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Black man, you are on your own – Part 3

By Francis Onaiyekan
30 April 2020   |   2:59 am
Africa is not at all so destitute of ideas that it is incapable to bring meaningful contribution to the table. After all, Africans have cured their ailments with indigenously concocted herbal medicine

Continued from yesterday
Africa is not at all so destitute of ideas that it is incapable to bring meaningful contribution to the table. After all, Africans have cured their ailments with indigenously concocted herbal medicine since ‘the foundation of the world’. Or the entire race would have been wiped out by disease from the face of the earth. It bears repeating: respect is earned; it is never offered on a platter.

The black man must earn his respect from the withholding hands of racist detractors. But that requires that he brings something of unique value to the global basket of knowledge, skills, and ideas to advance human development and progress. “We [must] contribute our stone to the great temple of human history” admonishes Blyden. And we really can, if we have the mind to. Indeed, an optimistic Blyden posited that there is a career before Africans which no other people can embark on, a peculiar work for them to accomplish which no other people can achieve, (Omuabor, 1994).

In this respect, the African Union (AU) has an inescapable role, and Nigeria a leadership destiny yearning for fulfilment. The AU envisions “An integrated, prosperous, and peaceful Africa is driven by its own its own citizens and representing a dynamic force in the global area” Well said. But the leaders who so agreed must pursue and live this lofty dream. The organization aims, among others, to “advance the development of the continent by promoting research in all fields, in particular in science and technology”. A department of Human Resource, Science and Technology are created to this end. These are commendable ambitions. My question is what is this department doing right now about the clear and present danger of COVID-19? African at home and abroad would want to know and make contributions where they can.

In view of the continent-wide deficiency in health care infrastructure, what is the African Union (AU) proactive strategy before the latest threat to public health becomes uncontainable? So far the continent is spared the terrifying magnitude of COVID-19 in other parts of the world. But it would be disastrous to allow Africa to be so affected. The 2001 Abuja Declaration on Action against Malaria charged member states to commit five percent of its GDP to the health sector. This is money that can fund research into preventive and curative medicines. What is the compliance rate so far? We suffer from mosquito infections far more than other races.  By now, Africa should not be imported, but rather exporting mosquito repellant and other devices to the rest of the world. What are AU leaders doing to honour their collectively agreed commitment in Abuja? One cannot but say directly to African leaders:  you must walk your talk; it is a matter of both your personal honour and your collective leadership integrity.

Africa leaders should not just take begging bowls to foreign donors for financial and medical assistance. They will give something alright, but never enough to enable Africa to escape its cycle of poverty. Slave owners never want slaves free. First, AU must think quick and hard, take charge, and do something that Africa can be proud of on the global stage! Second, the Federal Government of Nigeria, in collaboration with the AU, should set up a panel of competent persons to assess the cure offered by Prof. Adeleye and other Africans. We shall use whichever medications work for us against COVID -19 and other diseases that afflict black and human races.

Forty years ago, at a two-day extraordinary session of the Assembly of Heads of State and Government, April 28-29, 1980, an OAU disappointed with the slow development on the continent, came up with the Lagos Plan of Action (1980-2000).

The preamble to the document is worth quoting inter alia: “The effect of unfulfilled promises of global development strategies have been more sharply felt in Africa than in the other continents of the world. Indeed, rather than result in an improvement in the economic situation of the continent, successive strategies have made it stagnate and become more susceptible than other regions to the  economic and social crises suffered by industrialized countries. Thus Africa is unable to point to any significant growth rate or satisfactory index of general well being in the past 20 years (1960-80). Faced with this situation, and determined to undertake measures for the basic restructuring of the economic base of our continent, we resolve to adopt a far-reaching regional approach based primarily on collective on self-reliance”. Except for two or three post-independence Africa leaders, most generally did not see the development and progress of their people beyond the material and ego-boosting benefits of leadership. Great enterprises call for great leadership to succeed.

The great intentions and large commitments of the Lagos Plan of Action foundered across the continent, on the rocks of self-seeking and incompetent leadership. Thirty-three years after, so little had been achieved that a new vigor was necessary. It may be said though those African leaders didn’t read aright the motives of the external do-gooders. In 2013, on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the continental body, the African Union (AU) formulated a development plan tagged Agenda 2063 that envisions “a long term 50-year development trajectory”. This envisions “An integrated, prosperous and peaceful Africa, driven by its own citizens, representing a dynamic force in the international arena”. To bring this to reality, “Flagship Programmes”, “Implementation Plans” and “transformational Outcomes” are all conceptualized and Specialized Technical Committees created.

Agenda 2063 is, like the 1980 Lagos Plan of Action, a document full of words, intentions and promises. Seven years after, only time will tell how well it will succeed. The quality of leadership in Africa has not significantly improved across the continent to give a reason for enthusiastic hope. It is regrettable that, in an increasingly knowledge-driven world, none of the 15 “flagship projects” specifically addresses the urgent need to harmonize resources, design continental academic architecture, create first-class academic infrastructure, establish up to the moment research facilities, and generally upgrade Africa’s intellectual capital. How Africa can hold its own in the global knowledge society is a question that only Africa’s leaders can answer. Pray, who will take seriously people who have no faith in their own capabilities?  Who will (pardon my digression) respect a people whose continental organization, the African Union of 55 countries will not fund a befitting headquarters for itself. The leaders of AU would rather, gleefully, accepted a $260 million, 21-storey everything-Chinese edifice. Knowledge, and the application of it, is power; those who know lead, control and own those who don’t. This is the reality in the emerging knowledge society.

But it is not enough to have knowledge, it must be uniquely African and impenetrable by hostile interests.  As rightly posited by Professor Ayodele Soremekun, Vice-Chancellor of the Federal University, Oye-Ekiti in a May 27, 2019 interview with The Guardian, if you don’t have your own platform for producing knowledge, you will be beholden to others’ with their own agenda. There is no better argument for an African cure for COVID-19 and indeed other peculiarly African diseases. Africans, beginning with their leaders, must wake up to an indubitable fact: all solutions to Africa’s problem must come from within. Then outside assistance may complement. As Edward Blyden said, the opening up (meaning development) of Africa (must) be the work of Africans. To achieve this, he added, Africans must have faith in the Negro race, In a do-eat-dog world of rising nationalism, where nations, because of their own immediate needs, would withhold medical supplies to other needy nations, Biko’s words ring true: black man, you are on your own.


Onaiyekan is a visiting member, The Guardian Editorial Board 

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