Pandemic gives Africa the chance to take charge and reinvent itself

Thursday May 14 2020

Ventilator.

Ministry of Health officers inspect a ventilator that is being developed at Dedan Kimathi University's engineering laboratory in Nyeri County, central Kenya, on May 7, 2020. PHOTO | JOSEPH KANYI | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

WALE AKINYEMI
By WALE AKINYEMI
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The world counted losses from the worst pandemic to hit the earth in modern times. People reminisced about the companies that used to dominate economies before Covid-19 hit.

Students used video conferencing platforms like Zoom. Parents told their children stories about how the world came to a standstill. Nations that had amassed weapons worth billions of dollars to destroy other human beings in case of war found themselves powerless in the face of this new enemy.

Wealthy nations ran out of space in their morgues and had nowhere to bury the dead. More people died in the US than were killed in all their wars combined. 

In Italy, the Pope celebrated Easter mass to an empty church. Worship centres were closed and people moved churches to their homes. Even the British Prime Minister contracted the virus, but thankfully he recovered. However, his nation had one of the highest number of deaths in the world.

The pandemic was the greatest environmental cleanser. The skies cleared up and people could once again breathe clean air. The beauty of creation emerged from the misery of pollution. Dolphins came close to shore as animals that had been declared extinct suddenly showed up again.

And then there was Africa.

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It was the best thing that happened to the continent. Today Africa is producing, manufacturing and exporting goods across the world. It was not so before the pandemic. Many African countries celebrated others and neglected their own. Imported items made people feel superior. Citizens had poor health care because their leaders preferred to spend millions to go abroad for treatment rather than fix their local systems.

CASE IN POINT

At one point, the Nigerian president was running the country from the UK where he had gone for treatment. Files and documents were taken to him to sign by the chief of staff. The Nigerian elite were also quick to fly abroad in their private jets to treat even a common cold.

Then president’s chief of staff contracted the coronavirus, and had to go to a local hospital like the 200 million people that the administration represented. The result? He died. The president’s bodyguard also died. The gap between the elite and the masses was wiped out. It was the beginning of a new way of life.

Leaders learnt the hard lesson that when the rubber hits the road, everyone is on their own. International co-operation only favoured the more powerful and advanced nations.

Covid-19 was the turning point for Africa. They started by manufacturing what they needed to deal with the virus, learning from previous catastrophes. They began to look inwards before looking outwards, and it paid off.

Today the world comes to Africa not to issue commands and give conditions, but to learn and to enjoy the refreshing hospitality and dynamism. The world is now flooded with “Made in Africa” products. Education was revolutionised as Africans began to learn how to solve their own problems.

The eyes of Africans were opened to see that innovation triumphs over imitation. Africa woke up from a deep slumber into a new world.

Rewind.

If we miss this opportunity, we will be dependants forever.

Wale Akinyemi is the chief transformation officer, PowerTalks

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