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Africa's Modern Heroes and Heroines

· Africa

Africa south of the Sahara Desert is far from anecdotal or drowning in doom and gloom. The region is populated by brilliant human beings. Heroes and heroines from all walks of life are bringing light in the coronavirus tunnel.

Making visible what’s invisible…to the Western eye

Africa is more than ever a place of unsung heroes and heroines of strategic re-emergence and extraordinary human force. The COVID19 pandemic is making visible the striking gap between what outsiders see, trapped in the past, and contemporary Africans and the continent’s realities.

It’s time to recognize the ordinary people across the continent that are breaking the rules and bringing change to help battle the COVID19 pandemic. It’s time to bring to light to the creativity born of African ingenuity, innovation and entrepreneurship. Their indomitable, pioneering spirit and vision of a brighter future is a shining counterpoint to the doom-and-gloom box that the Western mainstream media insists on peddling a narrative that ignores the new beat, the African beat. Staying trapped in that box dooms the West to tone deafness and the inability to grasp Africa in all its splendor.

Let’s not forget that the industrial ‘revolution’ would have never happened had it not been for ancient Tanzanians smelting iron over 2,500 years ago, long before Britain industrialized metallurgy. Today, local engineers, inventors, businesses, and ordinary people across are doing amazing things to boost containment efforts while providing working solutions to African challenges.

Leader vs. Hero

We all know what a leader is: someone who can see a better future, empathetically connects to people and sets a people-centered direction that rallies others to move toward a commonly inspiring and beneficial vision. But what’s a hero or heroine?

A hero or heroine is someone who, with integrity, honor, honesty, intelligence, action and morality, gives of him/herself to combat adversity, often putting his/her life in danger, through feats of ingenuity, courage, or strength and in doing so makes a huge contribution to the community and causes change for the greater good of others.

Today, there are so many heroes and heroines that we didn’t even see yesterday. All around the world, people on the front lines – doctors, nurses, caretakers, first responders, soldiers national guard troops, grocery store workers, truck drivers, taxi drivers taking passengers to medical appointments, food bank volunteers, power plant employees, sanitation workers, farmers, those delivering mail, packages and food – are our heroes and heroines. They are widely recognized and thanked by the public they serve and by most of the world’s leaders.

Unsung heroes and heroines

In America, there are other unsung heroes and heroines that also deserve recognition: those who day-in, day-out are battling government bureaucracy and corruption and its surrealistic and inflexible procurement systems, which are contributing to death not life, to provide access to quality, affordable personal protection equipment (PPE). Then there are those are on the front lines of production of PPE and the materials for making them. For example, the 43 workers in the Braskem petrochemical plant in Marcus Hook, Pennsylvania, decided to live-in and work around the clock for 28 days to produce tens of millions of raw materials needed to make respirator and surgical masks and gowns.

In Africa, there are many pioneers showing the way forward. Take, for example, Sanoussi Diakité, a native of Kolda, Senegal, a graduate of the University of Dakar Institute of Technology and former Director General of Senegal's National Office of Vocational Training.

Sanoussi Diakite, Senegal

Diakité is a world renown inventor at the service of his community. He invented two productivity enhancing machines to lighten women’s work load: a fonio (a type of millet native to West Africa) de-husking machine and a fonio harvesting machine. He has also trained thousands of women and youths in revenue- generating and productivity enhancing methods with a direct impact on improving nutrition, health and livelihoods. He is now producing AFNOR Spec S76-001 barrier face masks using local materials.

Barrier face mask produced in Kolda, Senegal

Within the institutional framework the Senegalese Association for the Promotion of Inventions and Innovations (Aspi), which Diakité presides, he conceived a project to produce the barrier face masks. The project is being implemented in partnership with local seamstress and tailor workshops, civil society organizations and business organizations. Production takes place in one the workshops pertaining to the AKEF-KOLDA women’s association, which has more than 300 members.

The workshop employs 2 men and 8 women, who have been trained in production methods, procedures and quality control to produce the masks to norm. The masks produced are intended to complement protective measures and social distancing rules (non-medical grade). He recently donated 1,000 masks to the governor of Kolda.

