By 1854-1874, “imperialist aggression, diplomatic pressures, and military invasions,” were attributes that our European colonizers took pride in (Africana Age, 2011); I call it greed and selfishness. At this point, the traditional African political order had become ineffective in the face of European economic, political, and social pressures (Africana Age, 2011). Colonies were established in all our countries, serving as little viruses meant to take on the host, and strangling it from the inside. They scrambled for our goods and resources (Africana Age, 2011), we scrambled for our lives, kingdoms, cultures and everything else in-between. All that was left was an empty, demoralized and exhausted shell of a people, a country, and a continent. They dried up the host until cultural, political, and economic sepsis (1) occurred. We created a response to their foolish, yet secondary “colonizing mission” and “deliverance” from backwardness. We created a response to their dis-balancing acts that cost us our peace in the various sectors of our lives. We created a response to the acculturation, forced education, and policies that made us subjects in our own bloody countries. These responses have continued to trigger changes that damage multiple systems within the casing left behind by the colonizers. Centuries later and our countries are engrained with systems that seem to never stop attacking themselves, sepsis, a mad concept.
Over time, the sepsis of colonization seemed to take on different forms, one of which was globalization. Although slavery was abolished, other schemes of forced labour were established in these countries (We Forum, 2020). Now, these countries depend on a system they never fully got a chance to understand or recover from, engaging in activities that are mostly not in their favour. It is like being forced underwater for so long, without getting a chance to fully catch your breath before going down under again. This is the predicament of Africa!
Unfortunately, the remnant of the aforementioned is structural violence, which highlights practices embedded in long-standing structures that have been normalized by centuries-long of regular experiences. At this point, Africa has developed social arrangements that simply do not work. There are political, economical, educational, geographical, cultural, and social factors impacting every issue found in African countries. Intersectionality between social determinants and structural violence is at play. Most African countries were forced into specialization, and now their economies respond to the rise and fall of global demands. Unfortunately, every issue bears recognition with a wicked problem, one with no origin story or an easy solution. An example is the issue of healthcare in Africa. African governments operate from a corrupt system and a higher percentage of the money intended for resources goes into the pockets of leaders, with little to no money going towards the training of medical doctors or the enhancement of devices and infrastructures. The lack of accountability by the government allows for loopholes and free access to fraudulence in all sectors. An example is the struggling economy of Nigeria, where the average population lives on less than $2 per day. Any illegal avenue to make money in such a country is almost always understandable due to the unavailability of jobs. People take advantage of the gullibility and vulnerability of people seeking cheaper alternatives; people limited by geographical location and lack of access to healthcare facilities. These problems evidently lead to each other and form a complex web that interconnects the causes of poor systems.
Bearing the health systems issue in mind, it is evident that most African health systems can barely handle day-to-day health operations. Underfunded and overstretched health systems, where hospitals are understaffed and the quality of work drops significantly, is the order of the day. Throw a pandemic in, and it becomes an entirely different ball game! COVID-19 is obviously not Africa’s first rodeo with pandemics. As a matter of fact, post-colonial effects and globalization have made it incessantly possible for diseases to spread with the limited ability to receive cures from abroad cities (whom I might mention seem to love globalization until it is time to save lives). More often than not, these global diseases that become larger scale in Africa rarely go beyond small scale in other countries (eg HIV/ AIDS, Tuberculosis, Cholera, Polio, Ebola, etc). The truth of the matter is this, despite numerous experiences treating infectious diseases, African countries still tend to be unprepared for them. For instance, despite treating Ebola in 2014, which entered Nigeria through globalization in the form of airplanes and foreign travelling, Nigeria was still unprepared for COVID-19. I mean how can an entire nation, the so-called “African giant,” only have 350 ventilators at the beginning of COVID-19 (The Guardian, 2020)? Like Ebola, the onset of COVID-19 in Africa was initially slow with most cases from foreign travellers (#globalization). However, most African countries had to implement serious measures to decrease the cases. Nigeria took a long time to enforce lockdown, which had a negative impact on its citizens. Once again, many factors determined the occurrence of a lockdown. For one, Nigeria lacks a welfare system that provides its citizens with financial aid (i.e. stimulus cheques) There was no means of livelihood for most families, reverting back to popularized African problems of poverty and malnutrition. Furthermore, corrupt heads of states allegedly waited for their children to arrive from abroad studies before locking the borders. Many locals were not educated on what exactly the virus is, as many of them thought it was a “made-up disease” or a “disease of the rich”. Many cultural versions of conspiracy theories emerged and there was no turning back. Prior to COVID-19, volunteers would have fled to “save Africa” but now that everyone is busy saving themselves, the dependency on global aid, based on charity instead of activism, is now biting Africa in the behind.
