It is not just the Western world that has the scientific know-how to beat COVID19. Africa is demonstrating to be a trailblazer during this pandemic. Yet the Director of Africa CDC completely ignored it in his discussion on the African response to COVID-19! This is not just afro-pessimism. It’s unwarranted, outmoded and inexcusable oversight.
Africa doesn’t need to choose profits over people
Both Senegal and South Africa have developed affordable, accessible coronavirus testing kits. Yet, Africa DCD Director, Mr. John Nkengasong, in the April 28, 2020 discussion on the COVID19 response and challenges in Africa hosted by the Atlantic Council and moderated by Africa Center Senior Fellow Mr.Cameron Hudson, did not mention them when listing the suppliers of test kits to Africa CDC.
The Africa CDC Director preferred instead to mention Germany, China and big multinational pharmaceutical companies, like Roche, Abbott and other private sector vendors who are collaborating with the joint World Health Organization (WHO)-World Economic Forum (WEF) Pandemic Supply Chain Network (PSCN). The PSCN is a platform bringing together companies that can help organize initiatives to close key supply chain gaps in the coronavirus response while managing a market network allowing WHO and private sector partners (i.e. multinational pharmaceuticals) access any supply chain functionality and asset from end-to-end anywhere in the worlds at scale.
Action, of course, will depend on what issues partner companies want to take on, but may include supply chain continuity, innovation in medical countermeasures, and protecting health care employees. Indeed, as the Hon. Jessye Lapenn, US Ambassador to the African Union and a participant in the Atlantic Council virtual discussion, emphasized, the U.S. private sector has great interest in being part of the solution for overcoming what some insist on calling an “existential threat” to Africa. In other words, U.S. companies want a piece of the African diagnostics and economic recovery (immediate and long-term) pie. After all, Africa has a population of more than 1 billion people; quite a hefty market.
Although left unsaid in the discussion, that’s why it’s important for the U.S. to support Africa CDC now: as part of the strategy to position the U.S. on the continent in the face of the biggest impending market battle of the 21st century. The African Continental Free Trade Agreement between 54 nations has created the world’s largest economic region. With its expected demographic boom (1.2 billion doubling by 2050), Africa will be home to half of the fastest-growing economies as movement of goods, people (i.e. consumers) and capital expand.
It’s perfectly normal and logical for the U.S. private sector to seek ways to position itself favorably on what is becoming the brightest continent for capitalistic endeavors. That’s what they’re supposed to do. Although one should also wonder about the waning of the character of American business, at least established, big international corporations whose thirst for future profits seems to override people.
America is battling its own pandemic crisis, with more deaths than anywhere in the world (almost 60,000 and still on the upswing). U.S. CDC coronavirus tests were bungled. States are competing for medical supplies and equipment and paying premium prices to get them while the federal government agency in charge of the national stockpile is diverting supplies destined to hospitals. Federal and state government procurement systems are surrealistically inefficient and wrought with corruption. Government task forces multiply but the lack of coordination is leading to more deaths. There is a lack of widespread testing. Supply chains for medical supplies and fresh produce are failing.
Is this economy-over-life focus promulgated by the current U.S. government administration what African nations want to introduce into their economies under the guise of public-private partnerships?
Africa can hold its own
Africa is not a continent for the taking or making with what others think is appropriate or needed. It is no longer a passive subject of aid and Western science relying on morally questionable arguments of “goodwill” to deploy “superior” development techniques or scientific “insights” on health, hygiene and sanitation.
It is true that Africa lived a centuries-long arduous hiatus marked by colonial exploitation, post-independence political and economic experiments based on asymmetries of power - between people, professions, states, and institutions - and outside private interest interventions that built fortunes and strengthened dependency on the supposedly exclusive expert knowledge of others. The result was uneven and inadequate health infrastructures and certain iatrogenic consequences; ethical ambiguities and transgressions of research and treatment campaigns; concerted and inadvertent efforts to undermine African healing practices, which were not and continue to not be always commensurable with introduced Western medical techniques.
But Africa also has a long, rich and diverse history of science and technology. And it has the world's oldest record of human technological achievement in the applied sciences of agronomy, metallurgy, engineering and textile production, as well as medicine.
The region south of the Sahara Desert today may have more limited financial resources from both public and private sectors to invest in science, technology and innovation and more limited human resources available than wealthier economies. It has also become the most coveted bride (or groom, depending on which other region of the world is looking) of many a player of global geoeconomics. But it is no longer a passive subject of economic development design testing nor are Africans objectified subjects of studies or guinea-pigs for Western science or technological applications.
Africa has come into its own potential and is contributing innovative, quality solutions to global problems. It’s time for all African leaders to recognize it and defend it.
Astrid Ruiz Thierry, Principal, Upboost LLC