15 March 2020
Conscience of a Centrist
The novel coronavirus has once again exposed the biggest achilles heel of South Africa and the rest of the continent – our over-reliance on big multinational drug companies and overseas universities for our longevity.
It would appear that the colonial project was a success – with all the universities on the continent, not one can claim that it is at the forefront of developing a vaccine for the deadly virus, just like those that came before it.
No! It must be the West that must, when they are good and ready, come up with a vaccine for the virus.
The usual suspects – Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer and GlaxoSmithKline – are the ones expected to come to the world’s rescue.
It is an indictment on the continent’s leadership that decades after independence, the continent still does not have the capacity to develop and manufacture vaccines that are critical to reduce mortality, improve life expectancy and promote economic growth, yet the continent has the highest incidents of deaths caused by infectious diseases, ebola being a good case study.
This surely cannot be the future of millions of young people who call this beautiful continent home, a continent that is home to the world’s youngest population.
The elusive “African solutions for African problems” should not only be a pursuit to settle many of our political machinations, but should extend to industry and the sciences.
That is the only way we can renew the continent and build an economy with the African characteristic of ubuntu, where human life and dignity means more than profits.
Conversely, Africa, with its high population and economic growth, is an increasing potential market for vaccines – that means the big Western pharmaceutical bullies coin it every time a deadly virus visits our shores.
This is why a state-owned pharmaceutical company is critical.
By not taking decisive steps to capacitate the continent and its people to be at the forefront of vaccine research and development in the world, we are ceding our intellectual capital to our erstwhile colonisers.
It is as if Africa has forgotten the wise counsel of one its finest sons, Steve Biko, when he said: “The great powers of the world may have done wonders in giving the world an industrial and military look, but the great gift still has to come from Africa – giving the world a more human face.”
Giving the world a more human face means being able to treat our children, using African minds and ingenuity.
It means developing African science and medicine. It means building Africa’s capacity to address its own problems, using its own institutions and resources.
Our universities must be centres of excellence where research and innovation is the order of the day.