The narrative that tends to dominate Africa is that of a supposedly ‘dark continent’ where, perhaps, life remains very brutish, nasty and short. The temptation to concur is very high, what with the imageries of war, hunger, disease and deaths that daily assail the sensibilities of those with access to media.
In sharp contrast, critics hold up the model of the much-talked about advanced economies as standard bearers, shoving into our sullen faces romantic pictures of good life, defined by easy access to food, shelter, clothing, health and every other thing that makes living meaningful.
This is certainly not a time to begrudge the developmental strides recorded in other climes, as the world has long equated the gains of human progress with the rising level of life expectancy in various societies.
This is why it may also serve little purpose to continue to push the argument of ‘how Europe underdeveloped Africa’ when most of the continent’s emerging leaders have shown poor vision and little capacity for harnessing Africa’s enormous human and material resources. The only consoling factor being the weather-beaten claim that Africa remains the cradle of civilization. But how true?
Back to the subject of life expectancy, therefore, it is important to take a shot at how Africa has fared over time, and why the seeming positive shift leaves little room to cheer.
This is what I found. Though Africa has, since 1925, seen a steady rise in its average life expectancy, climbing to about 60 years in 2015, having stayed at 26.4 years of age for over a century, the performance still leaves the continent at a comparatively lower rung of the ladder.
Indeed, while, by 2021, it was reported that the average life expectancy globally was 71 years for males and 75 years for females, Africa posted an average life expectancy of 63 years for males and 66 years for females. A further data query showed that life expectancy for the continent in 2020 was 63.24 years, a mere 0.46% increase from 2019.
Africa’s comparative tale in the healthcare system means more needs to done to close the gap between it and the rest of the mature economies. Perhaps, the marginal gains of the past few years may have been accounted for by the ‘Abuja Declaration’ of April 2001 during which African governments resolved to dedicate at least 15 per cent of their annual budgets to the health sector.
Nearly two decades later, a cursory search indicates that only about seven countries namely: Rwanda, Botswana, Niger, Zambia, Malawi, Burkina Faso and Togo, have met the Abuja target. Sadly, in 60 per cent of the continent, the World Health Organisation reports that health sector share of total government expenditure remains below 10 per cent.
For instance, Nigeria, adjudged as one of Africa’s biggest economies, failed to match its 2001 resolution when, in its 2021 annual budget, it allocated less than 10 per cent to the health sector. In fact, the budget for 2021 proposed N547 billion for healthcare, representing about seven per cent of the budget’s total of N13.08 trillion.
A simple arithmetic shows that the amount translates to about N2,735 per Nigerian, given the country’s population of about 200 million people.
That 60 per cent of African countries are unable to deliver, on a healthcare promise made about two decades ago, shows a clear lack of will on the part of most, and should leave no room for celebration of any sort.
The call to sobriety is informed by concerns that more Africans may slide into the danger zone if its political leaders continue to pay lip service to the health sector, even as the world rises to the scare posed by autism and malaria.
So, let us not be corralled into a premature dance party. Autism is a growing scourge and, just as the world had done in the last 15 years, April 2 was marked as the annual World Autism Awareness Day, with a theme, ‘Inclusive Quality Education For All.’
How is Africa positioning to tackle this troubling health disorder? In the wake of poor infrastructure, one can only hazard a guess or build scenarios. What is, however, clear is that many African children with autism are kept away from prying eyes —sometimes tied up, almost always undiagnosed and stigmatized. The situation is not helped by the fact that no cure exists for autism spectrum disorder (ASD).
Beyond the pervasive adhoc measures instituted by most governments across Africa, it is time to nudge corporates in the continent into action through well structured partnerships that would complement other global interventionist efforts.
The other health scare which gained global mentions in April is the malaria pandemic which effectively ravages 91 countries of the world. As World Malaria Day took front seat April 25, nations of the earth were reminded that every two minutes or so, a child dies of malaria. But no where is this more prevalent than Africa.
Indeed, UNICEF reports that of the 1-3 million deaths recorded each year, the overwhelming majority are in children aged 5 years or younger, and 80-90% of the deaths each year are in rural sub-Saharan Africa.
In terms of spread, the report also holds that four out of five malaria deaths occur in one of 15 countries: Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, India, Mozambique, Ghana, Angola, Uganda, Mali, Burkina Faso, Kenya, Tanzania, Cameroon, Niger, Guinea and Chad.
