Dealing with the virus has shown us something wonderful about ourselves

Wednesday December 09 2020
Covid-19 Kenya.

Health personnel measure the temperature of a visitor at the entrance of the Mbagathi Hospital in Nairobi, Kenya on March 18, 2020. PHOTO | LUIS TATO | AFP


The first Kusi Ideas Festival that was held in Kigali, exactly a year ago, was intended to mark two events in one; the 60th anniversary of Nation Media Group, which is Africa’s second-largest publicly listed media house, and also the aggregate 60th anniversary of independent Africa. For that reason, the wide range of very thoughtful and exciting conversations in Kigali in 2019 looked ahead to how the next 60 years would look like in Africa.

We had many grand ideas about how to structure Kusi 2. But like everybody else, we didn’t foresee that the coronavirus would cause one of the greatest upheavals in the world in nearly 100 years. Though we didn’t foresee the pandemic itself, actually the thoughtful African minds who spoke in Kigali foresaw quite a few of the events that are already beginning to take shape.

For instance, they foresaw a future where urban farming becomes a game changer. Urban farms have been critical in many African cities and towns during the pandemic, as lockdowns and other virus control measures disrupted transportation of food from upcountry.

They foresaw a future where digital dependency increases and a lot more of our daily transactions shift to our mobile devices, and that has happened – although, as in urban farms – they didn’t imagine it would come so soon, or that a virus would be the main driver.

They warned us that if we didn’t become better keepers of the environment, we could unleash diseases, and climate-related phenomena. Both have happened! Covid-19, which is suspected to have jumped from an animal, is a classic example of our exploitation of nature; and this year East Africa saw the worst floods – and destruction from its rivers and lakes in over 60 years.

And they foresaw a flourishing African culture scene, new types of travelling art and festivals. Again, we are already witnessing this online through continental poetry readings, music concerts, and fashion shows.


These are some of the reasons why Kusi 2 looks at this African resilience, and in keeping with its tradition, looks ahead to how we will come out of this crisis, and what we can do to keep on course the best things we had going for us.

Covid-19 has claimed over 1.5 million people globally and our prayers are with their families. We hope the next year brings them recovery and healing. Yet, as I am sure this conference will hear, the worst that was predicted for Africa didn’t happen. There are experts who will speak to that.

But if you take just one example of malaria, it was predicted that it would wipe out Africa, because malaria treatment programmes would collapse, and no bed nets would be distributed. While the threat remains real, a few countries did even better, increasing their bed net distribution!

The response to the Covid-19 pandemic in most countries in Africa has been spectacular. When the pandemic broke out, as at January 2020, no African country had laboratories that could test for the virus. But by February, three had, and today all of them do. Nigeria alone has 80 laboratories with the capacity to test for Covid-19. It is our hope that with the lessons learnt our governments will apply the same vigour and resources to deal with other existential threats and other health challenges like cancers, and cardiovascular diseases that claim thousands of lives every year on the continent.

Amidst the pain, this is telling us something wonderful about ourselves as Africans, and we are hoping this festival will explore them. The Nation Media Group, like numerous other media houses all over the world, went through its own trials during the pandemic. But we found it in us to keep faith in ourselves and in Africa. We accepted that our business model had been irreversibly disrupted, the future was digital, and launched the brand.

We are unashamedly and unapologetically Pan-African. We believe in Africa and its future and with God's help we shall continue to provide a platform through Kusi Festivals for Africa and Africans to have a robust and honest discussion about ourselves and our continent, and where we want to be among the community of nations.

Wilfred Kiboro is the Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Nation Media Group