Africa in the midst of COVID-19. Will the center hold?

When we heard that the most dangerous disease in the world now was ravaging China – Wuhan in particular, it seemed too far a place to catch up with us here in Africa. Then, like a smothering fire on a refuse dump, the deadly coronavirus burrowed through the globe – not exempting Africa – as though a fox finding a way into the sidewalls of a hill.

This, for months now, all media outlets across the globe have majored in one thing. The reportage on the coronavirus also referred to as COVID-19. From business to sports, entertainment to fashion and what have you, COVID-19 trends in all spheres till today.

In Lombardy, Italy, for instance, the real ‘horror movie’ being filmed as thousands of humans fall flat on the knife of COVID-19 breaks hearts. Also in Spain, the disease keeps punching hard the throat of anyone it comes into contact with that even morgues have ran out of space.

“The first hearse arrived on Tuesday at Madrid’s ice rink, hastily transformed into a makeshift mortuary as Spanish authorities scrambled to deal with a rising death toll from the coronavirus,” wrote Aljazeera in a news article on March 24, 2020.

Experts say, the elderly – probably because of compromised immune system – are the main casualties in the hands of the invisible soldiers defeating any military the world has known. Of the many claims by these medical experts, none really thrilled Africans initially as the notion that the virus cannot withstand Africa’s hot weather!

In Ghana, some medical doctors and nurses who joined this propagation of the hot-weather gospel were the very ones who took to their heels when a suspected case of the disease was first reported at the hospital.

Whereas there could be truth in this hot-weather assertion, what makes most Africans and the world at large fear for Africa – in the face of COVID-19 ­– is the weak health institutions on the continent. This, the World Health Organisation [WHO] itself sent a strong warning to the continent to prepare for the worse.

Coronavirus in Africa Tracker: How many covid-19 cases & where ...
Map: James Wan, African Arguments Created with Datawrapper

WHO’s head, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a news conference in Geneva that Africa must “wake up.” Gripped by fear, Mr. Adhanom – an Ethiopian – reiterated his clarion call saying, “Africa should wake up, my continent should wake up.”

The reality is that, it is not only the head of the World Health Organisation who is concerned about COVID-19 gruesomely ravaging Africa if it [the disease] manages to break loose on the continent. Indeed, with an already fragile healthcare system across Africa, which is highly manifested in how its leaders [political elites] run to seek for medical treatment abroad, the question as to whether Africa is really prepared for the pandemic constantly lingers on the minds of many.

One needs not consult prophets and sorcerers for an answer to this simple question. No! Africa is not prepared today, [not forgetting what Ebola did]. Yes! While the developed, the developing and the underdeveloped world are overwhelmed by the power of COVID-19, without any argument, the most vulnerable of these categories of the world is Africa.

In Africa, basic resources and facilities such as isolation centers, ventilators, testing kits are often as hard to come by as searching for snow in hell. If even nose masks are not that simple to come by, to talk of the issue of inadequate medical personnel to handle the medical needs of the people on the continent is a nonstarter.

As of Monday, March 30, 2020, the continent of Africa had recorded 3,242 confirmed cases of the disease with 69 deaths and 130 patients recovered. The various heads of state had put in plans to contain the spread of the disease. However, the saddest reality is that these ‘plans’ were not enough. In Ghana and most other African countries, it all appears that the old age culture of begging for alms was at its best. So, when Chinese billionaire Jack Ma offered to donate some protective gears to the continent, an ode was sung to his glory.

‘“We are now properly prepared,’ Mr Agyemang-Manu [health minister] declared while receiving a consignment of assorted protective gears donated by the Chinese billionaire Jack Ma which arrived in the country Wednesday morning from Ethiopia,” said the Ghanaian news portal 3news.com.

COVID-19 death toll in Africa reaches 72
Paintings of RBS Crew collective, consisting of painters and graffiti artists, on the walls of Cheikh Anta Diop University in Dakar and the Faculty of Medicine Hospital next to it, include all hygiene steps from washing hands with soap to using alcohol-based disinfectants and sneezing to elbows. ( Alaattin Doğru – Anadolu Agency )

The West African state was not ‘properly prepared’ until Jack Ma came to the rescue? This is a country that has for years touted its possession of gold, diamond, bauxite and arguably any other mineral you could think of. Ghana, again, boasts of timber. This we all know and the sort of timber the country has goes beyond mahogany and such tress. The all expensive rosewood is found in Ghana too!

