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Covid toll on Africa has been more than lives; we have lost great talent

Monday June 14 2021
Covid-19 test.

Funeral of a person who died as a result of Covid-19. PHOTO | FILE | NMG

By CHARLES ONYANGO-OBBO

On June 9, at the writing of this column, the total number of reported Covid-19 cases in Africa since the pandemic began stood at 4,946,536. The total deaths were 132,983.

That was a smidgen of the cumulative 174,136,688 cases reported globally on the same day, with a horrific 3,750,423 deaths.

Second and third waves of the virus have broken out in at least nine African countries, and Africa’s vaccination score is nothing to write home about (of the nearly 2.3 billion doses administered globally by Tuesday, just over 30 million of them had been given in Africa), so the worst might just lie, but the gods have not yet deserted us.

The deaths of all the 132,983 people killed by Covid-19 in Africa — and the nearly 3.8 million in the world — are tragic. Yet there is an added blow to Africa. We are a continent where many countries have talented people across many fields, and therefore, compared to others, we are the continent that can least afford to lose them. However, we have lost many.

My labour of love is the development of a digital museum of great figures and unsung heroes of African history called The Wall of Great Africans. We just posted a profile of Linah Kelebogile Mohohlo, a Botswana economist who was Governor of the Bank of Botswana from 1999 to 2016. She succumbed to Covid-19.

Going back to March 24, 2020 with the death of the iconic Cameroonian musician Manu Dibango, the Covid toll on our finest, has been high:

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  • Dorah Sitole was a renowned South African chef, food writer and editor.
  • Lungile Pepeta one of the most inspirational South African doctors of recent times.
  • Mohamed Melehi, a Moroccan painter who helped spur an artistic renaissance in his country.
  • Ahmed Ismail Hussein, Somali musician and an important figure in the country’s independence movement.
  • Wilberforce Kisamba-Mugerwa, a leading Ugandan and African agricultural economist, academic and politician.
  • Béchir Ben Yahmed, the Tunisian journalist who founded the influential weekly news magazine Jeune Afrique.
  • Étienne Flaubert Batangu Mpesa, perhaps the most renowned Congolese pharmacist and science researcher.
  • Abdul Hakim Al-Taher, Sudanese director and actor, considered the pioneer of the idea of theatre for the deaf in the country.
  • Cosmas Magaya, a virtuoso of the mbira and giant of the craft in Zimbabwe.
  • Charles Bukeko (Papa Shirandula) a hugely popular comedian and actor who helped transform the acting profession in Kenya.
  • Djibril Tamsir Niane a Guinean historian, playwright and short story writer noted for introducing the Epic of Sundiata.
  • Mababa "Pape" Diouf, a Senegalese journalist and football agent who was the president of French football club Olympique de Marseille between 2005 and 2009. He was the first black president of a top flight football club in any of Europe's top six leagues.
  • Leïla Menchari, a leading Tunisian designer and decorator who worked for Hermès as a decorator for over 50 years.

These are a handful of the more than 200 we have recorded and/or profiled. In 2023/2024, or possibly even 2026, when we reckon with what else Africa lost other than their lives, there could be a lot of red.

Charles Onyango-Obbo is a journalist, writer and curator of the “Wall of Great Africans”. [email protected]

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