds of millions of dollars in aid – specifically for the Ebola fight. They also spent millions to treat Thomas Duncan, a black Liberian man, when he fell ill in the US. The first nurse who contracted Ebola from Duncan is the daughter of Vietnamese parents, the second, Amber Vinson, is black. They are receiving the same all-out treatments as did the US Ebola survivors, Kent Brantley, Nancy Writebrol and Richard Sacra, all of whom are white, and who were flown back to the US from Africa for treatment. Both Brantley and Sacra have donated blood in hopes of helping the other patients. The very reason that these three Americans were even exposed to the virus was that they were over in Africa trying to provide better healthcare for Africans.
Whilst the world was doing all this for us Africa was busy spending millions sponsoring tribal conflicts, billions of dollars on corruption, funding lavish life-styles of its corrupt leaders, siphoning billions of dollars into tax havens and sponsoring warped priorities that only encourage political expedience at the cost of the lives of its citizens. For the record the west does not owe Africa explanations because it should be logical that we have solutions for our own continent.
Every country and continent has its permanent interests rather than permanent friends. Forget help if you have no substantial strategic resource of oil, gold, diamonds and uranium under threat from exploitation by some real or imagined enemy. The world acted fast in Libya because the resources mattered. On the other side as countries and continents they are united in fighting their own challenges. The reaction of other continents on their own to mad cow disease, swine flu and bird flu was swift and well-resourced. They were solving their problems!
Africa must learn to solve their own. It is not fundamentally racist when a nation/continent takes care of its own – especially when that nation is one that values its people as citizens. Tax payers demand accountability of their money as relates to their interests. Just for information purposes only, the countries we have expectations to help in fighting the Ebola scourge already contribute the lion’s share of the United Nations budget.
Fans of African governments and leadership should also take note. The Ebola crisis has revealed the same bureaucratic rot of our systems. It isn’t about money; it is about sloth brought about by complacency and scope creep brought about as a reaction to that complacency combined with political meddling. There is a complete loss of mission focus and, when called upon to act on the very situations, they are performing in a sub-optimal manner – that is to say that they failed. It isn’t specific to any given government but it is endemic to these lumbering, money pit bureaucracies.
The Ebola issue is a slow moving disaster. I just foresee us having an Ebola “outbreak” of the scale as portrayed in the movies “Contagion”, “Outbreak”, “I Am Legend” or “World War Z”. No real precautions are being taken by the governmental health agencies, and you really have to wonder what they were thinking. Most African countries except a few have sufficient laboratory equipment that detects the Ebola virus yet there is complacency to close the borders just so as for all of us to show our thin patina of patriotism as well as a show of support for our brothers and sisters exposed to this epidemic.
We have no capacity to contain this virus if it hits some of our borders. My country of birth, Zimbabwe does not have enough laboratory equipment for present and prevailing health situations, has not invested in Ebola research, prevention and control. We have no known vaccine for Ebola, no specialist in that area and have no financial resources to deploy to fight even the minimum of cases (it costs America millions per patient). This could be true with many other African countries yet we are willing to put this generation at risk simply to pursue a path to show our solidarity.
If this can be news to Africa! The continent must be the first on any scene of disaster in Africa. If it be for some knowledge! Charity begins at home. It’s true! It’s not a racist for any nation to take care of its own citizens first. It must be known! Donors can do so much but we must do so much more for ourselves unless we are willing to be pigeons in some experiments that may go so wrong. The present generation of leaders failed dismally in embracing the ideals of an African renaissance with some causing the actual demise of some of its fiercest drivers.
The founders of our nations and the continent like Kwame Nkrumah, Kenneth Kaunda, Samora Machel, Robert Mugabe, Julius Nyerere, Jomo Kenyatta, Albert Luthuli and Kamuzu Banda amongst many others bequeathed an inheritance of independence from colonial rule. It is the duty of the present generation to bequeath an inheritance of an Africa that works, with good governance, open and transparent leadership, deliver complete and unfettered economic independence rid economies of corruption and conflict and build working institutions.
Africa must believe in its renaissance and a united Africa. We shall achieve much more as a continent working together. Let’s not allow another Ebola to be managed for us ever again.
Brian Sedze is the President of Free Enterprise Initiative and Executive Chairman of Africa Innovation Hub. He studied strategic innovation at MIT Sloan management and IMD; He studied for an EMBA at Africa University. He is Fellow of the Institute of Directors, Member of ACCA and Graduate of CIS. He can be contacted on