One of the planet’s – and Africa’s – deepest prejudices is being demolished by the way countries handle COVID-19.
For as long as any of us remember, everyone “knew” that “First World” countries – in effect, Western Europe and North America – were much better at providing their citizens with a good life than the poor and incapable states of the “Third World”. “First World” has become shorthand for competence, sophistication and the highest political and economic standards.
So deep-rooted is this that even critics of the “First World” usually accept it. They might argue that it became that way by exploiting the rest of the world or that it is not morally or culturally superior. But they never question that it knows how to offer (some) people a better material life. Africans and others in the “Third World” often aspire to become like the “First World” – and to live in it, because that means living better.
So we should have expected the state-of-the-art health systems of the “First World”, spurred on by their aware and empowered citizens, to handle COVID-19 with relative ease, leaving the rest of the planet to endure the horror of buckling health systems and mass graves.
We have seen precisely the opposite.
“First World” is often code for countries run by Europeans or people of European descent; some of the worst health performers on the globe in recent weeks have been “First World”. For Anglophone Africans, it is doubly interesting that two of the greatest failures in handling COVID-19 are the former coloniser, Britain, and the English-speaking superpower, the United States of America.
Both countries’ national governments have made just about every possible mistake in tackling COVID-19.
They ignored the threat. When they were forced to act, they sent mixed signals to citizens which encouraged many to act in ways which spread the infection. Neither did anything like the testing needed to control the virus. Both failed to equip their hospitals and health workers with the equipment they needed, triggering many avoidable deaths.
The failure was political. The US is the only rich country with no national health system. An attempt by former president Barack Obama to extend affordable care was watered down by right-wing resistance, then further gutted by the current president and his party. Britain’s much-loved National Health Service has been weakened by spending cuts. Both governments failed to fight the virus in time because they had other priorities.
And yet, in Britain, the government’s popularity ratings are sky high and it is expected to win the next election comfortably. The US president is behind in the polls but the contest is close enough to make his re-election a real possibility. Can there be anything more typically “Third World” than citizens supporting a government whose actions cost thousands of lives?
Western European countries such as Spain, Italy and Africa’s other wholesale coloniser, France, also battled to contain the virus. Some European countries have coped reasonably well, as have some run by the descendants of Europeans such as New Zealand and Australia. But the star performers are not in the historical “First World”.
The most effective response was probably South Korea’s, followed by other East Asian states and territories. This is partly because they are used to dealing with coronavirus outbreaks. But it is also because they learned from experience: South Korea’s success is due to very effective testing and tracing of infected people. Whatever the reason, it is East Asia, not “the West”, which has done what the “First World” is expected to do.
Some would reply that East Asia is now “First World”. So, it is still superior; it has simply changed its address. This is debatable. But, even if it is accepted, some places have contained the virus in distinctly “Third World” conditions.
Kerala was the first Indian state to encounter the virus but has kept deaths down to three. It had largely curbed COVID-19 but is now dealing with nearly 200 cases, all people arriving from other parts of India. Judging by its record so far, it will contain this outbreak too.
Kerala, too, has learnt from handling previous epidemics. It also has a strong health system. But one of its key tools is citizen participation: it has worked with neighbourhood watches and citizen volunteers to track the contacts of infected people. Students were recruited to build kiosks at which citizens were tested. Kerala also had the capacity to ensure that all children entitled to school meals received them after schools were closed: non-governmental organisations were mostly responsible, emphasising the partnership between the government and citizens.
Kerala’s performance is not a fluke: it has, for years, produced better health outcomes and literacy rates than the rest of India.
Nor has Africa’s response to the virus confirmed prejudices. When COVID-19 began spreading, it became almost routine for reports, commentaries – and Melinda Gates, who, with her husband Bill, heads the couple’s development foundation – to predict that Africa would be engulfed in death as the virus ripped through its weak health systems. This is, after all, what is meant to happen in the “Third World” and particularly in Africa, which is always considered the least capable continent on the planet.
