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Opinions of Thursday, 23 April 2020

Columnist: Prince Asaga

Africa’s anger at Melinda Gate’s doom prophecy: A Ghanaian perspective and truths worth telling

During a CNN interview, Melinda Gates, wife of American billionaire Bill Gates, and co-founder of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation remarked that she can imagine dead bodies on the streets of Africa, during the novel COVID19 pandemic.

Her views were based on real-life happenings in Ecuador where lifeless bodies of COVID19 could be found on the streets in parts of the South American country. With such a bold and frightening statement, one could safely bet that there was almost no way her views wouldn't receive mixed reaction and controversy.

At the forefront of the mixed reaction is the very continent at the centre of her doom prophecy...........AFRICA! Affectionately called The Motherland, countless individuals and societies across the continent did not take kindly to her comments. Still recovering from unsavoury words by two French doctors, who only a few days earlier suggested covid19 vaccines be tested on Africans first, the timing of Melinda’s remarks couldn't have come at a worse time. One such society currently angry with the world-renowned philanthropist is Ghana.

Also affectionately nicknamed The Land of Gold, Ghana’s response at least, in unofficial circles as per the comments by numerous social media users, has been nothing short of contempt for Melinda.

In fact, the general tone is one that suggests that The West never sees anything good in Africa thus the negative comments. The Ghanaian tone also indicates a sense of racial slur coming from Melinda, whose caucasian race is sometimes guilty of having one or two ignorant white people who think Africans either still live on trees, have no infrastructure, live feral in the jungle, or live with filth, disease and death everywhere.

It is important to quickly chip in however, that among black people and other races, there are also sometimes one or two people who are ignorant and racist. It is the world we live in, and that is why concerted efforts have always been made by all societies and races to educate the racist and ignorant few, and promote respect, equality and harmony. But moving back to Melinda and her not so happy Ghanaian brothers and sisters, she has also been personally attacked by renowned Ghanaian gospel singer and preacher, Sonnie Badu. His Instagram post below says it all;

“You are not God ... You are only human, Just like us. Do not over step your boundaries, don’t worry your time will be up soon ... Africa will surprise the world, that is why for the first time we are ahead of you all ... Madam, keep quite... my name is BADU”.

His comments show a very upset man and understandably so. It is however imperative to try to understand where both Melinda and Sonnie are coming from as regards their respective opinions.

What Melinda Gates said “Saw what China had to do to isolate enormous part of its population. My first thought was Africa. How in the world are they going to deal with this ... I have been in townships all over Africa and slums ... you have to go out and get your meals. You don’t have clean water to wash your hands," the philanthropist said. Analysing her remarks, she attempted to compare the associated overcrowding of China’s large population to the overcrowding in African slums.

China, a world superpower and second-largest economy, with their advancements in the economy, health, technology, highly mobilised and organised workforce and society, had their fair of challenging efforts to isolate enormous parts of their population. Africa, on the other hand, is not as advanced and developed like China. With many poor developing countries across the continent and significant populations living in shantytowns, it is only logical for one to assume that the isolation efforts in The Motherland would be more challenging.

Also speaking about her family’s charity foundation and its interventions during this period, she added that “It is going to be horrible in the developing world and part of the reason why you are seeing the case numbers don’t look very bad is that they don’t have access to very many tests”.

It is no secret that health logistics in Africa have not always been adequate. It is either available but not enough, or enough but not quality, or quality but not accessible to all. Simply put, there is often a health crisis somewhere and it is in view of this that Africa continues to receive foreign aid for healthcare among others.

African governments and their foreign counterparts, together with international institutions recognise the inadequacies in Africa’s healthcare systems especially during this coronavirus pandemic.

It thus comes as no surprise that Ghana and other African nations have accepted various forms of aid to contain the spread of the virus, and should therefore not come as a surprise to hear Melinda Gates point out the deficits in our healthcare systems which the aid is meant to solve.

Ghana has already received her share of 100,000 medical masks, 20,000 test kits and 1,000 protective suits and face shields from the Jack Ma Foundation. With all due respect, Ghana would not be accepting such benevolence if Melinda’s assertions about the vacuum in Africa’s virus testing capabilities were untrue.

Also, the West African nation wouldn't have desperately accepted a $100,000,000 COVID-19 facility from the World Bank, at a time her debt servicing ratio to revenue stands at 60%.

