Before the outbreak of the new Coronavirus pandemic, not too many people in the world have ever heard of the country Madagascar, an Indian Ocean island of 26 million people near the cost of East Africa. Out of the blues, the Madagascan President, Andry Rajoelina, a 45-year-old businessman has emerged as a leading scientific authority, promoting a cure for Covid-19. The World Health Organisation has politely insisted that Rajoelina’s herbal cure be submitted to scientific test before it could be safely consumed but a lot of Africans on social media are asking why an African medicinal herbal mixture should be submitted for approval by a “foreign” organization. Many suspect a conspiracy to deny Africa the unprecedented pharmaceutical triumph, spreading the fake news that Rajoelina has been bribed by WHO with $20 million to spike the herbal mixture with poison so it could be discredited. Why do so many Africans believe Rajoelina, a former advertising man who chose not to attend university, rather than the world’s leading scientific authorities?
The DSTV Effect
Developing drugs, including vaccines is a very expensive business. Pfizer spends about $7 billion per annum on researching and developing new drugs while globally about $182 billion is spent every year by big pharmaceutical companies. Their research is complemented by the work of public universities and laboratories. The 2019 operating revenue of the Harvard Medical School is $804,783,377; 19% of the school’s budget is devoted to research. These huge sums are spent within an ecosystem that attracts the best talents from all over the world, some of who devote their knowledge to developing vaccines for communicable diseases. Madagascar has an annual national budget of $1.9 billion (2019) and 70% of its citizens live in extreme poverty, spending less than $1.90 per day. It takes a mind conditioned by over exposure to African Magic channels to readily believe some people woke up one morning in Antananarivo, Madagascar’s capital, stepped into their garden and emerged with herbs that formed the mixture to provide a cure or vaccine for a brand new virus. Ahead of the most endowed research institutions in the world. It takes between $200 to $500 million and an average of 16 months to develop a vaccine.
The Healer Leader Tradition
President Donald Trump promoted hydroxychloroquine as an effective vaccine and cure for the new Coronavirus and for Covid-19, the name given to the set of ailments it causes. (This being a miracle drug from Trump, it has to be a super-duper two-in-one, a vaccine and cure). The drug was subjected to scientific tests and when the results came out, The Washington Post announced “The results are in: Trump’s miracle drug is useless”. Many Western leaders leave the task of commenting on therapies to scientific bodies, unwilling to subject themselves to the insolence of journalists. In Africa, the promotion of unproven and even harmful remedies by political leaders has no such costs. President Thabo Mbeki wasted precious time in the fight against HIV/AIDS by promoting claims that concoctions of turmeric, ginger, onions etc. could be a cure. Yahaya Jameh, the former Gambia dictator used to conduct healing sessions for HIV patients. Both of them lost power for reasons unrelated to promoting quackery. Former President Obasanjo had in the mid 1980s also suggested the application of African science to another global problem-launching rocket missiles made out of cow horns and propelled by the incantations of witchdoctors on apartheid South Africa.
Miracle Healing Industry
Nigeria has more people living in poverty than any other nation in the world- we have been dubbed the “poverty capital of the world” . Yet, there are thousands of religion-based businesses which promise adherents personal economic miracles- new jobs, houses, cars etc. These businesses continue to grow even as GDP and per capita income decline. Anyone promising a miracle cure is hence fishing in a pond brimming with fish- we already believe in miracles.
A Nigerian Alife is A Living Miracle
There’s a new meme on social media- be there asking me what I do for a living, do you think living in Nigeria is a small job? Indeed, surviving Nigeria is a miracle. Everything is rigged, very few things can be expected to function normally. Prayers are needed to get contracts you best qualify for-either because you have the experience and are ready to even give fat kickbacks- you don’t know if someone is offering to return 60% of his or her profit as kickback. You then can’t take being paid for granted. Everything is a miracle, so Nigerians pray for daily miracles of survival to happen in their lives. And the system does deliver miracles. An employed graduate or broke businessman could suddenly find himself the front for a N25 million contract to print invitation cards for a government event. How can you tell anyone praying for such a miracle that someone cannot be given the ingredients for a billion-dollar vaccine in a dream? Without ever publishing a paper even in a third-rate pharmaceutical journal.
The Nigerian Trinity
Christians, Muslims and followers of traditional religions all fervently believe fervently in one thing- the existence and power of enemies using earthly and diabolic means to deprive them of miracles. Just listen to the prayers of followers of the monotheistic religions, it is full of supplications to the Almighty to defeat or banish the forces of delay and loss, from their workplaces, their mothers’ and fathers’ families and those they may encounter fortuitously on BRT buses. In a world of scarcity, it’s an intense dog-eat-dog universe filled with wicked and ever-scheming enemies. With such as intense belief in enemies, many of us can’t fathom that the world would jump at any proven vaccine or drug, no matter the colour of the inventor, so that the body blows being dealt to the economy could be halted. More than 36.5 million Americans have lost their jobs because of the Coronavirus pandemic.
French, German, English, Japanese, Israeli etc. universities and pharmaceutical firms are working on vaccines for the new Coronavirus. Africa cannot be left out even if we are to be represented by Togo and Madagascar in the global race for a vaccine. The strength of “pre-existing” scientific institutions does not matter. Africa has been exploited in the past, especially during the slave trade and today Africans tend not to believe that nations’ economic might and the goods they produces are determined largely by a fair and transparent process- the more you organize yourself to produce efficiently, the more wealth and resources you have. We hence tend to question international economic outcomes on the basis on fairness and equity. This is where support for the Madagascar anti-Covid-19 is coming from- can’t we be allowed to produce even one vaccine!?