UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, admitted, March 27th, 2020 on BBC that we are no longer living in a unipolar, bipolar or multipolar world. We are living in a “chaotic” world, controlled by the whims of Donald Trump’s USA and the strongman-ship vagaries of Xi Jinping’s China. Trump has labeled coronavirus, a “Chinese virus,” while China has entertained notions that the virus has its genesis in the defence department of the USA. Russia, on the other hand, lurks in the concourses like an impotent hyena wishing to pounce on the continuously deteriorating relations between USA and China. This is while Europe is at the blink of an economic devastation brought about by the complete shutting off of the industrial machines in Italy, disillusionment in Spain and total confusion in France.
As Europe and America are paralyzed, one wonders what would become of Africa, should the pandemic find its ugly claws there. Indeed, as of March 27th, 2020, South Africa is showing indications that Africa will not be spared. In Europe and America, strong historic economies have necessitated the enactment of multi-billion stimulus/rescue packages which act as a cushion on the ravages of coronavirus, also known as COVID-19. In China, India, Japan and mostly closed Eastern-Asian nations, hegemony and homogeneity have proven assets in these trying pandemic times.
But the same cannot be said of Africa. Poverty, seclusionism and tribalism, will prove yet again self-defeatist strategies for Africa. Coronavirus cannot be allowed to “invade” Africa. Prevention is the only remedy Africa has. If Africa must relax and let the virus take root, there will be more untold death and suffering than what is transpiring in Italy and Spain. For one, Africa lacks not only medical equipment like ventilators, masks and surgical gowns and so on; Africa is ill-equipped to providing basic care to mild symptoms. Unlike in economic terms when the West come to Africa’s aid because their situations are more tenable, in this situation, however, it is not likely that the West will be available to help Africa when Western nations themselves face insurmountable challenges with mushrooming coronavirus in their formations.
Here are four things African government must do BEFORE the pandemic takes root in Africa. First, and foremost, “Prevention is far better than cure.” There will be no chance for Africa to fight the pandemic. Prevention is the most affordable and reasonable remedy under the circumstance. Africa lacks the medical or otherwise, capacity to fight the pandemic. Stringent measures unknown in the history of Africa must be taken NOW. Borders must be closed. People must be contained. Distances must be created. Gatherings must be stopped. And similar-situated measures.
Second, everything in Government coffers must be spent to provide relief to people as their lives literally come to an end. Africa should not take advantage of these perilous times to only exempt on taxes – Africa must go further and provide money for the citizens to spend, as their lives come to a halt. This is both a challenge and an opportunity. A challenge because Africa has a large percentage of its people poor, uneducated and unemployed. An opportunity – because hitherto, Africa has not taken ambitious strides to provide hope to their struggling populations through economic equalization programs. This might make the end of the pandemic a revolutionary phase in the safe evolution of a society that is capable of handling its own economic changelings.
Third, Africa must strongly lobby both multilaterals and bilateral communities to completely forgive debt. There is no other way Africa will brave this pandemic and its aftermath – other than seeking for external debt forgiveness. The West and monetary organizations must accept this as altruism on their part. This benevolence on the West and monetary organizations’ part will be an investment in their future. As it stands now, there is no guarantee that rich countries will continue to be rich without other nations post-chaotic era. Strengthening Africa now means creating viable avenues for investment later.
And last, African (Zambian) governments must lead. In the past African leaders have first waited to see what their Western or Eastern counterparts do before they could react. In other words, African leadership had been more reactionary than visionary. This informs why technological, legal, economic and even political changes first happen in the West, East and last in Africa. However, this is time for African leadership to become creative, empirical, sophisticated and versatile in ensuring that they fashion culturally-tilted, locally-crafted and relevant solutions to real problems. Africa can no longer wait for Europe or America or the East to lead – Africa must lead itself.
There is attractiveness to chaos – beauty is the only solution. Coronavirus is not the end of the world. God did not say that “pestilences/viruses” will end the world. He rather said that “unless the Gospel is preached to the whole world, the end shall not come.” We are still very far from the end of the world. Coronavirus will come and sadly kill many, but it shall end. Life will continue. Africa should, therefore, look beyond coronavirus in its strategy, planning and leadership.
By Charles Mwewa