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A grain of wheat will stop Africa’s begging missions

Friday June 17 2022
Macky Sall and Vladimir Putin.

Macky Sall, Senegal's President and Chairperson of the African Union (AU), meets Russian President Vladimir Putin in Sochi on June 3, 2022. PHOTO | MIKHAIL KLIMENTYEV | SPUTNIK | AFP

By TEE NGUGI

Senegalese President Macky Sall was recently in Russia to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin. At the meeting, Sall, who represented Africa in his capacity as the chairman of the African Union, pleaded with Putin to allow Ukraine grain exports.

Grain shortage from Ukraine has caused a global food crisis which has hit Africa the hardest. Said Sall to Putin, “I have come to see you to ask you to be aware that our countries, even though far from the theatre of war are victims….” In response, Putin said that he might allow Ukraine to export its grain. And with that assurance, the chairman of the proud African Union, concluded his begging mission to Moscow on a satisfactory note.

However, that mission emphasised — for the umpteenth time — Africa’s vulnerability to every crisis. When Covid hit, Africa was talked of as the most vulnerable because of its underdeveloped health system.

Fortunately, Africa was spared the worst ravages of Covid for reasons that are yet to be scientifically determined. But the worry about Africa was not idle talk. At the start of the pandemic, African countries, except South Africa, had few, if any, diagnostic centres for Covid. They had inadequate intensive care bed capacity. They had inadequate protective gear, and few ventilators.

Most African countries had no capacity to develop vaccines. When the vaccines were developed, Africans desperately begged the West to spare a percentage of doses. But even when vaccines became available in Africa, some countries had little capacity for storage, distribution and administration.

As if all these problems were not enough, funds set aside to deal with Covid were stolen by government officials in cahoots with cartels in several countries including in South Africa.

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When effects of climate change worsen, Africa is again the most vulnerable. Failing rains expose millions to the risk of starvation. Floods kill thousands. When these natural disasters strike, we again embark on begging missions to the West. When terrorists overrun our poorly-resourced, undisciplined and unmotivated armies, we beg the West to intervene. Even our own peacekeeping missions, like the one in Somalia, are funded by the West.

So after more than half a century of independence, it’s time to ask ourselves the hard questions. Why can’t we produce enough grain to feed ourselves and the rest of the world? Why don’t we have research institutes capable of developing vaccines? Why have we not learnt how to manage drought so that we don’t lose thousands of lives during every drought cycle? Why do we allow funds meant to help the sick and the dying to be stolen by our own governments working in cahoots with cartels? Why do we not have disciplined, motivated and well-paid armies to defend us from terrorists?

These are questions we must begin to ask ourselves so that, hopefully, we can trigger an honest conversation about how we, ourselves, have contributed to own underdevelopment.

Tee Ngugi is a Nairobi-based political commentator

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