Taking Culture Seriously: In Search Of A New-Normal Amidst COVID 19 Pandemic In Africa, By Mustapha Kangiwa

Since 2004, Radcliffe and Laurie of the School of Geography, Politics and Sociology, University of Newcastle, comprehend that culture has to be situated firmly within an analysis of the grids of power inherent to development and the hierarchies between world regions, races, cultures, and modernity or tradition that act to differentiate social actors. Understanding the culture and development paradigm thus necessitates the analysis of the specific content of development's cultures prevailing in a particular time and place. They also suggest that culture can be viewed as a source of creativity, which relies not on instrumentalist understandings but on local bricolages of modernity and tradition to construct culturally embedded and empowering solutions to development problems.

As the periphery in the global capitalist economy, Africa remains a dependent economy that hardly strife to have something of its own. The political economy of the region was framed around tutelage of the Western world. Nnamdi Azikwie of the bless memory wasn’t just right, but also accurate to suggest that, what Africans need was mental emancipation not the so called political independence. Proving him right, the mental slavery Africa engulfed in, have persisted to the perpetual level-which informed the deepening hardship, abject poverty and catastrophic socio-
political arrangements all over the region.

The implied assumptions about which type of culture stimulates development have, been informed by colonial and then by broadly Western assumptions about the beneficial influence of certain cultural traits and beliefs, and about the
inappropriateness of other meanings and forms of organization. During and after the political independence in Africa, policymakers were encouraged to promote modern cultural traits of the West. Modernization theories of development were premised upon the need to change how people think, behave, and live, dragging them away from traditional practices and introducing them to modern or Western culture. They also emphasized that certain habits of mind and behaviors would benefit modernization. Basically, development thinking took on board the notion that culture can be acquired and learned. Thus, development was the task of removing what were perceived as cultural barriers to progress; the failure to develop was attributed to cultural characteristics such as agricultural involution, family and kin ties, specific cognitive maps, and the culture of poverty. Non-Western traditional-cultures were perceived as fading relics that would inevitably and unproblematically be replaced by modern cultures and identities. Africa is hitherto overwhelmed by inferiority complex and self-degrading, as a result, the only quality we have sustained is being a competitive disadvantage region. However, the ultimate question in context is whether we can afford to keep this
attitude and expect to win the war against the global pandemic of COVID-19.

According to the UNDP the COVID-19 pandemic is the defining global health crisis of our time and the greatest undertaking we've faced since World War Two. Since its emergence in China late last year, the virus has unfold to each continent with no exception world over. Contextually, cases are also rising every day in Africa.

But COVID-19’s boundary and sphere of influence is much wider than a health crisis. By stressing almost every form and aspect of human organizations, it has the capability to create devastating social, economic and political crises to be able to depart deep scars on global political economy. Countries across the globe are racing to stop the spread of the virus through various means and strategies, deemed essential by their experts and policy makers. But at this crucial time when the Western world is united against the pandemic and obviously looking inward for both temporarily and permanent solutions to its devastating problems, Africa is hopelessly showing no desire to equal the rest of the world in search for a solution. African leaders considers the West worthy of absolute respect and blind emulation, thus they get us ready to copy and paste whatever solution is available from the West.

The imported methodology is apparently lacking the rudiments of an escape plan from the pandemic. Fundamentally because, it is not rooted in our culture and institutional capabilities. As a result, the devastating effect of this dependency method is beginning to show up, and will soon manifest larger, to expose the inherent weakness in our policy making skills.

The lockdown policy rapidly transformed us to uncharted territory. Many of our communities are now unrecognizable. Dozens of our cities are deserted as people stay indoor by government order. Schools, mosques, churches and shrines were shutdown. Economic activities are halted, markets, shops, theatres, restaurants and industries are closed. Our health facilities and hospitals (except for the covid-19 isolation centers) have become a mere structures-deserted and desolate all in fear of the virus. Every day, people are losing jobs and income, with no way of knowing when normality will return. Small business owners and artisans, heavily dependent on routine hustles to survive, have empty pockets and stomachs. Broke and hungry.

Eventually, the unbearable consequences of this copy and paste policy would compelled our governments, at various levels, to relax the lockdown and allow people to come out and shop at least twice a week. Ironically the relaxation of the lockdown rendered the whole process useless. People comes out in mass, markets and banks are full to the point of overflowing, grocery stores congested with desperate shoppers while people intermingle freely without social distancing or any precautionary measures in place. The religiously conscious Africans have begun to wonder why they are still being prevented from attending their religious congregations, which is by far less congested and more orderly than the rowdy markets they are allowed to visit.

Moreover, at this time when the whole world is desperately looking for the cure of the virus, authorities across the globe are investing heavily on research, and nearly making a breakthrough, Africa is neglecting its own very rich culture of traditional medicine which has been, at least by practical experience, effective for centuries. The modernization mentality have prevented our misguided leadership to appreciate our traditional practices and indigenous capabilities in dealing with our domestic problems. This prevailing attitude of our ruling class have, more than anything else, relegated our supposedly powerful and wealthy continent to a feeble, frail and vulnerable society that is lacking in potency. Africa is endowed with abundant natural and human resources which, if were properly tapped and utilized, could have put us ahead of the rest of the world. Unfortunately we ignore our own potentialities and completely engrossed in cooperate begging and perpetually looking for succor from without.

