Written By: Badaru Basiru
What is often neglected in times of calm could willingly be opted for in times of trouble. The point in history at which Africa must, out of a daring necessity, unite may have come. And if the indices still read otherwise, then at what juncture the calls and aspirations of Africa’s eminent thinkers would be heeded other than in this season of sickness?
The current pandemic COVID-19 has a lot to teach us; from demystifying the myth of the invincibility of the ‘civilised countries’ to the possibility of a new world order. It further reveals the wickedness of mankind’s advanced scientific knowledge. COVID-19 is said to have started in China in the city of Wuhan, capital of the Hubei Province. But emerging reports tend to prove that the virus might have existed before. With or without allegations of involvement of some individuals in the creation of the virus, no conscious African needs to be told that only a fraction of the outside world has regard for Africans, at home or in the diaspora. Africa is the continent that has suffered centuries of slavery, exploitation, colonialism, and later neocolonialism; but which, unfortunately, has failed to learn its lessons. Not in the least denying the influence of external forces, the greatest enemies of Africa are now Africans.
China’s response to COVID-19 has won the Chinese government, under the Communist Party of China (CPC), the admiration of the international world, including some of the Western countries. Within 10 days, two makeshift hospitals, each with the capacity to contain 1,000 patients, were built in the affected areas. 15,000 to 20,000 more were built a few days later. The restraint the Chinese people have exercised ever since the outbreak is remarkable. A city of about 11 million people staying indoors, still wearing masks to avoid further spread, testifies to the discipline that has been instilled in the Chinese citizens. In less than 3 months, the virus was effectively controlled and restrictions on movement loosened, with life gradually returning to normal. All courtesy of the struggle of the Chinese communist political pioneer, Mao Zedong (1893-1976).
What can Africa and Africans learn from China’s swiftness in stoping the spread of the virus and treating its patients? What has made it possible for the Chinese to achieve such feat, having recorded over 50,000 cases and 2,500 deaths, when death toll is alarming in American and Western European capitalist countries?
The answer is simple: leadership for service to humanity, something Africa has not yet been fortunate to have. It is not that the Chinese are smarter, nor is it that they have larger and better health facilities than the Westerners. The difference is in the system the societies are run on. China’s ideological twin, Russia, has so far a total of 52,763 cases and a total of 456 deaths. The situation there too was contained, though there has been an upsurge recently.
Worst hit by the COVID-19 pandemic is America with a record of 43,000 deaths, followed by Italy with more than 20,000 deaths, and Britain with another scary record of 16,000 deaths. Easier it is to notice the social and political structures of these countries than it is to be shocked, shocking as the situation really is, by the mass mortal exodus. It stands clearly more than ever that capitalism and its proponents are fast shaming themselves, proving how ineffective and helpless they could be in the face of some virus, which itself seems to be an artificial capitalist creation rather than a natural occurence.
Worse is the correlation of economic status, social background, and race with the deterioration of the pandemic. In America, black-populated areas record higher cases of the virus (inarguably because of poor health care and congested shelters) than white-dominated areas. Thus becomes obvious the discriminatory setting of capitalism. The same obtains in Britain, putting to shame its false supremacist exclusivism and insularity. The British NHS is manned by foreigners mostly from Asian and African countries. About half the doctors and nurses who have helped battle COVID-19 in the UK, with some losing their lives in the course, come from the ‘minority groups’.
The time calls for unity and acknowledgement of the humanity of one another. Is it not sad that the attempt of the ECOWAS member states to create a common currency ECO was thwarted by France? I am not for regional unity. I am for the unification of the whole of Africa, but that attempt was one step in the right direction. The single currency idea was aimed to foster economic progress of the region, reduce lazy reliance of member states on foreign import, most of which contraband and substandard, and encourage inter-state transaction. But it was hijacked with the connivance of francophone African leaders, particularly President of Ivory Coast.
This reiterates the imperative for francophone Africa to severe ties with its former coloniser France. African political independence struggle was at its height in the late 1950s, resulting in Ghana’s freedom from British rule in 1957, and flourishing up to the early 1960s and beyond. Of all the colonisers, perhaps with exception of Portugal, France was the least ready to succumb to the pressure of agitation for independence sweeping across Africa. Knowledge of its dependence on the fruit of the toil of Africans and its choking grip on their economies would not let it give them back their humanity, which it and other European powers at the Berlin Conference of 1884 had taken away. Our African brothers from the western and central Africa need to decolonise, cut off the parasitic and capitalist cord through which France has for centuries sucked away their strengths, leaving them weak and low self-esteemed. It may be that it is the French colonial policy of assimilation to blame, but still it is ourselves to blame.
