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Should Africa celebrate rising life expectancy, as autism, malaria scare persists? By Adaoha Ugo-Ngadi

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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.

Strictly Personal

Queen Nanny: Ghanaian woman who led liberation army in Jamaica by Owei Lakemfa

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Nanny, a young Akan woman from present-day Ghana, born about 1686 was captured with her four brothers and sold into slavery. They were taken on ‘The Journey of No Return’ across the Atlantic Ocean, becoming part of the 12.5 million Africans forced on this journey by Europeans and Americans who wanted free labour to exploit for profit.

Unlike the 1.8 million others who perished during this journey and had their bodies fed to the roaring ocean waves, Nanny, who was to become known as “Nanny of the Maroons,” and her brothers, survived the ordeal and arrived in Jamaica.

They later escaped from the slave plantations and fled into the mountains and jungles of Jamaica to become Maroons. This was the name for escaped slaves who banded together and fought for freedom, initially for themselves and eventually for various Latin American and  Caribbean countries, including Jamaica.

The names of slaves, in almost all cases, were lost. This was part of the depersonalization and dehumanisation of the slave, who was forced to forget the past and live entirely at the pleasure of the slave owner, who exercised the power of life or death on his “property. So it is not unlikely that her original name was not Nanny. This was most likely a corruption of the name Maame, which means mother in Twi. This would have been preferred to the names given to her by the slave masters.

By the mid-1550s, there were already escaped slaves in the Caribbean, who, with no way of finding their way back home to their loved ones, banded together to fight the slave owners and establish their own communities. In Jamaica, as in some other countries, these freedom fighters were called Maroons.

The word, “maroon” was derived from the Spanish word “Cimarron,” which was originally used for runaway cattle. Since African slaves were valued and treated no better than cattle, it came to be used for escaped African slaves. Maroon communities were typically located among mountains and swamps, making slave owners and European countries’ raids difficult.

They also provided safe bases for the Maroons to conduct raids on white plantations and organise guerrilla armies. They linked up with local Native Americans to defend the terrain. Today, Maroon communities still exist in various North and South America countries like Venezuela, Brazil, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Suriname, Ecuador, and the United States especially in the Carolina’s, Alabama, Florida, and New Orleans areas. They also exist on islands in the Indian Ocean.

After escaping from the plantations, Nanny and her brothers joined the Maroons. She later founded a Maroon village with one of her brothers, Quao, in the Blue Mountains in eastern Jamaica in 1720.  British Captain Stoddart said Nanny Town, was “situated on one of the highest mountains on the island” and found the only path leading to it, to be: “steep, rocky, and difficult, and not wide enough to admit the passage of two persons abreast.”

This forced the invading army into a single file and an easy target for the Nanny fighters. This part of Jamaica was described as “Windward” and the inhabitants were known as “Windward Maroons.” The village became known as Nanny Town. The Maroons evolved their own traditional religious practices with West African influences.

It was called Obeah. Nanny was a priestess, leader, and commander-in-chief of the rebel army who trained her soldiers in guerrilla warfare. She was so fierce in a battle that the Europeans tried to pass her off as a myth created to rally the forces of the Maroons. But despite strenuous efforts, the Europeans could not force her off the history books.

This is primarily because a ghost could not have been recorded by European writers; could not have been declared wanted with a bounty on her by the colonialists, nor could a myth have physically established two separate towns. Also, she organised and supervised the escape of about 1,000 slaves over a three-decade period and resettled them.

The Queen Nanny rebels fought the British military for six years from 1728 until the latter, led by Commander Stoddard seized and destroyed Nanny Town in 1734. In fact, the British claimed that one of its mercenaries, Captain William Cuffee alias Captain Sambo, leading the “Black Shots,” killed Nanny in 1733 during the battle for the town.

However, a year later, the same British reported that she was leading the Windward Maroons in a retreat westward. Eventually, she was reported to have led her troops to take refuge near the Rio Grande, one of the largest rivers in the country. The Maroons were making slavery costly and unsustainable and creating insecurity for the Europeans.