So far, it has not happened. It still might but, even if it does, some countries are coping better than the dire predictions claimed (and, perhaps, better than the “First World”). One stand-out is Senegal, which has devised a cheap test for the virus and has used 3-D printing to produce ventilators at a fraction of the going price. Africa, too, has experienced recent outbreaks, notably of Ebola, and seems to have learned valuable lessons from them.
The “First World” is still far richer than the rest of the planet and may well remain so. So its politicians, academics and journalists will probably still believe they are better than the rest.
But the COVID-19 experience may just trigger new thinking in the “Third World”. The most basic function of a government is to protect the safety of its citizens. Ensuring that people remain healthy is at least as important a guarantee of safety as protecting them from violence.
Reasonable people would surely much rather be living in Kerala or Senegal (or East Asia) right now than in Europe and North America, raising obvious questions about who really does offer a better life.
That should inspire Africans and others in the “Third World” to ask themselves whether it makes sense to want to be America, Britain or France. COVID-19 has made a strong argument for wanting to be East Asia – or, given Africa’s circumstances, Kerala.
If you are a dyed-in-the-wool East African recent developments in the region will have left you feeling quite distraught. “It would take a lot of bravery to assert that all is well,” says the regional publication The East African in its November 23 editorial.
The union, now in its 20th year, will look back at 2019 as a year it would rather forget. What with the ongoing crises in its two newest members, South Sudan and Burundi. The latter continues to shun regional summits citing all kinds of reasons, including its tiff with neighbour and fellow EAC member state Rwanda; while there’s no peace on the horizon yet for the former, also Africa’s youngest nation. Warlords Kiir and Machar seem hell bent on pushing that jewel of a country back into the dark ages.
Then there’s the bigger tiff between Uganda and Rwanda. Since the border closure by Rwanda in February relations between the two governments have ebbed to perhaps their lowest point in two decades. There are no signs a “friendship” agreement signed in Luanda, Angola will hold and few rule out the possibility of an all-out confrontation between the two if tensions continue.
That two champions of regional integration, in Kagame and Museveni, chose Luanda to be an arbiter in their disagreement, overlooking Arusha, almost sums up the crisis the regional body finds itself. The closest to a nudge from neighbours Kenya and Tanzania came in remarks by Kenyan deputy president William Ruto who while speaking at a summit in Kampala in March described the border closure as “retrogressive”. Otherwise, presidents Magufuli and Uhuru Kenyatta have preferred public silence on the matter.
This is the state the community finds itself going on to its 20th birthday.
Yet, where the cynics may see looming disaster and a bloc hurtling towards an eventual breakup, the optimist will see an opportunity for stock-taking of the gains since the regional bloc’s revival in 2000.
The community has achieved two major pillars to the integration project since 2000, the customs union and common market. While we have toyed with a monetary union, and later, a political federation these two will be difficult to attain in the near future without a significant re-imagination of the EAC’s founding ideals.
In what you would call the EAC 2.0 (the version of the community that came into being in 2000), the biggest achievements have been in the area of trade and (to a great extent) free movement of East Africans within the community. While Kenya and Tanzania have taken turns at confiscating one another’s cattle; burned chickens destined to another’s market; and Uganda has had its sugar wars with Kenya; Rwanda its on-and-off border closures with Burundi and Uganda, intra-regional trade has improved greatly in the last two decades.
Take for example, the recent report on intra-regional trade that showed intra-regional trade in the region in 2018 stood at US$ 6 billion from about US$1.4 billion in 2000, and was growing despite setbacks like non-tariff barriers that still exist .
Rather interesting is that some of the biggest winners of the intra-EAC trade, Uganda and Rwanda, are the ones stocking the flames that threaten to reverse the gains of the last few decades.
On the social front, Tanzania’s bongo music has brought the region somewhat of a unique cultural identity and made Kiswahili cool for a number of young Africans. It will be hard for artistes in other parts of the region to avoid gravitating towards this form of expression, and we are already seeing signs in the likes of Eddy Kenzo, Sheeba and Jose Chameleone (who for ages has been a true embodiment of what you would call an East African). In the same way, Kampala’s parte contagion and care-free lifestyle have all but attained enviable status among our East African peers. Weekends in Kampala are very much an East African affair and lately festivals like Nyege nyege attract more Kenyans and Rwandans combined than Ugandans.