Bringing the issue closer home, more than one in three malaria deaths reportedly occur in two countries: Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Africa’s health horizon, no doubt, looks cloudy even as the continent strikes marginal gains in the area of life expectancy. Buffeted by infrastructural challenges across many fronts, the biggest obstacle to rapid growth and development appears to be the lack of political will to sustain the gains of today.
The continent’s leadership must, therefore, thread with cautious optimism and resist the urge to roll out the drums in celebration of meager achievements when the larger pursuit should be to scale Africa’s capacity to leverage its enormous endowments and stay competitive against the rest of the globe.
There is more worth in what is public than in what is private, By Jenerali Uliwengu
A conversation I have been having with my compatriots can suffer some escalation to the regional level, especially because our different countries have had largely similar experiences in many respects.
In the 1960s, Dar es Salaam had a more or less efficient bus transport service, run by the Dar es Salaam Motor Transport Company (DMT) organised along lines not dissimilar to the London metropolitan bus service. The city service once even boasted double-deck buses, immortalised in the Kilwa Jazz song, Kifo cha Penzi ni Kifo Kibaya.
The buses ran on strict timelines, and when a bus scheduled to pass by a stop at 7.15 came at 7.20 people waiting at the stop would be seen impatiently looking at their watches.
Some of us in the media would take the matter up as soon as we got to our newsrooms to ask of the transport company officials why our bus had delayed a full five minutes on a working day.
By 1983, the company had been nationalised and called Usafiri Dar es Salaam (UDA) and soon acquired the distinctive Ikarus articulated buses manufactured in Hungary, but soon even thy ran out of steam because of the usual, multifaceted problems attaching to public owned institutions.
Around that time, then prime minister Edward Moringe Sokoine decided to bring in minibuses operating in Arusha and Moshi to rescue Dar es Salaam “temporarily, while the government is making plans for a permanent solution” to the problem.
From that period, it is only now that Dar es Salaam is beginning to see what looks like that “permanent solution” with the introduction of the Dar es Salaam Rapid Transport (Dart), which was initiated by a former mayor, the late Kleist Sykes.
It was delayed for so many years due to political skulduggery and the inevitable corruption in all our public institutions.
In the meantime, a former transport minister, Harrison Mwakyembe, had the rare presence of mind to remember that the city had had, since colonial times, railway tracks linking different districts but which lay fallow; he took action, and this initiative — which created what has come to be dubbed as “Mwakyembe’s train” — has contributed to the easing of the transit system congestion, but only just, because of issues such as the infrequency of train rides and the lack of security lights, ventilation and so on.
As it is right now, the Dar Rapid Transit is hobbling along, packing the human press the way you would pack cattle if you are not a keen meat seller.
Surely, our people deserve better than that, and the so-called “Mwakyembe train” needs replication in other parts of the city, as I suspect, there are many other fallow railway tracks waiting for some smart alecks to collect them and sell them as scrap metal.
Amidst all this, we have young people with hardly an income to speak of dying to own and drive a personal car, not for anything else but that owning a personal car makes them “somebody.”
What I have been telling them is, you do not have to own a car to be somebody; you are somebody because you are a useful member of society, and, surely, if you are predicating your personality on ownership of material things, you’re not.
What our young people — including not-so-young people, like me — should be doing is to militate for public transport to be expanded, and for it to work well; that is what they do in Europe and the US. The collaborative cries should be for Dar rapid service to improve: This past week, I was in the Coast region and wanted to ride on the service, only to be told by the bored girl at the stop that they had no tickets. Shame!
I understand there is too much red-tape restrictions in the processes attaching to getting more buses run by private operators. If that is so, what are the myriad officials running around like headless chickens doing?
Why are they paid all the big salaries and allowed to drive such luxury cars if they cannot do a repeat “Mwakyembe train,” increase buses, and ensure tickets are available for rapid-transit bus rides?
These should be the issues our young people have to be fighting for not driving their cars, except if they belong to the Diamond Platmuz or Ali Kiba cohort.
With an efficient public transit system, we all become part-owners of our collective means of transport.
The opposite of that is when you forget what a car is for and you begin to think like the backward tribesman for whom the car is a mystical contraption which confers miraculous powers on the owner and driver, a far cry from the evolved, modern citizen.