In a recent press-release, the President of Ghana, Nana Akufo-Addo, mentioned that Africa is a rich continent with the world’s second-fastest economic growth rates and the world’s fastest green region for foreign direct investment which has 30% of the earth’s mineral reserves. Yet, Africa is stricken with poverty (Zimbabwe Voice, 2020).“It is obvious that the aid pass will not take Africa to where it needs to be” He later went on to add “we do not want headline writers to continue to compete for lurid adjectives to describe our continent and its people. Africa no longer wants to be the deficit place to go to and get footage to develop famine stories.” (Zimbabwe Voice, 2020). COVID-19 serves as systemic reset and thankfully, Africa has caught on with the intention of changing the narrative.
I personally concur with President Akufo-Addo, we have indeed learnt from the long and bitter experiences which have taught us that no matter how generous charities are, we have remained poor. It is time to build African economies that are no longer dependent on “hand-outs.” Instead, we need to build ourselves up, making use of the resources at hand while killing-off the remaining fragments of the virus that was colonialism.
(1) 1 Sepsis: an aggressive life-threatening illness caused by the body’s response to an infection.
https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2015/07/how-africas-colonial-history-affects-its-development/ Retrieved from: http://exhibitions.nypl.org/africanaage/essay-colonization-of-africa.html Retrieved from: https://www.britannica.com/place/western-Africa/Claims-of-territorial-boundaries
Globalization in Africa: Refined Colonialism - Oluwatosin (Praise) Oluwayemi MPH (c), Research Analyst ETIO Public Health Consultants
The WHO defines globalization as the increased interconnectedness and interdependence of peoples and countries (Youmatter, 2020). Some examples of globalization are importation and exportation, the flow of goods and services across borders, and human migration. Globalization is arguably the biggest driver of development and has led to the formation of several global initiatives and organizations like the WHO, UNICEF, and the World Bank. It has led to global economic growth, cultural exchanges, knowledge exchange and technological advancements. Of course, it is not without disadvantages, including loss of culture, increased inequalities, and the exploitation of developing countries. I believe globalization has done more harm than good in Africa because globalization, as we know it now, is just refined colonialism. Globalization in Africa dates back to when European colonial masters took over kingdoms, connecting diverse cultures to form countries, and spread their respective languages (Lere, 2014). This wave of globalization brought together independent cultures, leading to political unrest in many countries. We cannot forget the slave trade era of globalization, which saw millions of Africans being traded globally (Lere, 2014). This era further contributed to the underdevelopment of Africa and the associated social and psychological repercussions. Later, African countries gained independence, at an economic cost with colonial masters dictating economic policies and heads of state serving as political fronts. Experts call this the neocolonialism era (Lere, 2014), and Africa became more dependent on the developed world economically.
