"The Situation" II - Nairobi

…yet the contagion has not overrun the continent...

Peter Kimani is the Kenyan author, most recently, of Dance of the Jakaranda, a ‘New York Times Notable Book of the Year,’ and the editor of Nairobi Noir.



In the early weeks of February, this year, as Covid-19 ravaged Asia and Europe, before making inroads into the United States, a curious apprehension was discernible in the Western media. Why, journalists asked, wasn’t the disease spreading to Africa?

This was not innocent scientific inquiry; it was a reminder of the jaundiced view of the so-called developed world of Africa, lampooned for centuries as a “hopeless” continent riven with disease and ravaged by war and want. So, it was the natural habitat for the coronavirus.

Now, let’s flip the question and ponder: how would the world have responded had the virus emerged in Africa, and African journalists pondered why it was taking too long to sweep through to Asian, European, and American shores!

It is instructive that even the virus that emerged from the Chinese city of Wuhan virus has evaded a geographic label, unlike the Ebola virus, which immortalises its Congolese point of origin.

When pockets of the pandemic were finally reported on the continent, the hysteria from the Western press grew shrill. They warned of the “devastation” that the contagion would leave in its wake given, predictably, the heavy “disease burden” borne by Africa, blah blah blah.

Yet the contagion has not overrun the continent. Its youthful population, resilient spirit and, yes, expertise from decades of battling infectious diseases have all combined to provide a formidable firewall against the spread of Covid-19.

Meanwhile, African states have picked useful lessons from the shambolic responses from the developed world and provided astute leadership: prototyping cheap equipment for mass testing, transforming cottage industries overnight to produce protective gear, and drawing from its age-old egalitarianism to extend a helping hand to those in need.

Africa is not out of the woods yet, but as Peggy Antrobus, the poet from Grenada once scolded, we should have learnt by now to lean on no one but ourselves. Perhaps Covid-19 will bolster Africa’s self-confidence, and reshape her future.