Unfortunately, I know I am preaching to the unhearing, but this should not discourage anyone.
In the fullness of time, the message will sink home when the hordes of the lumpen motorcar realise they have more important things to seek for their lives to be better and more meaningful, instead of the trinkets that are being dangled before their noses.
I stand ready, as ever, to engage in a conversation.
Inside the special mission to save Nigerian music; and why the rest of Africa should care, By Chinedu Chidi
When famed German composer and pianist, Beethoven described music as a “higher revelation than all wisdom and philosophy” and as “the electrical soil in which the spirit lives, thinks and invents”, he may well have laid out a profound exposition of the depth and reaches of the art, one that is unrestricted by time or distance, by creed or colour, by status or zone. He envisioned a limitless art form. Today, we speak not only of its internal freedoms, but of its transcendent liberating force coursing through entertainment, education, politics, the economy, technology, and social change. Music has become a life form meandering like the bellows of an accordion into the many circles that define life as we know it.
The conception of the MTN MUSON Music Scholars Program in 2006, a partnership between MTN Foundation and the Musical Society of Nigeria (MUSON) School of Music, was a clear reflection of a keen appreciation of this power of music. It was a visionary idea that laid a foundation that would redefine the story, not only of aspiring and practicing musicians, but of the music industry itself. Looking back, it appears a bold demonstration of faith in the promise of Nigerian music while still at comparatively modest levels, and a commensurate investment in the vehicle that would drive its actualization. Today, over 300 graduates later, the Nigerian music industry has grown in leaps and bounds. With over $2 billion in revenue annually, over 30 million monthly listeners worldwide, over 500 music producers, over 1000 record labels, over 50 radio stations amplifying its rhythms and sounds, and multiple digital music distribution platforms, Nigerian music has become the stuff of dreams, if only commercially.
The partnership involves a 2-year Diploma in Music at the MUSON Diploma School. All the students admitted to the Diploma course receive MTNF Scholarships comprising annual scholarships worth N250,000 to cover tuition, books and transportation over a 2-year period. The graduating students are awarded an internationally recognized Diploma in Music. The scholarship is an open opportunity one. It allows applications from all musically talented youth through an open and fair process.
MTN Foundation’s investment in this educational scholarship is not an isolated endeavour; it is an integral part of the foundation’s broad commitment to promoting youth development through empowering the nation’s young people with the “skills, tools, access, knowledge, and opportunities to become economically active citizens”. The foundation combines this intervention with its “National Priority” portfolio which “focuses on Initiatives that support community infrastructure development and health-related initiatives that support women and children”. Together, the initiatives align with the objectives of the Government’s National Development plan and te UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Since its founding in 2004, the MTN Foundation has invested over N23.7 Billion in the 36 states of the federation and FCT, has over 1,017 project sites across Nigeria, with 50 unique projects spanning 3,319 communities. Overall, it has reached over 31 million people.
All this has been made possible by MTN Nigeria Communication PLC, its parent body, which has committed up to 1% of its Profit after Tax (PAT) to the foundation. Far-reaching strategic partnerships with key stakeholders have also been a major driver of the social investments.
MTN Foundation’s choice of MUSON School of Music was thus no coincidence. MUSON has been at the heart of developing and preserving the purest form of music in Nigeria, and helping to export same to the rest of Africa and the world. Created in 1989 by a group of friends, namely Mr. Louis Mbanefo (SAN), Mr. Akintola Williams (late), Chief Ayo Rosiji (late), Mrs. Francesca Emanuel (late) and Chief Rasheed Gbadamosi (late), the school was designed to promote, as Mr. Mbanefo, who is Chairman of the school, aptly captures, “the performance, understanding and enjoyment of serious music”. The dream, he notes, has continued to be realized, producing internationally reputed graduates and changing the dynamics of music in Nigeria and Africa. “The school has produced over 400 Diploma graduates, many of whom have continued their musical education in Europe, South Africa and America and attained international recognition. Most of our alumni have made and are making very impressive contributions to the musical life in Nigeria and indeed, the world. They have raised considerably the standard of singing and musical performance in churches, in schools and at social events. Indeed, many churches and musical societies throughout Nigeria are borrowing from the templates established by MUSON”, he proudly reveals.