Nevertheless, at this time of COVID-19 global crisis, there are some commendable efforts in Africa, albeit scanty, to fix the problem domestically. Regrettably though, the evolving self-reliance endeavors will perhaps be subdued by two monsters namely: the global capitalist monopoly; and the African self-degradation syndrome. While the former is an undeniable negative consequences of globalization underpinned by the neo-liberal free market economy, the latter is the manifestation of the ubiquitous mental deficiency inherent within our political terrain.

From Senegalese’s inward looking creativity, and the Madagascan domestic breakthrough, to the Zambian critical scrutiny skills, we can learn more inwardly and forge ahead. Commendably, a Senegalese’s laboratory has used its practical experience to develop a 1 dollar COVID 19 testing kit. They bravely shows that is not only the Western world that has the scientific knowledge and the technical know-how to fight the virus. In another development a viral video on social media portrays a young Nigerian scientist displaying the ventilator he produced domestically, but unfortunately not much is known about him thereafter.

Widely covered by the international media, Madagascan President Andry Rajoeline announced his country’s breakthrough in search for cure of COVID 19. He emphasized the benefits of Artemisia, an herbal remedy increasingly promoted as a treatment for covid-19 in his country. He also promised to increase the production of the plant and setting up a factory to process it. Some African countries such as Senegal, Tanzania, Congo Brazzaville and Niger republic have expressed interest in importing and using the herbal remedy in the fight against Covid 19. Interestingly,
RFI reported that pharmaceutical companies in US, Germany, Canada and Denmark are now working on test and focuses on the same plant as the one cultivated and processed in Madagascar. There were similar claims form some traditional medicine specialist in Nigeria but the authorities here doesn’t seems to give them the attention they deserve and the support they need, to substantiate their claims. In another development, Reuters reported that imported covid 19 test kits used in Tanzania were critically examined and later dismissed as faulty by the President John Magufuli because they had returned positive result on samples taken from goat and a pawpaw. The Presidents insist that something is wrong and his country should not accept that everything foreign aid is meant to be good to the nation.
Accordingly he directed experts to carry out further and thorough investigation of the imported kits.

Evidently therefore, in order to win the war against covid-19, Africa must look inward and take its culture seriously. The departure from the unrealistic dependency methods and distorted modernization approach, moving toward an
independent domestic strategies and policies is an inevitable reality. Otherwise the devastating effects of this pandemic would place Africa and Africans on the worst and the most miserable position down the spectrum of the global political economy. Thus, we shouldn’t end this discourse without suggesting as follows:

1. The lockdown policy should be partial to allow some major sectors of the economy flourish and to device a means through which the small business and artisans majority can function, to at least, meet their daily needs.

2. Governments at all levels should liaise with the organize private sectors to ensure adequate provision of hand washing facilities at the entrance and inside factories, markets, banks, grocery stores and public offices.

3. Free and compulsory use of face mask should be imposed by the authorities. Thus places of worships and religious congregations can be allowed to open under strict adherence to social distancing with adequate provision of hand
washing facilities. Here religious organizations and individual worshippers should be made to play a vital role by utilizing the all-inclusive and collective community servicing principles enshrined in the religious codes.

4. Essentially, government should provide adequate PPEs to our health workers at the frontline. At least major hospitals in our cities should be open to attend to patients with other ailments in an orderly and careful manner. We need to protect our health workers to enable them deliver the necessary health care services we are desperately in need of.
5. There is need for the government to invest heavily in research. Our universities, other research institutions and laboratories should be given all the support they need to stimulate domestic invention of test kits, ventilators, PPEs and medicinal cure of the virus. While we await for the domestic breakthrough, the authorities should not relent to import the PPEs and other equipment from abroad.

6. Equally important, the government should liaise with our traditional medicine experts in search for the reliable cure of the virus. They should also be given all the necessary attention and support required to enable them work effectively. It should be noted that, at this crucial time when our hospitals are either partially or completely closed, these native herbalists are busy attending to patients within and beyond their neighborhood. Thus supporting them would not only help in containing the pandemic, but would also help reduce the death rate caused by other ailments due to the lack of adequate access to modern health care facilities. They should also made to work in coordination with the NCDC’s so that they can report suspected cases for immediate action to be taken without delay.

7. There is also need for frequent and pugnacious fumigation of our public places including markets and place of worships. This can also be achieved in collaboration with trade unions, business associations and religious
foundations.

8. In case of any palliative measures, when necessary, the authorities should exclude politicians in the scheme. A grass-root approach will surely be more effective and targets-reaching. Traditional ward heads, religious community
leaders and elders of the community should be given the responsibility to provide authorities with the required data and to also take active part in the distribution of the palliatives to the needy ones.

If the definition of culture as a “complete way of life” is anything to go by, our culture should be taken seriously in whatever plan we are making including the one against the covid-19. We need to have a society where policies for culturally appropriate development have come to the fore. African must fight with their identity not the Western identity. We should, using our own identity, provide a regionally specific example of the broad culture and development paradigm. In this proposed new approach, our culture-once seen as an obstacle to social and economic development should become central to fight against global pandemic, poverty-alleviation and formulation of empowerment policies. African is now more than ever, in need of an inward looking approach and take its culture seriously in search for a new normal.

Kangiwa wrote from Kano and can be reached on mustaphankangiwa@gmail.com