More dehumanising is the French, and recently British, doctors’ proposal to test COVID-19 vaccine in Africa, and on Africans, the dregs of humanity, those who are not worth the rats in their laboratories. Such a degrading colonial mentality has persisted in the former colonialists nearly six decades after the declaration of ‘independence’ to Africans. But has any African leader, especially from francophone Africa, come out and condemned the proposal in the strictest, angriest terms it deserves? Where is the AU, named O.A.U at its creation in Addis Ababa in 1963, to excuse the copy-and-paste mentality? Thanks to the footballers, Didier Drogba and Samuel Eto’o, who took the trouble to react to that racism and reduction of Africans to something less valuable than rats.
France has never wished well for Africans and African cohesion. Chinua Achebe, in his memoir There Was A Country: A Personal History of Biafra, recounts: ‘Indeed, Paris’s ambassador to Gabon at the time of war, Maurice Delauney, worked with Jacques Foccart’s deputy, Jean Mauricheau-Beaupre––described by French journalist Pierre Pean as the “chief conductor of clandestine French support to the Biafran secessionists”––to supply arms to Ojukwu’s army.’ Biafran Civil War, that show of shame that lasted from 1967 to 1970 and crippled Nigeria’s potential. France was in the backstage arming the Biafran secessionist army to fight Nigerian federal troops, in a bid to fissure the country. Nigeria was, and still is, a threat to France and its colonies.
It is most unbelievable that some Africans in the diaspora are supporting the same system that has brought about their existence outside Africa. I get confused when I hear an African-American or British-Nigerian, or any African man or woman bearing hyphenated adjectives, defending capitalism, in whose belly is embedded racism, slavery, and disdain. Some ‘niggers’ may have missed that it was not out of sheer compassion that the American President, Abraham Lincoln (the ‘Great Emancipator’), fought the war that led to the freedom of Negro slaves. Lincoln was compelled by the extremists in both the North and the South and by the industrialisation of the 19th century. He did all he did in order to keep the Union, and the 1863 Proclamation of Emancipation was merely incidental. It was evident that the slaves down in the South were needed no more since machines could now do within a few hours what it would take them days or even months. Instead of these former ‘slaves’ and ‘green pasture seekers’ to identify with Africa and African condition, they choose to defend their ‘masters’ and capitalism, which has never been merciful just for the sake of mercy.
Disunity has been our bane. France, or any other foreign power, could not have altered the ECO currency programme without the backing of its former African colonies. Such wilful agreement, such stupidity and ignorance, Africans must stop if we truly want real freedom. We must start respecting ourselves, loving ourselves, building our social, political and educational institutions. If Europeans, with their different cultures and languages, could create the European Union in 1993 following the Maastricht Treaty, why not Africans who have never staged even in pre-colonial times wars of such magnitude as the First and Second World Wars? If the fall of communism and Berlin Wall, and the consequent unification of East and West Germany, could hasten the integration of Europe with a single market and currency, why would Africans not break all the walls, unite and create United States of Africa as envisioned by Marcus Garvey, Bob Marley, and Wyclef Jean in his song ‘Million Voices’ which is a tribute to another show of shame called Rwandan genocide?
Africa must unite. The Pan-Africanist movement must be sustained. For in a constantly racist world, political and cultural awareness has to be constantly raised. The pain we feel over the persecution of West Papuans and Africans in China, and in anywhere around the world, should not be what it is: a flow of emotions to dry up after a few days. Up to 1947, the Chinese could not manufacture even a single tractor. Now look what they have achieved within 70 years. Look how astonishingly quickly they have bridged the gap between them and the West. China is now a force to be reckoned with. The Chinese are aiming to take over the world by storm, and there is no stopping it. We too can do it if we bring to the table the same dedication and nationalism. Because we are the leaders and the followers. Were our present African leaders not once poor and hungry like us? Were they not complaining about the injustice and cruelty of their leaders, but have now turned out to be worse than those men they criticised in their speeches and writings? Honesty with oneself is the thing.
We loot our countries empty, impoverish our fellow citizens, and open Swiss bank acounts and fill them with money. We refuse to build and furnish our hospitals and go on medical trips to those same countries we say have stunted our growth. A man must, first of all, know and respect himself for someone else to do so. Let us stop crying victim and start THINKING and WORKING.
Badaru Basiru is a writer and essayist.