But, the single most important question is that where does the money accrued from sale of all these natural resources go? Greed, corruption and politics without conscience have been gradually eroding the fortunes of this beautiful West African state. Not long ago, the country’s gold and rosewoods were plundered without mercy by Chinese nationals and Ghana could not even cough at them.

After all that Aisha Huang – nicknamed the galamsey/[local parlance for illegal mining] queen, mercilessly did in the mining sector, she was eventually deported to go and sin no more while Ghanaians who were also caught in the same act are still behind bars.

That was not all. Another Chinese national by name Helena Huang was also let off the hook of the country’s laws after she was arrested with four containers of rosewood and eventually deported. In Helena’s case, she even went missing for days in Ghana, after first being arrested, only to submit herself to the police later on.

Away from Ghana to Equatorial Guinea, in Central Africa, a handful of politicians there have for years lived lavishly at the expense of the country’s poor. In the country where a father – Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo – serves as the president, and his son Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue as the vice president, issues of embezzlement there are now no news to the world.

Since October 2011 to date, Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue has countlessly dominated headlines all for the wrong reasons. From the US seizing his $70 million assets to authorities in Brazil confiscating over $16 million worth of cash and luxury watches, Mr. Nguema has proven notoriously stubborn.

“An appeal court in France has fined Equatorial Guinea’s vice-president €30m ($33m; £25m),” reports the BBC in February 2020, “for using public money to fund his lavish lifestyle.”

If one means touching on states of Africa one by one to talk about mismanagement of funds and resources, such a fellow would probably need a whole year to do so. It is therefore not surprising that many fear for Africa over COVID-19. All the monies on the continent are in the pockets of some few powerful men [and women] who effortlessly seek proper medical care abroad leaving their health system, back home, in disarray.

Serigne Boye aka Zeus, a graffiti artist from RBS crew works on his mural to encourage people to protect themselves amid the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Dakar, Senegal March 25, 2020. Picture taken March 25, 2020. REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra - RC2BSF9EKZX1
Africa faces specific challenges in tackling coronavirus.| Image: REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra

It is true that almost all the advanced/developed world are as well struggling to sufficiently provide all the needed equipment to contain the disease. In a CNN news article dubbed “The US is asking other countries for everything from hand sanitizer to ventilators to help fight the coronavirus,” the piece said America had asked for such assistance in the face of the threat of the disease.

This, many people shared on social media and made fun of a struggling giant – America. The question that most Africans who shared this post did not ask themselves is would any country in Africa or the continent proper have survived had it recorded the number of cases [145,369 as of midday, Monday, March 30, 2020] of the disease America has?

Perhaps, the saddest thing here is how these Africans [especially the youth] are not able to question their own leaders of mismanagement of state resources but take delight in what happens elsewhere. Renowned writer, Wole Soyinka was not far from right when he said: “It is only in Africa where thieves will be regrouping to loot again and the youths whose future is being stolen will be celebrating it.”

In these trying times of COVID-19 ravaging the world, we have seen the serious and non-serious countries around the world. Whereas others could dish their hands into their coffers to give stimulus packages to businesses and citizens, many are those who ran to the International Monetary Fund to beg for funds to do same.

Whereas some used six [6] to 10 days to build a 1000 bed capacity hospital, others only got ‘properly prepared’ after a billionaire somewhere donated protective gears to them. And the mere thought that these non-serious countries are not really poor but corruption and greed placing them in helplessness pains so badly as the sting of an ant.

We can only continue to pray for Africa for the center can never hold should COVID-19 properly torment the continent. The truth is, if we should be in the shoes of Italy or Spain for just a day, dead bodies will carpet our streets!

The writers are Ghanaian journalists who have interest in the world’s politics with an unflinching eye mainly on what pertains in Africa. Views expressed here are solely theirs and do not, in anyway, reflect the editorial policy of this media organisation.

Email: internationaldialogue2@gmail.com

Twitter: @abisolo7 & @aniwaba