By Olúfẹ́mi Táíwò
I am now convinced beyond all doubts, reasonable, unreasonable, unreasoned, reasoned, reasonless, name it, that something is wrong with us, Africans! Recently, there we were, vituperating about a video of two French physicians bantering about testing any new coronavirus vaccine in Africa because, if my memory serves me correctly, Africa is the place where there are not rules, no protocols, no standards and it would be easier—few hoops to jump through—and quicker to prosecute the tests and help humanity. All hell broke loose. The virtual world was abuzz with that peculiar African knack for blowing hot air and later going quietly with our tails between our hindlimbs to curry favour with the objects of our animus.
Meanwhile, we were busy spreading all kinds of garbage about Bill Gates and his wife, Melinda, and their foundation wanting to make billions of dollars from pumping Africans with dubious vaccines designed to cripple our reproductive ability, if not end our race’s existence on the face
Then, a breakthrough! It has to be. The Madagascar president, Andres Rajoelina, announced that the Institute for Applied Research, in his country, has come up with a cure—A CURE!!!—for Covid 19 synthesized from different herbal materials from local plants underpinned by local knowhow in herbology. He offered it to the world in true ‘African’ generosity: how can anyone forget that we are the world’s only certified “anímásahun” [one who never stints in giving away everything]. No price regime, no barter, no sale, just come and take it. This is country that is probably using some of its massive foreign aid budget to procure the remedy. Of course, given that Africans cannot or, if they can, will not count, what we are not hearing from Antananarivo is significant: it does not matter how severe the situation is, counting is central to everything we do in the modern age. What does the mixture cost? It definitely is not natural and even if it were, as long as it does not make itself into the form in which it is being presented to us, it must have costs associated with its production. And I am not talking of the cost of the containers and other packaging it comes in or the freight it attracts for it to be moved from point A to point B. Those are obvious. What is not hidden is the cost in terms of the human labour that produces it from the persons who identified or synthesized the mixture to the labourers who cut the leaves, skinned the trees, excavated the roots, to those who mixed them in the factories, and so on. This is one of the central problems with African economies where, as Karl Marx might have put it, dead labour—materials, machinery—is better remunerated than living labour—workers, at every level. We readily discount human labour and, I am afraid, not asking questions about the cost of Madagascar’s herbal remedy continues a pattern that we should have ended yesterday.
It gets worse. Suppose Madagascar places a price on it. It would immediately give cause for pause for its buyers: they want to know what they are getting and whether it is worth their hard earned dough. This might then force its purveyors to abandon the present tack of pillorying doubters as people who do not wish Africa well. Simultaneously, such a course would have been more rewarding because Madagascar might then secure a worldwide patent on the mixture, license it to various countries or mass produce it within its boundaries and rake in the proceeds in the form of an exponential expansion of its economy.
Here is the danger, the world will take its gift, get its scientists to break it down and find what works in it, secure patents, and then sell it back to Madagascar and beggar the country that originated it. This is what happens when you refuse to deploy Reason, accept science and subject your discoveries to the methods of science, all which, by the way, do not come with cultural bylines or geographical ones: they are all human inheritances.
Certainly, there are those who are absolutely convinced that all I have said so far, the path that I have suggested, and the values they entail is not “African”. And Madagascar, I will be haughtily reminded, is an African country and that, not merely geographically.
What is more, the rest of the continent responded in “the African” way. After an initial period of coolness towards Madagascar’s claim, parts of Africa led by their “nationalist” presidents started rallying round Madagascar and its remedy. Naysayers are accused of being racists or people who think that nothing good can come out of Africa.
What better could come out of Africa than a mixture that no one else has tested, has no shareable formula, at least none that anyone has come to say they can reproduce—reproducibility is one of the calling cards of modern science—barring which the claim can only be called a miracle, if not a hoax. In the name of a solidarity that, we might say in Yorùbá, will not come with them to their next life, African leaders and many otherwise thinking Africans are asking for the mixture to be shipped to their countries and to be tested on their long-suffering peoples most of whom continue to be nurtured on the toxic mixture of superstition and supernaturalism.
Here is my point. Why blame the French doctors and their ilk when we are telling the world, this is how we are; this is what we do; this is how we do ourselves. You are not racist when you join a people who style themselves as not worthy of another’s respect because they clearly have no respect for themselves. If you are willing to take Madagascar’s remedy without testing protocols, it means the only thing wrong with the French proposal is that it is coming from outside. I have a suggestion for the French: get an African country to claim ownership and, just like that, you are home free, using Africans as your guinea pigs. It is a very African way of being human!
-Olúfẹ́mi Táíwò teaches at the Africana Studies and Research Center, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY, U.S.A.