Friday, 24 October 2014

In Memoriam

Africa has lost two strong independent voices in the past week: Efua Dorkenoo, the Ghanaian women’s rights activist, and Ali Mazrui, the Kenyan academic and author.

Dorkenoo left her home in Cape Coast and went to work as a nurse in London, where she saw the agony of a woman who had been infibulated giving birth in the mid-1970s. This prompted her to launch a campaign against Female Genital Mutilation. After she relentlessly petitioned officials, Britain passed The Prohibition of Female Circumcision Act in 1985, and most Western and many other governments followed suit. Although the World Health Organisation hired Dorkenoo as a director of its Women’s Health Department, it was not until 2012 that the United Nations codified FGM as a human rights violation.

Mazrui, a polymath academician with an encyclopaedic knowledge of African politics and culture, also battled entrenched interests. A professor at Uganda’s Makerere University in the early 1970s, he was asked by the military ruler Idi Amin Dada to become his chief advisor on foreign affairs. Mazrui replied publicly with a searing condemnation of Amin’s brutal rule, then left to take up a teaching post at Ann Arbor University, Michigan, United States. His radical, groundbreaking, nine-part television documentary series, 'The Africans', co-funded by the US Public Broadcasting Service and the BBC, sparked criticism and praise for its condemnation of both colonialism and Marxism. More recently, Mazrui remarked to a friend that his life had been 'one long debate'.

Friday, 10 October 2014

Blunt warnings from the Bank

There is a strong sense of apocalypse as the World Bank and International Monetary Fund hold their annual meetings in Washington DC on 10-12 October. Part of that comes from the blunt warnings from Bank President Jim Yong Kim that the future of Africa may be at stake if there is no overwhelming, coordinated international response to the Ebola outbreak. He spoke of worst-case losses to Africa of US$32 billion as economies in West Africa are hit by restrictions on production, trade and transport.

The United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon warned that international assistance must be increased 20-fold to stop the outbreak. Tom Frieden, Director of the United States Centers for Disease Control, added more urgency: ‘We have to work now so this won’t become the next AIDS’. Western concern has accelerated as Ebola patients have arrived in the USA and Spain. Given that this outbreak began in November 2013, Kim is right to say the international system has failed miserably to tackle it.

As head of the world’s biggest development agency and a public health expert, it may be also a mea culpa from Kim as he calls on rich governments to back a $20 bn. global health fund to react immediately to such emergencies. He should listen to the doctors from West Africa at the Bank meeting who say the healthcare crisis goes far deeper there: a chronic lack of doctors and nurses (many working abroad for better pay and conditions); sporadic supplies of electricity and running water in most hospitals and none of the specialised protection and testing equipment required.