With globalization came the exploitation of Africa by developed countries for political and economic reasons (Lere, 2014). When we dig deeper into the state of affairs, we realize that the colonial masters may have left physically, but they still have a hold over Africa. For example, until recently, the Central Bank of West African States was required to deposit half of its foreign exchange reserves with the Bank of France and France had a presence in their governance bodies (Africanews, 2020). We read about how developed nations ship toxic waste to developing countries, including Ghana and Nigeria (both African states). Furthermore, when Africa receives foreign aids, it usually comes at a cost. These costs include receiving funding with a clause preventing the development of the country’s capacity (for example, the distribution of mosquito nets rather than advancing the necessary infrastructure for the prevention of malaria). I am not against African states receiving foreign aids, but I think it is important to reflect on what it means for the various countries involved. Globalization has also led to the loss of skilled workers as they migrated to other countries, and urbanization as more people leave rural areas for urban centres. For example, the reported physician to patient ratio in Nigeria is 4:10,000 compared to 26:10,000 in the US and 28:10,000 in the UK (Adegoke, 2019). Rural areas have even worse health outcomes because the already limited number of physicians are not willing to work in these areas. The loss of skilled workers in Nigeria stems explicitly from an underdeveloped system, a result of dependence on international aid. For instance, policymakers would rather travel to the West for medical procedures than develop healthcare facilities within the country.
Finally, globalization has led to the loss of culture in African countries. We see this in policy developments, languages and cultural practices. Instead of developing public health interventions that are relevant contextually and culturally, African leaders blindly follow the West, forgetting differences in community capacity then wondering why the interventions fail. In a bid to appear educated and modernized, Africa placed so much value in whatever language its colonial masters spoke, especially the English language. This led to some native tongues and cultures going extinct, leaving the younger generation clueless about the diverse history and culture of their motherland.
Back in 2017, Ghana’s President Nana Akufo-Addo made a profound statement: “We can no longer continue to make policy for ourselves, in our country, in our region, in our continent on the basis of whatever support that the western world or France, or the European Union can give us. It will not work. It has not worked and it will not work.” (Asiedu & Commentary, 2017). If globalization is to have a positive impact in Africa, it needs to work on its dependence on developed countries. It needs to develop regional capacities by developing its infrastructures across various sectors, including agriculture and technology, so we can keep up with the times, especially in a post-COVID-19 world. It needs leaders resilient enough to not blindly conform to what the West says, but instead consider context, culture and facts to make evidence-informed decisions.
It is safe to say that COVID-19 will redefine what the world calls globalization. Borders have been closed, and there is reduced trading of goods, but this does not signal deglobalization. I think this will usher us into a new era of globalization: digitalization. We already see manifestations of digitalization, from global usage of video conferencing apps to robots working in various capacities within different sectors. We also know that Africa has weak digital infrastructures and skills. Africa has the highest cost of internet access globally and an internet penetration of 37% compared to the global average of 57% (Okonjo-Iweala & Coulibaly, 2019). It needs to develop its digital capacity in anticipation of a more digitalized world.
Adegoke, Y. (2019, April 25). Does Nigeria have too many doctors to worry about a 'brain drain'? BBC News. Retrieved May 29, 2020, from https://www.bbc.com/news/world- africa- 45473036#:~:text=The%20latest%20data%20from%20the,and%2028%20in%20the% 20UK.
Asiedu & Commentary. (2017, December 4). A speech by Ghana’s president calling for Africa to end its dependency on the West is a viral hit. Quartz Africa. https://qz.com/africa/1145953/ghanas-president-akufo-addo-shocks-frances-macron- with-africa-non-dependent-speech/
France ratifies law officially ending 75 years of West Africa CFA. (2020, May 21). Africanews. https://www.africanews.com/2020/05/21/france-ratifies-law-officially-ending-75- years-of-west-africa-cfa//
Globalization: Definition, benefits, effects, examples – What is globalization? (2020, May 20). Youmatter. Retrieved May 29, 2020, from https://youmatter.world/en/definition/definitions- globalization-definition-benefits-effects-examples/
Lere, I. (2014). Globalization and development. The impact on Africa; a political economy approach. IODA International Journal of Sustainable Development, 7(9), 153-162.
Retrieved May 29, 2020, from https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2560140
Okonjo-Iweala, N. & Coulibaly, S.B. (2019, May 30). Making globalization work for Africa.
The Brookings Institution. https://www.brookings.edu/opinions/making-globalization-work- for-africa/