Narrowing down to what Ghanaians would have viewed as Melinda’s final nail in the coffin, was her doom prophecy of dead bodies on the streets of Africa. She said; “Look at Ecuador. Look at what’s going on in Ecuador. They are putting bodies out on the street. You’re gonna see that in countries in Africa.” This statement was largely based on extrapolation.

With relatively larger populations in some African countries and less performing health systems like Ecuador, it was simple math to deduce a bleaker picture for Africa. In terms of efficiency in health systems, Ecuador places 111 according to the 2019 World Health Organisation ranking. Ghana comes in at 135, with 25 African nation rounding up the bottom 30(160-190) on the list. There is a Pidgin English saying in Ghana that goes “Book No Lie!” which in this case, loosely means the numbers don't lie.

In effect, Melinda’s rather unpalatable prediction carried weight after all.

Sonnie Badu’s Response As earlier shown, Sonnie Badu’s remarks not only attacked Melinda Gates, but also the West and other super-advanced societies across Eurasia at large. The reasons for his lash out are perhaps three-pillared. Socio-political, cultural and religious.

From a socio-political point of view, Badu appears nostalgic about how the tables have turned. His comment about Africa is ahead of the rest of the world for the first time shows his excitement of overtaking, but also a recollection of a frustrating paradigm of always lagging behind.

Thus in his mind’s eye, Africa should be praised and emulated for having appeared to have contained the spread of the coronavirus much better than the likes of America, Europe and China. Instead, Melinda Gates portrays herself and the superpowers as sore losers who cannot come to terms with the underdog Africa surpassing them for once. He somewhat views her doom prophecy as arrogant, undermining and superiority complex laden.

His feelings are understandable, especially considering the fact that Melinda did not attach conditional words or phrases to her frightening permutations. In the very least, she could have said something like “You’re gonna see dead bodies on the streets if care is not taken”.

From a cultural perspective, it is very un-African to say bad things about the future. Many indigenous cultures across The Motherland have similar cultural elements as regards concepts of bride price, market days, taboos, ancestral reverence, proverbs, etc. Speech is one very important aspect that has no room for loose talk.

Culturally and spiritually, it is believed that life manifests what the tongue says. Therefore, speaking a negative prediction could be essentially speaking a bad omen into manifestation. Among Akan indigenes in Ghana, it is very common to hear a child or loose talker being reprimanded with the following words; “Fa wo’ano ka ns3m pa”. It literally means, use your mouth to speak positive things.” It is part of the culture and way of life of the Ghanaian and African and it should be respected. Thus next time, Melinda Gates could be more cautious in her comments regarding Africa and speak in a more measured tone which would not offend, but at the same time, create the intended gravity of awareness.

Analysing Badu’s remarks through religious lenses, Melinda’s comments can be said to have reeked of blasphemy. Ghana, like many African nations is very religious. So religious is Ghana, that the national government commenced its efforts against the COVID19 by organising national prayers, led by the president together with both Muslim and Christian clergy.

With a predominantly Christian populace, it is against the word of God in the bible to judge thy neighbour. Judgement is the sole preserve of the The Father and it is blasphemous to undermine God by competing with or challenging Him. Therefore Melinda Gates, a mere mortal had no divine power to predict the future on behalf of the omniscient, omnipotent and omnipresent God of Abraham and Isaac.

It therefore came as no surprise that Sonnie Badu, a Christian gospel singer and Minister of the word of God, was at the forefront of the pushback at Melinda Gates.

The Truth We live in an unforgiving world in times where one can never be too careful with speech. Saying things at the right time, in the right context and in the right words could be the difference between ones vilification and praise. Melinda Gates only sought to conscientize but ended up being vilified. But what was she vilified for? Speaking the truth? Or was there a more responsible way of speaking the truth. Melinda Gates certainly had good intentions and meant no disrespect.

She did not sugar coat the truth, yet she failed to utilise a healthy dose of political correctness. Sonnie Badu, on the other hand, could have been a bit less aggressive in reaction, but also had to stand up for his African cause.

In conflicting circumstances as this, the world needs to reconcile responsible speech with the avoidance of sugar coating, to facilitate the truth. The truth is always worth telling, and behind Melinda Gates’ doom prophecy, the underlying truth is that if care is not taken, with the history, the numbers and the odds stuck against Africa, very bad things could happen.

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