Africa’s Contrasts

Tue, 19 Mar 2013 Source: Kennedy, Arthur Kobina

Orangeburg, South Carolina.

16th March, 2013

Last week, I listened to the BBC’s Komla Dumor, discussing the network’s reporting on Africa and how well Africa is doing. For illustration, he discussed how De Beers is now cutting diamonds in Gaborone and other great stories about Africa. What moved me was a story about Komla’s college friend, Sebastian, who is in South Africa. According to Komla, whenever he visits South Africa, his friend meets him at the airport with a state-of-the-art Mercedes Benz and takes him to his gated community residence. He contrasted this with how his friend has to rely on public transport to get home on his visits to London. The kicker was that one day; his friend called and disclosed that there was bad news. When Komla asked what the bad news was, Seb said, “They want to transfer me to London!” The crowd cheered. In that speech, Komla also showed pictures of Luanda, with modern skyscrapers and then, a few miles away, people in slums searching for water, illustrating the contrasts of Africa. Africa has produced two UN Secretary Generals and a few days ago, nearly produced a Pope, in Cardinal Turkson. We have produced quite a few Nobel laureates as well. Addressing the UN last year, Ghana’s President Mahama called this century, the “Africa’s century”, citing the fact that six of the ten fastest growing economies in the world in 2011 were African. Recently, Nigeria’s Finance Minister, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala opined that we have something to teach the world about economic management.

To cap the positive news, last month, Ghana’s media, referring to Komfo Anokye Teaching Hospital, reported that “after almost nine hours of surgery by 17 doctors of the hospital, the conjoint twins have been separated successfully.” Despite these positives, the African story has another side. Beside the world of the Mercedes Benzes and gated communities, Africa is neither educating her children nor feeding her people. According to the 2012 updates on the Millennium Development Goals, only one-in-three of our children finish primary school. In May 2012, UNDP reported that hunger affects nearly a quarter of those in sub-Saharan Africa and four-in-ten African children. In response to this crisis, President Obama has launched 3 billion USD African Food Security Plan. He said the initiative would address, “unacceptable starvation” and added “there is no reason why Africa cannot feed itself.”

Remember the story about the conjoint twins? They both died. At that hospital, a few years ago, over a few months, nine out of eleven ventilators installed broke down due to lack of maintenance and led to preventable deaths. Here is another story. I met a two and a half year old boy at Moree Health Centre in the Central region of Ghana. I went there with an offer to run a weekly clinic to save patients the trouble of travelling to the Central Regional Hospital where I practiced. This child had been at the clinic since morning and was awaiting transfer to the hospital. He had come in with seizures and was severely anemic. He needed transfer to the hospital for treatment. His mother could not afford the cost of a taxi to transfer him to the hospital. I paid for the transfer and Dr. Okine saved the life of that boy. Across Africa, every day, there are thousands of people dying like that due to lack of ambulances, blood and other basic resources.

On Ghana’s celebrated democracy, renowned African industrialist and Lawyer Akenten Appiah-Menka told some lawyers last week that “the 4th Republic is being shamefully brutalized and overtaken by the triplet evils of massive corruption, naked and shameless vocal practices of tribalism and conscienceless political polarization of all national issues and concerns.”During an address in Abeokuta last week, former President Clinton echoed the sentiments when he said on Nigeria’s oil wealth, ‘You should have re-invested it in different ways.” He continued, “As you keep trying to divide the power, you have to figure out a way to have a strategy that will help in sharing prosperity.” He added that Nigeria’s leaders must “redistribute wealth amongst the haves and the have-nots.” President Clinton speculated that the “Boko Haram” crisis was part of the revolt of the underclass to Nigeria’s disparities.

While the media has traditionally focused on reporting negative stories, that is not the case with Africa. Mostly now, only the positives are being reported. However, as Komla Dumor pointed out, we must report both sides. The question is whether reporting both stories equally does justice to the millions of Africans who are hungry, not being educated, unemployed and dying from very, very preventable diseases. It is not just a matter of telling the story of the underclass. It is a matter of making them part of Africa’s revival. To return to Komla Dumor, if indeed his friend represents the experience of a majority of Africans, then Britain and America would not have a problem with so many of our brethren knocking on their doors for economic opportunities. Last week, I spoke to my friend, Alhaji Harruna Attah of PEN fame and he, a Muslim, moved me with his excitement about the prospect of an African becoming the Pope. However, we must name Africa’s challenges honestly in order to solve them.

Our continent has more wealth disparity than any other continent. The continent of community has become the continent of extreme inequality. I fear that one of these days; the masses will rise up and burn the Mercedes Benzes before invading the gated communities to teach the selfish upper classes some lessons. Indeed, this has happened in spurts in many countries—only for the upper classes to come back. These are the failed false revolutions that litter our history. To avoid this coming revolt, let us improve the public schools in Africa so that more poor children can get to Universities. Let us improve our Universities so that more of our graduates will have jobs waiting for them when they graduate. Let us have job-centered economic growth so that more of the under-class will move up and join the middle classes. Let our leaders tackle the problems of the underclass rather than the greed of their friends and relatives. If we do not start positive peaceful change, we will meet violent change.

Arthur Kobina Kennedy

Columnist: Kennedy, Arthur Kobina