Op-Ed: Africa is Not the Center of The Coronavirus Epidemic and the West is Pissed
The growing COVID-19 epidemic exposes the West's dangerous obsession with African stereotypes.
Disease outbreaks happen all over the world. Africans know this well. Whether it's Ebola in the DRC or Nigeria or cholera in Zimbabwe or Malawi, African countries always seem to be battling some or other epidemic that barely makes it into the news headlines of the international community—until now that is.
Since the beginning of the coronavirus epidemic, I've become increasingly annoyed by the multitude of news headlines from publications in the Westdesperate to find out why the recent outbreak is "sparing" Africa but not everyone else.
While it may be a better pill to swallow, African governments are already leading the way in terms of response efforts and they will continue to show the rest of the world what needs to be done and how. Tasked with facing off with an epidemic every so often, many African countries have invariably developed effective strategies over the years to contain, treat and resolve. Quarantine and self-isolation are not foreign concepts to us, but they appear to be for the West.
For the first time in a while, Africans have had the opportunity to sit back and watch an outbreak which originated in Wuhan, China, literally globe-trot to other Asian countries, North America and parts of Europe. While there are over 500 cases of coronavirus in the US, close to 300 cases in the UK, over 7000 cases in South Korea and a little over 1000 cases in France, the entire African continent has a little over 100 cases at the moment and just one death. And while it may be that some of the interest in Africa and its negligible number of cases so far has been driven by scientific inquiry and wanting to genuinely know what sets the continent apart from others, it has also been fuelled by the sheer disbelief that Africa is not at the epicentre of this outbreak. A piece by BET for instance, led with "Coronavirus Has Spared Africa For Now, But How Long Will That Last?" while the BBC opted for "Coronavirus: Could African countries cope with an outbreak?"
When it comes to perpetuating endless stereotypes about African countries, tired tropes upon which an entire continent is now perceived, the West is relentless in its pursuit. However, in so doing, it's not only come to believe these stereotypes of a poverty-stricken, disease-ridden and backward Africa, but developed a blindspot. One thing that African countries have under their belt is practise. The South African government has already organized for the 132 citizens evacuated from Wuhan to be quarantined at a military base for three weeks upon their return. The Nigerian government is on high alert since its first confirmed case and has laid out detailed plans to tackle the outbreak from the successes of their response to Ebola.
President Donald Trump on the other hand, addressed concerns around the rising number of coronavirus cases in a recent press conference saying, "It's going to disappear. One day it's like a miracle, it will disappear" and added that, "Maybe [it could] go away. We'll see what happens. Nobody really knows."
While Trump is not known for inspiring confidence in times of crisis, his comments do point towards his government's inability to properly address the outbreak. But of course, the US is the world's superpower and the zeitgeist of the developed world, and so that couldn't possibly be the case. And so it's of no surprise to me when I then tune into CNN and the subject of debate is (wait for it) whether or not Africa is even capable of accurately measuring coronavirus in the first place.
Now, were this question posed (if at all) to other developed countries, it would be a fair one but the fact that it pointedly seeks to undermine the preparedness and competence of the entire continent, in spite of the many decades we've had battling an array of outbreaks, is testament to the West's stance right now: Why us and not them?
Given the heat-sensitive nature of the coronavirus, the climates in the majority of African countries will play a major role in preventing it from becoming as rampant as it is in other countries, especially those currently experiencing winter. As numbers of confirmed cases continue to rise (however marginally) over the next few weeks, watch as the West begins to cheer from the sidelines. Because what is Africa if not the poverty-stricken, disease-ridden and backward continent that the West so desperately wants us to be?
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