Which brings us to EAC 3.0.
Heading into its third decade, the challenges the region faces will be slightly different from the kind the UTAKE founder generation of Museveni, Moi and Mkapa had to grapple with. With the union expanding to accommodate more members we will soon run out of a sensible acronym for the membership, but that will be a small matter.
With trade firmly locking together the union’s 220 million strong market in 2030, next will be questions of identity. Who is an East African? What rights should they enjoy? Will the union stick to Kiswahili as the lingua franca?
All these are quite complicated matters that the current leadership in the region is not (and will not be, should they live to see 2030) competent enough to address, partly because of their historical baggage and worldview imposed on them by their experience. In short, the kind of bold thinking that triggered Museveni’s regional integration ambition (even proposing, some time in 1996, a union of East and Central Africa!) that eventually birthed the EAC in 2000; or Kagame’s pragmatism in pulling Rwanda into the union in 2007, is what, ironically, will hamper their ability to peer into the future East Africa 3.0 and take the leap of faith.
Both old men find themselves too risk averse to stare into 2030 with the kind of boldness and zeal as they did 20 years ago.
East Africa 3.0 will be driven by shared mentalities about being (East African) and less by the brick and mortar of physical borders, personal armies or a knack to jailing opponents. East Africans living in 2030 will find titles like Supreme Eternal Guide, for presidents, not only a relic from the stone age but quite disgusting as well. Joining the long list of relics, one hopes, will be the small Kenyan matter of tribal politics too.
Nigerian musician Oluwatosin Ajibade alias Mr. Eazi recently launched the emPawa initiative, a talent incubator for rising African artistes in collaboration with YouTube and BetPawa.
emPawa Africa aims to discover Africa’s emerging talented musical artistes and equip them with the skills to make it to the global music scene.
The goal of this initiative is to find the continent’s next global superstars by discovering independent, emerging talented artists and provide them with resources and exposure to accelerate their success.
By partnering up with iconic figures in the music scene, the artists will be equipped with the tools, in-depth industry knowledge, network and investment.
The music industry in Africa can be a daunting place for new artists, with very little information available online about how to turn music into a business, or how to navigate deals with the different industry players.
Once selected, these change makers are mentored to shape the narrative about Africa through music.
The first emPawa Master class took place in Stellenbosch, South Africa in February 2019. Ten artistes were selected from over 20,000 submissions from Africa. Mentors like Diplo, Raye, Kwesta, and DSK, spent time listening to the artists, providing feedback on their tracks, style, and giving them access to original beats to work from.
During the project, other industry experts provide insights – like approaching radio hosts, dealing with labels, music contracts and common practices, strategies for streaming services, how to segment the market using audience insights, distribution, publishing, branding, social media, PR and marketing.
Further in collaboration with emPawa, YouTube will focus on bringing more African artists to the global stage.
It will support ten emerging Nigerian music artists chosen by emPawa to build their craft, increase their fan base and connect with the world through the video platform.
Mr. Eazi’s music has generated more than 900 million streams worldwide, including over 226 million plays on YouTube.
The afropop star has collaborated with global music icons such as Beyoncé, Kranium, J Balvin and Major Lazer. He has also had successful performances at Coachella and the London 02 Arena among others.
The ‘Golden Boy’ Joshua Cheptegei has done it again for Uganda. He becomes the first Ugandan athlete to clinch the record title for 5000m at the Diamond League.
Cheptegei had a spectacular finish at the IAAF Diamond League, setting a new world class personal best of 12.57.41 in Zurich and leaving behind jaw dropping moments of his victory lap. Ethiopia’s Hagos Gebrhiwet came in second at 12.58.15.
This new title also comes with a hefty prize tag of $50,000 (sh185m). More is yet to come for the young and vibrant athlete who has had to endure worse terrain most times training in high altitude ranges in Kapchorwa, Eastern Uganda to perfect his signature enduring pace.