Sanoussi Diakite wearing the barrier face mask produced by the women he trained in Kolda, Senegal

What this initiative proves is that it is possible for norm-grade barrier masks to be produced locally. With the philosophy of « Masks for all and everywhere » Diakité has shown that Africans have working mastery of the necessary methodological and organizational knowledge and capability for a coherent and at the same time inclusive model of production advocated by Senegalese president Macky Sall. This is good leadership + heroism in action.

Winning the battle against COVID19…one invention after another

 

There are numerous private initiatives across Africa that can be called heroic, in the sense of the definition provided in the first section of this article. In addition to the ones listed in a previous article on leadership in Africa in times of coronavirus, the following are examples of how Africans are participating in the effort to win the battle against COVID19:

In Senegal:

  • Students at the Institute of Technology of the University of Thies have invented and produced an automatic hand-washing sink that allows people to wash their hands without touching the tap.
  • A group of researchers at the Research and Testing Center of Guediawaye, in the Dakar region, has also developed  an automatic hand-washing system, this one voice-activated and controlled by a centralized robot called "AWA". The machine detects passersby and invites them, in different national and international languages, to come and wash their hands.
  • The Groupe Subdeco in Dakar has created and is implementing its online educational platform.
  • Mjangale Senegal has launched the concept CODER @ KEUR (Coding at Home) and offers free online courses for students in francophone countries to be #python certified.
  • Students at the Polytechnic Institute of Cheikh Anta Diop University of Dakar have invented DOCTEUR CAR, a multilingual robot designed to help protect health personnel by taking medicine and food to coronavirus patients. Docteur CAR allows for telemedicine using an integrated thermo flash and consultation at a distance of +100.000 km. It can be especially helpful in hotels  requisitioned for confinement of asymptomatic cases of cases of community transmission being followed by medical personnel who have limited access to medical grade personal protective equipment. The Health Emergency Operations Center has already put in an order for its treatment center in Fann (Dakar) and the other regions where it operates.

In Botswana:

  • Botswana International University of Science and Technology (BIUST) has saved the country $42.1 million in soap production by producing soap and sanitizers en masse.
  • They also built drones to sanitize deliver medical supplies and drone sprayers to disinfect public places to fight Coronavirus.

In South Africa, Daniel Ndima and Dineo Lioma, of CapeBio Technologies and alumni of University of the Western Cape (UWC), have developed a ground breaking test kit that provides COVID-19 test results in just 65 minutes and promises to cut down waiting times for results by 64%. The qCPR kits which should be available by June, are made in Pretoria and are cheaper than the current imported kits.

In Cameroon, local engineers of the University Agency for Innovation in Bafoussam, the chief regional city in the western part of the country, have produced prototypes of a ventilator and a vaporized sanitizing door.

In Nigeria, Wellvis company, an online health information platform, has created the online COVID-19 Triage Tool, a free online tool to help users self-assess their coronavirus risk category based on their symptoms and their exposure history and in doing so reduce the number of unnecessary and curious callers to disease control hotlines.

These are but a few of the examples of how Africa is shining in times of pandemic. All across the continent, Africans are crafting weapons against the coronavirus. Yet, sadly (and as usual), the U.S. mainstream media seems caught in an outdated gloom-and-doom and National Geographic exotic cultures anecdotal box of the past, finding poverty, hunger, violence, terrorism, and authoritarian leadership tendencies, scenarios and situations the only things worth reporting on, while ignoring those same tendencies on the very American soil they hail as free and just.

African brilliance and wisdom

Africans are coming up with brilliant innovations and using their minds and hearts to do an immense service to Africa and beyond. They are worthy of sharing the stage with leading professionals and inventors and innovators in America and other nations “privileged” in terms of wealth and resources.

 

The COVID19 pandemic needs to serve as a call to arms for African capacity and competence in all areas of human endeavor. It should also serve as a strong reminder to African leaders and supporting international organizations who want to make a real and lasting contribution to Africa’s development and well-being that local production and local value-creation is what will build Africa’s future.

 

As Senegalese Tabaski Mbow, responsible for accounting and finance at Cabinet MG Consulting, reminds us in a Linkedin post:

 

Those destined to become great are distinguished by their patience and their character shaped by their trials and tribulations. Their roots are strengthened in secret. Silence makes them who they are, and they learn in humility, often even in humiliation. But when their time comes, they emerge not as lion cubs but as lions.

 

Such is African Wisdom.

Astrid Ruiz Thierry, Principal, Upboost LLC

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