The significance of February 14 took on a grim dimension this year for Africans. The day marked the first confirmed case of the coronavirus on the continent – the earliest evidence of inevitability since the disease was first recorded in December in Wuhan, China.
About 75 days, 32,000 and more infections and some 1,400 deaths later, it is still not quite clear what to expect on the world’s second-largest continent. For those who take comfort in statistics, Africa is calculably the safest place on the planet as humanity faces this pandemic.
Infection rates on the continent are low and so is the case count even in comparison to individual countries such as France, Belgium, Italy and the Netherlands. Many more Africans are recovering from the virus by the day too and yet, many Africans and those who are not, remain unconvinced by less-than-horrific statistics.
The people believe the scourge will be worse for them than the Europeans had it because Africa’s leaders are woefully incompetent. Africa’s professional class insists that there are a lot of causes for concern and Euro-American spectatorship wonders how the people on the poorest continent aren’t dying as much.
There has been a 43% jump in confirmed cases over the last week but real numbers tell a highly manageable coronavirus problem in Africa. So why are observers worried?
There are arguments to be made about Africans distrusting their own institutions – a psychopathology of colonization.
They do not teach in a class on philosophy of statistics, the emotional compendium necessary for interpreting any sort of mathematical data set. Put simply, what it means for one to be in the right frame of mind in order to read from given scientific data is poorly conceptualized and sorely under-urged.
Are Africans and outsiders expecting the continent’s problem to grow exponentially because they are not in the right frame of mind?
But perhaps, we may say that the doom prophesied is as a result of empiric inefficiencies in the modern African way of life.
Probity and accountability have not been selling points of many of the national governments over the decades. It is thus considerably hard to find the best way of accepting such information as Mauritania claiming it is coronavirus-free; Ghana arguing that its infection rate is 1.5% or Madagascar insisting that a new tonic advertised by the country’s prime minister is a coronavirus suppressant.
A coronavirus-ensured doom may also be prophesied of the continent where so much of the economy depends on vis-à-vis, cash-dependent interactions that happen in crowded and environmentally-questionable surroundings.
This is the same continent with the poorest health networks and healthcare facilities, poor modern communications capacities and where it is more difficult to maintain law and order, according to Uganda’s president Yoweri Museveni. Add the problem of food security to this list.
Statistics, on the other hand, is pliable and results could be predetermined by carefully choosing what to count and how to count it. A question of how governments are arriving at their coronavirus-related numbers is important to ask of authorities in Africa and anywhere else.
The problem with Africa therefore, is not the clichéd dilemma of how much water there is in the glass. We are debating whether there is a glass at all and whether there is any water in it.
We are dared to embrace some sort of nihilism forced by endemic pessimism. No belief in the leaders, no belief in the numbers, no belief in the physical structures and no belief in the rules and regulations.
How do a people emerge on the other side of a pandemic when they are being dared to embrace nihilism? This question may seem far-fetched until you realize answering it opens the door to the discussion on what “normal times” will be in these days of the novel coronavirus.
There are over 40 vaccines at various levels in trial but we have been warned that we may have to wait until 2021 for the proper treatment of COVID-19. This therefore means that lockdowns, the restrictions employed by many countries to calm the spread of the virus, would have to be lifted at some point this year.
Life must go on but what kind of life are we talking about? How do they live when the people have been beaten into their shelves and asked to entertain solely, pessimism and nothing more?
One could make the argument that life must go on but we should not live as though we are in normal times. Although that is understandable, the gaping problem is that these are unchartered waters and we may not find our way back to the dock, now or ever.
What Africans have always entertained will be their refuge in these unfamiliar times. If the people are in search of “new” normal times, the pessimism and near-nihilism which have been entertained for so long will provide no comfort.