As the proud owner of Nigeria’s “only professional Symphony Orchestra” and a choir of international renown, the school boasts a rich platform for empowering young Nigerian artistes and instrumentalists, especially in the dying art of classical and orchestral music performance.
Accredited by the Federal Government to award Diplomas in Music since 2002, the MUSON Diploma School grants all MTNF MUSON graduates diplomas which are equal to those awarded by the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music in the United Kingdom.
Perhaps the most critical area of importance that MTN Foundation’s music intervention serves is the preservation of the fine arts of the classical, orchestral and live performance genres, with their accompanying socially valuable messaging. The rapid rise of studio-recorded music, with its massive commercial success, has sadly provided an alternative to total music, one that substantively accommodates a wide array of ‘real’ instruments, trained voice, and electrifying theatre. It is perhaps the appeal of total music that inspired Victor Hugo to bellow, “Music expresses that which cannot be put into words and that which cannot remain silent”.
This challenge is one that is not only unique to Nigeria or Africa, but a universal one. In Sasha Frere-Jones’ piece, “Do Recordings Kill Music?”, she cited a profound quote from Richard Kostelanetz’s interview with John Cage, thus: “I’ve always said that a record is not faithful to the nature of music.” David Grubbs, a professor at the Conservatory of Music at Brooklyn College, she reports, “takes up a specific belief of Cage’s: that recordings can injure the ability of an audience member to experience a performance in real time. In theoretical terms, the recording reifies a specific moment, potentially interfering with a composition’s ability to live and change and breathe by fixing a single iteration as the ‘authoritative’ version”. Perhaps, nothing captures the triumphantly seductive and absorbing force of the authentic live performance than Robert Ashley’s description of Alvin Lucier’s 1969 piece, “Vespers” as referenced by Grubbs. Ashley wrote of “Vespers”: “No number of microphones and loudspeakers can reproduce the relationship between the sounds and the space in which the sounds create the musical experience.” This reminds one of Mozart’s delicate refrain that “The music is not in the notes, but in the silence between.”
This dying art form was once the force that rocked the bowels of mother Africa, from the Sahara to the Mediterranean. From Fela and Makeba to N’Dour, Salif Keita, Amr Diab, Sangare, Mapfumo, Kidjo, Mtukudzi and Ladysmith Black Mambazo, the glory days of message-laden total music may, but for the flickers embodied by the likes of the eternal Kidjo and the heirs to the Fela dynasty, be well and truly over.
But the rebirth glistening in the hallways of MUSON Diploma School offers hope. The school is home to the award-winning MUSON Diploma Choir directed by Sir Emeka Nwokedi, and the MUSON School Orchestra & Concert Bands. It has been able to produce outstanding Jazz ensembles such as the all-female GIRLZ RULE Band, the 5YZ MEN and The Theosolites.
At MUSON, MTN Scholars take advanced training in music with majors in voice or any of the instrument forms of: Piano, Organ, Violin, Viola, Cello, Double Bass, Flute, Clarinet, Saxophone, Trumpet, Trombone, Percussion, and Classical Guitar. “Students are also required to take 2 terms of an instrument minor other than their major instrumental family. All voice students must pass grade 2 piano, instrumentalists must pass vocal techniques and all students must belong to the choir. Orchestra is required for all string majors. All wind and percussion majors must belong to band. Others who may not be majors are welcome to audition for the orchestra band”, the school says. They also take part in high-level musical productions which provide the perfect opportunity to exhibit their talents and skills. At the end of their programme, the music scholars have the opportunity to showcase the result of their advanced training through performances at the annual Donors Appreciation Concert. This speaks to the neat integration of sound and rhythm, of theatre and messaging; the total music.
If the MUSON Diploma School is to continue to plot the course for Nigeria’s music salvation and become the sure hope of total music’s triumph for all of Africa, then it must display resilience, which its parent body— The Musical Society of Nigeria— chose as its Festival of Arts theme during the celebration of its 40th anniversary earlier this year. It must be resilient in the face of the onslaught of crass commercialism. It must be defiantly resilient if it must realize its goal of producing “well-rounded, thoroughly educated musicians…comparable to those found in a Conservatoire”.
And in its resilience, it must remember that lodged in the soul of this art, in its purest form, are the currents of humanity.
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