Coronavirus diary – Part 11
When I saw what China had to do to isolate such an enormous part of their population. My first thought was Africa. How in the world are they going to deal with this? — Melinda Gates
I am concerned here about morbid expectations of the dawn of Africa’s winter with regard to the ravages of COVID-19. Earlier on, while Wuhan was in the middle of the death dance of COVID-19, there were doomsday predictions about our beloved continent. It was the continent to watch. It would be horrible when hard-hit by the rampaging virus.
The doomsday prophets in their modelling foresaw a disaster. Kelsey Nielsen writing in Al-jazeera.com paraphrased Melinda Gates view: “In an April 10 interview with CNN, American philanthropist Melinda Gates expressed her belief that the coronavirus pandemic will have the worst impact in the developing world. She said she foresees bodies lying around in the street of African countries.”
The United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) was also sucked into doomsday serenades. Its April report stated: “Anywhere between 300,000 and 3.3 million African people could lose their lives as a direct result of COVID-19.” We are not there yet, that was the discussion on CNN on June 11. In an earlier personal communication from a friend in Washington, DC, he marvelled at the fact that the virus seemed not to have extracted enough pound of flesh from Africa and adduced the fact of hot climatic condition as being perhaps accountable for the slow motion. But he forgot to mention our youthful population and the communal and filial-prone care for the elderly. The slurs, doubts and expectation clouds hover over the continent that we know.
In a report titled Tackling COVID-19 in Africa By Kartik Jayaram, Acha Leke, Amandla Ooko-Ombaka, and Ying Sunny Sun published in April focused on the economic consequences of the virus and there was the usual thread of Afro-pessimism with regards to Africa’s ability to survive the storm of COVID-19. In that report, it noted in part, “As of March 31st, more than 770,000 cases of COVID-19 had been recorded worldwide, with nearly 40,000 deaths. The number of cases, and deaths, has been growing exponentially. Compared to other regions, the number of recorded cases in Africa is still relatively small, totalling about 5,300 cases across 47 African countries as of March 31st (Exhibit 1). Even though the rate of transmission in Africa to date appears to be slower than that in Europe, the pandemic could take a heavy toll across the continent if containment measures do not prove effective.”
In a report by Katie Bo Williams in Defence One, titled, “State Dept. Reroutes Peacekeeping Gear to Coronavirus Fight in Africa”, she quoted Brig. Gen. Leo Kosinski, the head of logistics at AFRICOM as being concerned about its COVID-19 outbreak in Africa.
In the words of the general, “Africa is late in the game in getting COVID. People are concerned it might be the new epicenter for lots of reasons — large groups of people, cultural practices, lack of sanitation — and in Africa you also have malaria and dengue fever and other things.” He further averred that “I wouldn’t say so much with our troops, because we’re trying to do everything with distancing and disinfecting and deliberate decisions, but Africa writ large, the experts say as it moves down there’s a likelihood for Africa to be the next epicenter of this. If that’s the case, how do we help our partners?”
Given the above, I was compelled to exchange ideas with a colleague of mine who works at Ambrose Alli University over the sneaky nature of the virus spread in Nigeria and the continent. His response was that he feared that the forecast of a disaster based on some scientific modelling might come to pass given the poor handling, lack of commitment and COVID-19 corruption that is gradually becoming widespread especially in our clime. Given recent trends in infections and fatalities, I share the fear that Africa’s COVID-19 winter might just be dawning.
Another colleague reported the death of three family members who are his friends in a social media platform we both belong, ramming it home that the threat of COVID-19 is real. Add this to the death which swept through Kano which government committee on the mysterious death confirmed that COVID-19 accounted for about 60 percent of those who died. Ruth Maclean of The New York Times captured the Kano saga in vivid terms, “In the northern Nigerian city of Kano, some people say they now get four or five death notices on their phones each day: A colleague has died. A friend’s aunt. A former classmate….The gravediggers of the city, one of the biggest in West Africa, say they are working overtime. And so many doctors and nurses have been infected with the coronavirus that few hospitals are now accepting patients…Officially, Kano has reported 753 cases and 33 deaths attributed to the virus. But in reality, the metropolis is experiencing a major, unchecked outbreak, according to doctors and public health experts. It could be one of the continent’s worst.” On the heels of Kano’s incident are the current Bonny’s mysterious deaths in Rivers state. What do these portend for Nigeria and the continent?
The death of Burundian President, Pierre Nkurunziza in a suspected case of COVID-19 has accentuated the reality of a prowling pestilence. As of June 15, there were a total of 243,105 confirmed COVID-19 cases on the continent and 6, 464 deaths reported. It has been reported by Deep Knowledge Group that Africa suffers a governance problem in respect to the handling of COVID-19. That combines with commonplace assumptions about poor sanitary situation/health facilities; Security problem arising from the proliferation of terrorist groups which will undermine efforts to contain the virus; refugee camps and the impossibility of basic quarantine in the context; the poor prospect of aid from the west mired in the same crisis; prevalent co-morbidities; dependent economy.
Notwithstanding, some analysts are of the view that the doomsday prediction is a product of “uninformed assumption” “deeply rooted in colonial ideology, which dismisses an entire continent as inherently backward and dysfunctional”. Caleb Okereke & Kelsey Nielsen in their opinion, “The problem with predicting coronavirus apocalypse in Africa”, argued that Gates and his likes while advancing low capacity, ignored success story in Africa like Ghana, Senegal, South Africa, Mauritius, and others which have ramped up their testing capability; the experience of many African countries in dealing with epidemics and the awareness of their own weakness and strength in relation to health facilities. By their attitude and assumption, they “strip African countries of their agency and redirect focus on providing charity rather than supporting already existing and well-functioning epidemiological responses.”
Optimists like Line Mafotsing believe that “While the numbers of Covid-19 infections and fatalities will increase, the current data point to the possibility that most sub-Saharan African countries will likely ride out the Covid-19 storm.” Indeed, data conflicts with “earlier epidemiological predictions and mathematical models. Africans are not dying in the streets and the chances of widespread deaths are decreasing with time”. Even so, available data are not accurate.
The recent ranking of African countries as the most dangerous in a COVID-19 Regional Safety Assessment Report by Deep Knowledge Group, based on governance and effective monitoring and detection of cases among others, spots huge inadequacy in those areas. We need to wake up from policy inertia and make our war room functional by enlisting our productive folkways and wealth of experience so far gathered until the battle of COVID-19 is over. It is the only way to defeat all the doomsday predictions. We need to wake from policy inertia and make our war room functional by enlisting our productive folkways and wealth of experience so far gathered until the battle of COVID-19 is over. It is the only way to defeat all the doomsday predictions.
Akhaine is a professor of Political Science at the Lagos State University.