Please allow me to start this discourse with a list of names – Max Theiler, Allan McLeod Comack, Aaron Klug, and Sydney Brenner.
I am not sure if these names ring a bell for most of us, but these are African (most specifically, South African) scientific luminaries, who achieved phenomenal groundbreaking successes in their respective fields, such that they were awarded Nobel Peace Prizes.
Theiler was recognized in 1951 for his physiological work in developing a vaccine against yellow fever, Comack won the 1979 prize in physiology for his work on X-ray computed tomography, whilst Klug was awarded in 1982 for chemistry, and Brenner in 2002, for his physiological inroads.
This is not to mention the 1967 landmark first successful human-to-human heart transplant by Christiaan Barnard.
Furthermore, certainly, there have been numerous other world-changing, pioneering, and even innovative, scientific record-breakers on the continent – that we may not know of, or whose names may not immediately come to mind.
As such, what I am finding very difficult to fathom is the apparent obsession by the African continent – spearheaded by South Africa’s president, Cyril Ramaphosa – in urging global powers, in particular, pharmaceutical companies that have developed vaccines against the ravaging COVID-19 pandemic, to waver such patents, so as to enable “poorer countries” to produce these urgently-required medications.
Indeed, I am not, in any way, challenging this request – considering the desperate position that countries as South Africa, India, Brazil, Mexico, and so many others, find themselves in, as the virus ruthlessly intensifies its reign of terror, killing millions – however, I can not help wondering what this says about the state of our scientific world as Africans.
Why are we not able to develop our own COVID-19 vaccines?
What have we been doing for the past one year, when everyone else in the United States of America (US), United Kingdom (UK), European Union (EU), China, India, and Russia, were busy researching and developing their own vaccines?
Even sanctions-burdened countries as Iran – who have been subjected to the worst economic restrictions ever imposed on any nation in history – have come up with their own vaccines.
So, why not Africa?
Honestly, if we could come up with trailblazers as Barnard, Comack, Klug, Brenner, and Theiler (who actually developed a vaccine for yellow fever) – why can we no longer achieve similar feats today?
What has changed?
Are we to say that, we have, somehow, lost the intellectual capacity to think for ourselves? If so, why?
Could this also be attributed to a loss of faith in our own God-given abilities and resources?
Why were we so quick in dismissing, and even ridiculing, any notion of homegrown remedies in countering this pandemic – such as Zumbami, or even the Madagascar claim?
Was the reason for not even bothering to give them the light of day, their failure in measuring up to Western standards – which, could explain why some people initially found it most difficult to accept Russian and Chinese vaccines, without so much as proffering any sound scientific reason why they believed that there was anything better with UK and US vaccines, such as Pfizer, Johnson and Johnson, and Oxford AstraZenica, which themselves have already raised one or two alarms, as they presented some isolated side effects, like blood clots?
Africa needs to rediscover its confidence to being a global player, and a world leader – and, not be so comfortable with being a perpetual beggar, who is always going around with a begging bowl, and seeking favours.
As Ramaphosa attends today’s G7 (group of seven most industrialized countries) in Cornwall, south-west England – yes, indeed, the pandemic is already on a merciless warpath, and the world urgently needs an increased vaccine rollout, but we also need to look ourselves analytically in the mirror, so as to honestly evaluate who we have become as a continent.
Are we not ashamed of the sorry shameful shells and shadows of our former grand selves, that we have reduced ourselves into?
© Tendai Ruben Mbofana is a social justice activist, writer, author, and political commentator. Please feel free to contact him on WhatsApp/Call: +263715667700 / +263782283975, or Calls Only: +263733399640, or email: email@example.com