Debating Ideas is a new section that aims to reflect the values and editorial ethos of the African Arguments book series, publishing engaged, often radical, scholarship, original and activist writing from within the African continent and beyond. It will offer debates and engagements, contexts and controversies, and reviews and responses flowing from the African Arguments.
Historically, the African continent has been made to believe that it is not only dark and uncivilized but also less valuable to the international system. The negative narrative is traceable to Western civilization when Heorodotus related a cautionary tale about the continent following the seizure and capture of Nasamonians after days of wandering in Southern Libya. After Heorodotus’ threatening tale, subsequent European thinkers’ views of slave trade, racism and colonialism crystallized the backward and savagery perception about Africa. Theorists like; Benjamin K. Hays, Charles Darwin, Herbert Spencer and Eugenicists like Francis Galton gave credibility to the xenophobic ideas. Colonialism worsened the views about Africa as a land of beasts, cannibals and slaves while justifying the burden the white man had towards the continent and its peoples. Two events, during the Covid-19 period are herein expounded to explain a replay of painful memoirs of a rejected continent; COVID-ORGANICS denunciation and Chinese racism and Corona discrimination.
The WHO has since 2003 celebrated 31 August as the African Traditional Medicines Day. This is justified in light of Africans’ command of medicinal knowledge about different herbs, trees and roots that are today relevant in modern medicine. For example, Africans were masters over child birth as they had independently mastered caesarean section using banana wine, reeds and hot irons. In West Africa, Cotton Mather who introduced small-pox inoculation is said to have learnt it from Onesimus, a slave. Today, as a result of diminished national incomes, reduction in foreign aid and a search for effective treatment of common diseases, there has been fresh interest in African traditional medicine. In responding to Covid-19, Madagascar developed COVID-ORGANICS that was unfortunately rejected by the WHO. True, while more than $8bn has been pledged to help fund research into diagnosis and treatment of Covid-19, the rejection and stern warning by WHO against COVID-ORGANICS is unfair and unappreciative of the continent’s innovative potential. Derived from the Quinghao plant, artemisinin, in combination with other drugs, was first used in Asia against malaria before it went to clinical trials in the 1970s. Artemisinin is said to have an effect on SARS-CoV-2, the virus responsible for Covid-19 and scientists at the Max Planck Institute of Colloids and Interfaces in collaboration with the sweet wormwood growing company ArtemiLife plan to test extracts from Artemisia annua on SARS-CoV2 in vitro. In Africa, Artemisia was recommended as a starting point in the anti-Covid clinical trials.
Predictions of increased deaths in Africa have been rather common since the Corona outbreak. Thus, as an international medical requirement, relevant pharmacogenetic and immunogenetic data should be collected from African populations as one of the target groups for the vaccine. However, the vaccine race is not only coordinated by developed countries with the Jenner Institute at Oxford University in the lead but meaningful participation by African scientists is equally minimal. With no clinical trials conducted in Africa, researchers have emphasized that Africa’s Covid-19 research should be tailored to the continent’s realities. While some African countries, Nigeria, Zambia, Tunisia and Egypt are involved in the global Solidarity Clinical Trials, the continent needs support to develop its medicinal research potential, improve efficacy and quality as well as and encourage best medical practices. Like the management of related epidemics such as Ebola, research is critical in increasing the knowledge base and the benefits of different treatment and prevention strategies. Unfortunately, Africa has continued to suffer ridicule that was first sponsored by two French medics, Camille Locht and Jean-Paul Mira, when the virus broke out. In light of the racial statements, local researchers are likely to gain the trust of the population. Following the Malagasy Institute’s Covid-19 drink, WHO’s calls, reinforced by US Centers for Disease Control, urged people not to try the untested remedy arguing that Africans deserve to use medicines at the same standards as people in the rest of the world.
Yet, Africans have historically used conventional and modern health systems either singly or dually. According to President Rajoelina, 105 patients out of 183 had used the drug and recovered from Covid-19. Indeed, like many African countries, Madagascar had recorded no Covid-19 related deaths. Thus, like other medicines, Hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin were tested as part of Covid-19 treatment trials, so too should COVID-ORGANICS have been given the chance to allow a scientific and non-emotional rejection. In a non-randomized clinical trial in France, for example, using hydroxychloroquine was associated with Covid-19 viral load reduction and its efficiency was reinforced by azithromycin. The rejection of COVID-ORGANICS coupled with the continent’s low medical innovations and minimal participation of its scientists in vaccine development disadvantages the continent since access priority is extended to those that participated in clinical trials. The dismissal confirms an unwillingness to accept a possible friendly relationship between conventional (majorly from the developed world) and traditional medicines (largely from Africa). Indeed, until 12 May 2020 when the WHO agreed to clinical trials of COVID-ORGANICS, President Rajoelina had criticized the West for a condescending attitude towards traditional medicine in Africa. Notable is that traditional medicine is successfully being used in the treatment and management of common diseases like malaria, HIV/AIDS, sickle cell anaemia, diabetes and hypertension.
Chinese racism and Corona discrimination
Historically, Africa has served foreign ambitions with resources; land for investment, minerals and cheap labour while remaining poor. Accordingly, partners like China are preoccupied with the continent’s raw materials, iron ore and oil, to drive its growing economy. China has also been accused of land-grabs in Africa to use for food many years to come. Since 1999, China implemented the Go out policy sending about 200,000 employees (construction workers, engineers, translators) of Chinese-State-run companies to Africa. To date, Africa hosts over one million Chinese and boasts of China as its biggest trade partner. But could China be interested in Africa and not its people? While China donated the necessary equipment to African countries during Covid-19, there was a lot of suspicion around the support. On social media, rumours went viral that the medical equipment was contaminated with Covid-19. In Asia’s largest African diaspora, Guangzhou, Africans became targets of deportation, evictions and forced vaccination. This was followed by controversial online cartoons depicting Africans as trash as xenophobia reached its peak. Barred from restaurants, rumours spread that 300,000 blacks were setting off a second epidemic in Guangzhou. Such implicit racism is reminiscent of the 1988-89 Nanjing anti-African protests.
The African Union’s expression of discontent over the racial profiling saw Beijing confirm its rejection of racist and discriminatory remarks. Despite the Corona virus diplomacy, the maltreatment authenticated the hypocritical relationship and confirmed the demonization of Africans as backward, primitive and unattractive in Chinese media. Despite the diplomatic Sino-Africa relations, Africans in China are stigmatized as sanfei compared to Europeans or other Asians.
While such events affirm Africa’s rejection, they provide the opportune moment for Africa’s rediscovery through committing more resources to key social sectors especially investing in health research and remuneration of medical personnel; support to critical sectors; agriculture, tourism and mining through friendly policies and financial decisions. Meantime, Africa’s partners must confront inner held attitudes in relation to race and innovations while extending to Africa/ns the same respect as to other continents and peoples.