These, coupled with the European powers’ inability to defeat them after 84 years of insurgency, led the British settlers in 1738 to call for a truce. The first peace treaty was signed with the Leeward or Western Maroons, led by Captain Cudjoe (Kojo), another Maroon of Ghanaian origin, in 1739.

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Strictly Personal

Why now is the right time to invest in Zambia by Choolwe Chibomba

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Zambia sits on a fountain of untapped potential. Home to over 376,000 square kilometers of arable land, as well as some of the highest-grade copper deposits in the world, the country is a treasure trove of natural resources. Added to this, 54% of Zambia’s population is of working age (15 – 64), while businesses have access to a market of some 406 million inhabitants via the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA).

Tragically, and in a pattern seen all too often across Africa, successive governments have failed to tap into this potential. Instead, they saddled Zambia with unsustainable levels of debt while allowing a culture of corruption and venality to proliferate throughout its society.

The election of President Hichilema and the UPND government is therefore rightly heralded as a ‘new dawn’ for Zambia; allowing people and businesses to finally realise Zambia’s abundant potential.

Since this New Dawn government was elected, Zambia’s credit rating has been upgraded to a CCC+ (up from CCC-) by the S&P rating agency, with GDP growth expected to accelerate to 3.7% in 2023. Having negotiated a $1.3 billion extended credit facility from the IMF, as well as a $275 million loan from the World Bank, the government is now tantalisingly close to agreeing a debt renegotiation plan with its external creditors, freeing up vital funding from interest payments to be invested into infrastructure, healthcare, and education.

Businesses are already waking up to the opportunities that this proactive, forward-thinking government is unlocking for them and for the Zambian people. In May, the CEO of Canadian mining giant Barrick Gold, Mark Bristow, described President Hakainde Hichilema as a “breath of fresh air” at the Investing in African Mining Indaba in Cape Town. The company has credited the New Dawn government’s pro-business attitude and progressive tax reforms – including an end to the double tax trap on mining royalties – with plans to potentially extend the life of the company’s Lumwana mine until 2060.

This kind of continued investment would not only sustain jobs at the Lumwana mine but also create opportunities throughout the value chain as the company contracts Zambian firms to provide machinery, equipment, and services to the mine. Furthermore, it would result in significant upskilling for Zambian workers as the mine invests in training and educating its employees.

It is not just mining companies that are taking note. In July Zambian Breweries, which is owned by Belgian drinks company AB InBev, announced it would be investing $80 million into expanding its Lusaka factory, creating 5,000 new jobs in the process. The brewery again cited the “pro-business and pro-investment climate” that President Hichilema’s government has cultivated since coming into office.

These developments represent just the tip of the iceberg, as the government has promised to use its 2023 budget to make Zambia the most attractive investment destination on the continent. This will in turn provide Zambians with the access to capital and financing they need to set up and grow their own businesses.

In manufacturing, the government is promising a 50% suspension on excise duty for clear beer, as well as concessions geared towards stimulating investments in corn starch production. Meanwhile, telecom companies will benefit from the abolishment of the two-tier tax system in favour of a single corporate income rate of 35%, and betting shops will see their presumptive tax reduced by 10%.

These plans to drive investment also include measures to waive visa requirements for visitors from the EU, United Kingdom, United States, and China. This will not only help foster increased tourism but also allow potential investors from wealthy countries to visit Zambia more easily and witness its potential firsthand.

To help promote the breadth of Zambia’s investment potential, the government is supporting the efforts of Zambia Is Back campaign through the Zambia Development Agency (ZDA). Zambia Is Back campaign works to publicise the opportunities being unlocked by the New Dawn government and match up promising Zambian businesses with interested investors around the world.

We are excited to meet with growing businesses in Zambia, as well as investors looking to get involved in this exciting chapter in our nation’s history. In particular, we are looking forward to meeting with investors that want to make a positive impact in Zambia and support the country’s development by promoting education, entrepreneurship, and value-chain addition.

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