In the Zurich race, the 22 year old was in the company of a formidable Ethiopian contingent comprising last season’s winner and record holder Selemon Barega, 2016 champion Hagos Gebrhiwet Berhe and 2015 winner Yomif Kejelcha Atomsa.
Watched by a 25,000-strong audience inside the Letzigrund, the Ugandan sensation put up a scintillating display of sprinting finesse against a seasoned cast of world-class racers.
As the reigning World Cross Country champion, Cheptegei now has his sights set on next month’s World Athletics Championships in Doha, Qatar.
After assuming the reins of power in a hotly contested general election, President Felix Tshisekedi is faced with an uphill task of maintaining the legitimacy of his government.
In January 2019, Tshisekedi took office, despite critics claiming the election he won was rigged. Now opposition voices are accusing the new president of being Joseph Kabila’s puppet. Critics add that he is unproven, inexperienced and lacks the charisma of his father.
Both in the region and beyond, many argue that, whatever its flaws, the presidential election at least produced a transition from the long presidency of Joseph Kabila, and offers the best bet to preserving stability in DRC and the wider Great Lakes region. They may well be wrong on both counts.
Tshisekedi inherits a weakened government battered and consumed by decades of political turmoil and economic paralysis.
The state is weak while unemployment is rife and modest health care and education are inaccessible for most people.
Social security is at an all-time low which is escalating discontent among the masses that are agitating for robust reforms such as improved service delivery, managing insecurity and health emergencies such as Ebola.
Is Tshisekedi the right man for this job?
Many political analysts believe that calming the storm in Kinshasha and the entire DRC will require consolidating the interests of the coalition led by former President Joseph Kabila and the opposition led by Martin Fayulu’s political front among other warring parties.
Fayulu who was runner up in the presidential election continues to drum up resistance from his political allies Jean-Pierre Bemba and Moise Katumbi and the electorate, a key constituency whose support Tshisekedi needs to drive his development agenda.
However, despite the ongoing troubles in the east, the DRC is more stable today than it was five years ago. Several militants groups have laid down their arms or integrated into the national army.
Tshisekedi must also reform the judiciary and give it the means to prosecute crimes at all levels – from those committed in war, to violence against women as well as those related to corruption.
With assistance from the European Union and China, access to health care and infrastructure are improving. It remains to be seen if Tshisekedi can seize this existing goodwill and embark on nation building.
A new dawn awakens for the citizens of Uganda and Rwanda who anxiously await to reap the fruits of the recent peace deal that was brokered in Luanda on August 21.
Many hope that the “Friendship Agreement” signed by President Yoweri Museveni and his Rwandan counterpart Paul Kagame will help defuse the tensions that have paralyzed many aspects of their citizen’s lives for two years.
The tensions, which surfaced in 2017, have caused a political and diplomatic crisis, developments that have affected the movement of goods and people between the two countries especially after February this year, when the busiest mainland border post between Uganda and Rwanda, Gatuna, was closed by Rwanda.
The standoff escalated when both governments traded counter-accusations of meddling in the internal affairs of one another, espionage, assassinations and economic sabotage.
If not resolved, the row between the two leaders risks dragging in East African neighbors, threatening economic integration and regional stability in an already conflict-prone swathe of the continent.
The restoration of diplomatic channels is being seen as a positive development in the effort to resolve this crisis. However, political observers remain skeptical – cautioning that it may take time before relations between the two countries are restored.
Analysts say a strong political will is needed on both sides to enforce the agreement as it will require a lot of compromises and restraint.
For example, despite the signing of the agreement, there was no immediate indication of smoothing relations as the propaganda war and misinformation remained throughout the week after the pact.
On Thursday August 22, a day after the peace pact, Uganda blocked pro-Rwandan government media websites for allegedly publishing content that is “harmful and detrimental to national security.”
Rwanda responded on Friday by blocking media sites such as New Vision, the Daily Monitor and The Observer in a move that seemed to scuttle whatever progress had been achieved in Luanda days earlier.
To many observers, the solution to the tensions resides in the political will of President Museveni and Kagame to exercise full commitment and respect to the pact they signed.