Without any need for cheap statistics, the eye that sees clearly understands amongst thriving and healthy nations of the earth, African nations reservedly occupy a distinguished and mortifying seat at the back of the class. A lot of the hardest hit and God-forsaken places on earth make Africa their home, and what for decades has seemed a little brush fire, threatens to now engulf virtually the whole continent in smoke. If according to the father of modern economics, Adams Smith, wealth is indeed the maker of nations, then renowned U.S. essayist and philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson’s assertion that the very first of this wealth is health makes African nations as a group, the most impoverished and abject of beggars imaginable anywhere on earth. A “Healthy African living in Africa” is certainly a caustic paradox, for factors lethal as they are grand in scope; the words “Healthy” and “African” no longer share an amiable co-existence in the same breath.
It is hard to think back to a time when wars and conflicts have not ravaged Africa: If two neighboring nations are not going at it, a government somewhere and its citizens are engaged in a civil war of annihilation—between 1990 and 2005, at least 23 countries on the continent were involved in armed conflicts. Diseases and malnutrition have become mandatory consequences of these wars and conflicts. “In African wars,” said a UNICEF report, “lack of food and medical services, combined with the stress of flight, have killed about 20 times more people than have armaments.” Today, Africa hosts 3 million of the world’s 14 million refugees, and 12 million of 24.5 conflict-related internally-displaced peoples (IDPs) are on the continent. You can’t probably remember when, if ever, was the last time you willfully drank germ-infested water with sheer joy simply for lack of a remotely better alternative; or maybe went months on days’ supply of food. These have been a binding experience among the millions of hapless Africans living in these pallid conditions, killing fields of total human invention.
“When the missionaries came to Africa they had the Bible and we had the land,” said South African Nobel prize winner Bishop Desmond Tutu. “They said, ‘Let us pray.’ We closed our eyes. When we opened them, they had the land and we had the Bible.” This is never so much true than today where the colonialists that have left the land have been replaced by the imperialists. Africa has become the dumping ground for the biggest pharmaceutical, arms, and oil conglomerates in the world. Some years back, an unauthorized drug testing for an experimental drug by the name Trovan which its maker, Pfizer Inc., hoped would bring it at least $1 billion was carried out in the northern part of Nigeria. This opportunistic predatory act resulted in deaths and permanent damages to unsuspecting Africans: the case of a 10 year-old girl, whose eye got frozen in place before she later died, was particularly disturbing. According to Pfizer’s records, she was simply patient No. 0069 at testing site No. 6587 in experiment No. 154-149. And this is not an isolated incident: Across Africa, “Big Pharma” as it is commonly called, uses the lives of the poor and stricken to advance its money-making capabilities on affluent continents.
All these ills notwithstanding, Africa’s urbanization rate is the highest of any continent, with an urban population doubling every 20 years per 2007 figures put together by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). Call it Africa catching up with the rest of the world or whatever you will, but with this has come consequential blows to the state of well-being on the continent. On a continent overwhelmingly made of impoverished states, to expect quality roads and like infrastructures is tantamount to riding a phantom horse on a golden sky. The luxury that comes with vehicles on these roads has led to 1.2 million traffic-related injuries per year, and the havoc of the sedentary lifestyle encouraged aggressively by motorization in this quest for urbanization cannot be overstated. As a part of this urbanization, imperialistic oil conglomerates like I mentioned earlier have and continue to play a major role in reducing the life expectancy of Africans. Viable farmlands are being swamped daily with cancerous waste from callous and greedy drilling practices. A report estimates that as a result of negligible and irresponsible acts by these conglomerates, sub-Saharan Africa in 10 years stands to be the worst hit global-warming region on earth.
But what efforts have African leaders taken in the delivery of a basic and important social service as health to their subjects? In a 2008 Corruption Perception Index published by Transparency International, of all the nations on the second largest continent on earth, only 3 nations scored above the mid-point level of 5. The serious and rampant levels of corruption in African countries have made combating a fundamental cause of illness and diseases—poverty—a close to non-existent effort. African nations are unquestionably blessed with immense amounts of natural resources. When African leaders engage in graft and devious corrupt practices, money that ought to go into fixing structural underdevelopments and thus fight communal evils like maternal mortality rates, where in Nigeria for example, 1 woman dies every 5 minutes due to complications in pregnancy and childbirth; go instead into building villas and funding expensive trips across the globe. It is also no secret, that for the conglomerates that continue to pillage and destroy African lives to have the audacity with which they function, tacit back-room deals have been agreed to by these leaders—in essence selling the souls and well-beings of their compatriots for pieces of silver.
From the governments and gunrunners that continue to inundate conflicts on the continent in places like Angola, the Sudan, and Democratic Republic of the Congo with deadly and potent small arms; the pharmaceutical companies that donate endless amount of expired drugs to African countries in the name of “aid to Africa”; the fossil fuels companies that keep usurping African lives and leaving carbon footprints big enough for entire civilizations to collapse in; the Africans who place greed and selves before the welfare and safety of fellow citizens; an AIDS epidemic whose over three-quarter of killings are on the same continent—it seems Africa and its natives are primed to be engulfed in a fire that won’t quit. If health is a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being, then it is ever apparent that one cannot in good faith look into the eyes of the African mother caringly clutching her young boy, and tell her to stay strong and awake, knowing full well she and her kid would barely stay alive long enough.