Africa self-isolation and other rich man fairytales.
“Let them eat brioche!”
Queen of France, wife of Louis XIV Maria Theresa, after learning that peasants have no bread to eat.
First, the West came up with Aid, which has proven to be probably the most damaging thing to the continent it has done to Africa after colonies. (If you’ve never read Dambisa Moyo’s book about this topic, stop everything that you are doing and get it now.)
I have personally witnessed a wave of copy-pasting successful online business models from the USA and Western Europe, not because the demand for them was particularly exploding, but because they were hot in the West, so there was no reason not to expand to Africa. It took a lot of mistakes, and especially hundreds of millions of dollars of foreign investors money, to realize that you might want to pay a little bit more attention to the local specifics of the market. And that maybe you want to look more East in search of inspirations.
In order to succeed in Africa, you need balls (or ovaries — for all my feminist friends), money and technology. African entrepreneurs have more than enough balls, usually lacking money (where do those trillions of dollars of natural resources money is another story, but Tom Burgis in his book sums it up pretty nicely). Western investors have the dough and tech, but lack balls. The Asians have it all. Nigeria is for them just China 30 years ago. Apparently, when Alibaba launched, Internet penetration was just around 1%. Africa is already at 39%, at least according to them.
Full lockdown and self-isolation à la China
1. It seemed China knows what they were doing with suppressing COVID-19,
2. China knows better than Europe what's best for Africa,
3. Big Bad Europe copied the Chinese approach anyway,
4. African leaders are in love with sugar daddy Xi,
5. There’s a big discussion whether long term lockdown and recession-resulted deaths and destroyed lives are not worse than COVID-19 itself
6. More and more signs are showing the Chinese lockdown might not be that effective after all;
African nations one by one started implementing a similar approach of full city lockdowns and self isolations. And this is where the problems start.
Lockdowns and self-isolation work in rich or strict culture populations. Most African countries are none of them.
If a military dictator turned democratically chosen Nigerian President Buhari says “ #StayTheFuckHome ”, 69% of Nigerians should answer “What fucking home?”. Rich European countries can simply afford to pay you for staying home. African countries can’t and won’t. They can’t because they could, but money disappeared. They won’t because if they can do it now, why couldn’t they support the poorest of the poor before? African stimulus plan to combat COVID-19? As far as I’m concerned, there’s been a stimulus plan in action for the last 50 years.
China, Singapur, South Korea, Japan are extraordinary in terms of organization. They are used to strict measures enforcing the law, strong leaders and general obedience of the rules. Africa countries have great rules in place and in most cases good legal system. But rules are nothing without enforcement, and enforcement is always the issue. In regions facing corruption, police actions are focused on enforcing bribes, not rules.
Healthy people, sick economy.
How can you say to 85% of Africans who live day by day, not to move and work? If they don’t work hustle, they won’t eat tonight. How do you tell them to wash hands for 20 seconds, if there’s no running water and soap?
“Street traders, okada riders (a.k.a. “Public transportation) and survival sex workers are regularly harassed and brutalized by state agents while trying to earn a living, but the urgency of their economic situation blunts the edge of any risk aversion that they might otherwise have. If rape and torture are not enough to deter people from leaving home every day to try to make some money to survive, a novel coronavirus outbreak is not likely to succeed either. (…) In my city (Lagos), grimy currency notes go from hand to hand throughout the course of everyday life. People sweat on one another in transit. Communal toilets, kitchens, and bathrooms are typical in low-income neighborhoods and can be shared by as many as 40 people in one building. In the poorest neighborhoods, sanitation is non-existent because neither piped water nor sewage management systems are available.” OluTimehin Adegbeye
African public healthcare system is far from European Standards. The poor part of society in Africa, are actually very healthy because they grew strong organisms. Otherwise, they simply wouldn’t survive the harsh realities of leaving in slums and townships. There is a high chance the COVID-19 mortality will be much lower than in Europe, where even young people have weak immunity due to their lifestyle. That’ the good news. The sad reality is that the lower virus mortality can happen because the weaker bodies in Africa have already died by now. “Today, sub-Saharan Africa alone accounts for almost 50 percent of child mortality, although it constitutes only 11 percent of the world population” United Nations.
Corona can not fly over the Ocean alone.
Only a couple weeks ago, when it looked as if the Corona is ignoring Africa, society was more interested in theories, that black people are immune, instead of preventing the danger. Why has COVID-19 reached Africa so late?
Conspiracy theorists would say that since this virus was man-made, to attack economies, so China can buy them up and continue its plan of World domination, then there is no need to spread the disease to Africa, since China already owns it (just kidding, just kidding!). What I think is that we need to look at the flights.
I’m not this saying it’s a cause-effect situation here. But there is a clear correlation between the density of flights from Wuhan (where the crisis started) and regions where the epidemy started growing fastest — Asia Western Europe! Let’s dig deeper:
The latest data I found for Europe traffic is from 2018, and from 2019 for China. Assuming the trends remain (and looking and International Trade between the regions, I think I can safely say that), we are looking at 900,000 seats for flights from China to Africa in 2019, and 19,000,000 seats for flights from China to Europe. 21 times more people travel from China to Europe than to Africa. 21 times! If every person coming from China is a potential carrier (you can have Corona and not know even up to 14 days), then just of pure probability estimations, Africa pandemic was bound to happen simply a bit later. And I’m not even taking into account travel from infected Europe to Africa.
People living in poor areas rather don’t fly too often. But they work at the airport, clean houses of people that travel, drive their cars, deliver goods to their homes. This is why South Africa has forbidden any non-essential traffic of people between richer and poorer areas. Even restaurants can’t deliver, e-commerce can’t work. Not even China pushed such a restriction. Once Corona gets into South African townships, riots can be just a matter of time. And only the military can stop riots. South African townships have a history of rioting against threats from foreign countries.
It’s all about the flights. But probably not only about that.
I lived in Lagos, Nigeria in 2014 during the Ebola outbreak. I stayed even after all my expat friends returned to their Motherlands. I didn’t do it out of bravery, or some kind of a deep feeling of purpose. I did it out of ignorance. And the reason why Ebola didn’t turn Lagos into Zombie city out of Richard Matheson “I am Legend” novel, wasn’t because of amazingly enforced and organized lockdowns, but thanks to the bravery of one particular woman, Ameyo Adadevoh, who simply stopped the patient with her own body from running out of the hospital.
Doctors say the best diet is the one you are able to stick to. And it seems that shutting down flights is a government order easiest to enforce. Air border lockdown needs to be also done not only very early, but also with a surprise. You can’t let your citizens come back home from the infected regions. Paying them for their hotel is an acceptable alternative cost. If you stop the virus from coming in, you’re safe.
But what do I know, I’m probably about to fall into the valley of despair in this whole Coronadrama. Thinking is better than freaking out.