COVID-19: Sino-Africa relations; lest we forget, By Issa Aremu

(UPDATED) Late Professor Claude Ake of University of PortHarcourt (Uniport) was a great African political economist who died in that singular tragic ADC airline disaster of  November 1997. I was his privileged student at the School of Social Science, where I read Economics ( 1982- 1985) after our whimsical mass expulsion from Ango Abdullahi- led ABU in 1981.  

It is not an exaggeration to say political economy (as a tool for explaining socio-economic dynamics of Africa) literally ‘died’ with the demise of the great political economist, and some other  radical African scholars like late Dr Mahmud Tukur, late Dr Bala Usman, late Professor Ikenna Izimiro, Dr Patrick Wilmot, late Dr Rauf Mustapha, late Ntem   Kugwai,Hussein Abdulrahman and  Jibril Ibrahim).  At times like this, just imagine the robust intervention of Claude Ake on the current unipolar narrative ( read: monologue) on COVID:19 pandemic. The pandemic   again exposes the continent’s dependency underbelly. The pandemic requires global no less creative local actions. Sadly Africa is at the receiving  end of received policy prescriptions, grants and handouts, from the  World Health Organization ( WHO), EU, United States, China, IMF and World Bank. Of course with familiar sound bites:  lock downs, imported masks and ventilators.  I search in vain for any clear cut programme on pandemics by all African ruling and opposition political parties ( almost 1000 political parties in Africa without development agenda) in a continent of recurring health challenges even with with cures and vaccines. Claude Ake long warned Africa and Africans against what he called “crowded agendas” in his book Democracy and Development in Africa (1996). He agonized with the painful fact that the continent was loosing “the battle to control its development agenda”. In the 70s  Claude  prophetically wrote about “revolutionary pressures in Africa” (1978). That was before the historic crime against humanity (apartheid) in South Africa was dismantled in 1994, well before the wave of democratization that swept away one person/military/ one party rule in Africa  and Arabs springs of 2012. Claude would have wondered aloud about “lock downs” without guaranteed incomes especially for the rural farmers and the poorest of the poor in informal sectors of Africa. He have recommended “smart” lock down and insisted that lives and livelihoods are two sides of the coin of life! U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned that the world faces the most challenging economic crisis since World War II” Really? Dr Bala Usman would have interrogated this top-down historiography.  Whose world war11? Between 2014 and 2016, West Africa recorded the largest Ebola out break (war indeed) in history. Two and a half years after the first case was discovered, the outbreak ended with more than 28,600 cases and 11,325 deaths majorly in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone. Seven  people were infected cared in the United States, Six of them recovered-while one died. I bet that late Dr Bala Usman and Dr Mahmud Tukur of Ahmadu Bello University would have asked: why would Ebola which killed thousands in Africa be classified as epidemic while  Coronavirus (also thousands killer) a pandemic? If COVID:19 ushered in global recession, whence the hysteria about the  devastating impact of Ebola on the depressed economies of  Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone and DRC Congo? Must Africa wait for Europe and America to face afflictions before they deserve debt relief and debt cancellations? Since the tragic deaths of radical  African scholars,  Africa has undoubtedly lost enthusiastic spokesmen and intellectual advocates.  I can hardly add anything to “The World Will Not Be Destroyed By Fire Or Virus, By Owei Lakemfa in Permium Times of 11th April. As a snob like me Owei  did justice to the snobbery of the leadership the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) which in an embarrassing statement advised  government against approving the Fifth Generation Mobile Technology (5G) claiming it is dangerous and linked to the outbreak of COVID-19. The NUJ also reportedly rejected the invitation of Chinese doctors in order to avoid: “…a situation where Nigerians will be used as a Guinea pig for any experiment.” Haba! Some continents do have those peddling printed ignorance as a trade. Thanks to the Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD). It promptly dismissed the false claims linking the new 5G network with COVID 19 outbreak. The Director of the centre, Idayat Hassan puts it’s better: “5G does not cause COVID-19. There are two types of 5G: ‘sub-6 GHz’, whose wavelengths are under 6 GHz, and ‘millimeter wave’, whose frequencies are above 24 GHz. The sub-6 GHz signals are not exclusive to 5G; 4G networks, Wi-Fi and microwaves all operate using sub-6 GHz signals. Conspiracy theorists point to the launch of 5G networks around the same time as the discovery of the first case in China as proof of the relationship. However, the 5G China installed is the sub-6 GHz type. In other words, your microwave hasn’t given you coronavirus in all your years of use, neither will 5G networks,”

The controversies which also trailed  the offer of support from China and the uproar over alleged racism against Africans in  China   in the current fight against the rampaging COVID-19 are clearly unhelpful. The point cannot be overstated that the productive SINO-Africa relations predated COVID: 19 and will certainly outlive it. Still on Claude Ake. I recall with nostalgia his one-man intellectual guerrilla war against Eurocentric narratives against China and Africa. It was during the historic international conference on “Rethinking Emancipation Concepts” in 1991 by the prestigious  International Institute of Social Studies, ISS, The Hague, Netherlands, where I did my master degree in the 90s. Africa and indeed Asia had emerged at this historic conference as foot-notes in the evolution of emancipatory ideas and actions.  Africa was even presented as a burden with dubious distinction in senseless war, famine, under-development, poverty and disease.  Ake’s intervention at this conference,  offered a food for thought, for a largely Euro-centric menu packaged as international conference. He took exception  to the prevailing myth that China was known to the world through the Tienammien-Square riots and the attendant Chinese authorities’ clampdown. In his characteristic lady-like soft-voice that belied his ever-entrenched resolve, Claude insisted it was intellectual lip-service of Euro-centric bent that would ‘discover’ China through Tienammien-Square. With a billion plus population, Claude insisted China was the world to be discovered not the other way round. Nigeria’s Foreign Minister Geoffrey Onyeama has rightly identified that the recent strains on relations with China on poor communications while urging the Chinese authorities to act on allegations of discriminations.  Lest we forget,  Africa-China relations is long dated. It is  characterized by cooperation rather than confrontation. Just as Africa and China cooperatively put an end to colonialism, apartheid and contained Ebola, so  also the two continents must unite to contain Covid 19 pandemic.

Issa Aremu mni