by Boniface Mabanza
Even before the first corona cases on the African continent were confirmed, the Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO) and former Ethiopian Health Minister Tedros Adhanom didn´t get tired of stressing that African countries should prepare for the worst. Meanwhile Corona has arrived in Africa. The countries are affected to different degrees and their respective governments have outdone each other in taking measures to combat the epidemic. In many countries on the continent, however, these measures are more dangerous for the people than the disease itself. This newsletter has provided some insights into facets of the Corona-related health, social and economic crisis in Southern Africa and especially in South Africa. What the newsletter wants to achieve above all is the compilation of links that enable interested readers to perceive and deepen voices and analyses from Southern Africa and Africa on the current situation.
In the next issues we would also like to draw attention to the fundamental debates that are being conducted on the continent in these Corona times and which could also be of importance for the post-Corona times. At this point we would like to mention some of the topics that already characterize these debates and which we will deepen in the next issues:
- Capacity of national governments to act: it was spectacular to see the speed with which governments took action (taking over water and electricity bills in Ghana and many other countries, Emergency Income Grants in Namibia, food banks for poor population groups etc…) Activists across the continent are registering this and seeing it as a lesson that they believe will last and will have positive effects in terms of governments’ commitment to their people.
- The Corona Crisis as a revelation of the vulnerability of the continent and the need for fundamental change: this is the reading that can be found, among others, in the open letter from African intellectuals to African leaders, which has since been signed by people of different generations and spectrums. This letter sees itself as a “small reminder, a repetition of the obvious: that the African continent must take its destiny back into its own hands. For it is precisely in the most difficult moments that new/innovative orientations must be explored and lasting solutions found.” The authors recommend “to remember that Africa has sufficient material and human resources to build a common prosperity on an egalitarian basis and with respect for the dignity of each person”. They call for a radical change of direction and believe that the time is now.
- This change of direction affects the raw materials sector, among others. The continent has largely remained in the role of the raw materials supplier. Many countries produce “what they do not consume and consume what they do not produce” (J. Nyerere). In crises such as these, the question of concentrating almost exclusively on certain export products such as grapes, flowers, tea, cocoa, bananas, coffee, oil and minerals arises anew. And the dependence on foreign processed products and technologies is also questioned. In addition, the question of who, for example, has the power to set or manipulate commodity prices, is also at stake.
- Corona crisis as a new debt trap: in view of the paralysis of economic life and the associated gaps in their budgets and as a contribution to containing the health crisis, many governments can think of nothing else but to resort to the well-known players IMF and World Bank, whose debt management has so far proved to be a license to plunder the continent’s resources. Resistance to this is emerging here and there.
This is just a small foretaste of the debates that seem important to us and to which we want to give space. This newsletter also wants to be a platform where discourses on Africa, which are held in the German and European context, can be discussed. It is striking that the new concerns about Africa, where according to most analyses from the local context it “can only get worse than here”, show many continuities with colonial discourses. We want to make these continuities of colonial views of Africa in times of Corona accessible to our partners in Africa and give them a platform to take a stand on it. This is another reason why this newsletter is bilingual.