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Don’t shoot the messenger

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By Donu Kogbara

Melinda-Gates

MELINDA, the wife of Bill Gates – Microsoft co-founder, tycoon and philanthropist – has said she fears that the bodies of people who have been killed by the coronavirus will litter the streets of Africa.

Mrs. Gates voiced her concern in a CNN TV interview, during which she said that her heart is in Africa and that she’s very worried about us because she believes that the coronavirus situation is “going to be horrible in the developing world”, thanks to the fact that we lack the facilities to efficiently deal with the problem.

She expressed the view that the modest infection and death rate statistics being announced by various African governments are inaccurate “because they don’t have access to many tests” (and, therefore, don’t have a clue how many people really have the disease or how many people have gone to meet their Maker because of it).

Alarming number of fatalities

She used Ecuador, the South American nation in which the corpses of corona victims are being unceremoniously dumped in public places because the government of Ecuador is struggling to manage the crisis while Ecuadoran cemeteries, undertakers and hospital morgues can’t accommodate the alarming number of fatalities – as an example of a worst-case scenario she thinks will be replicated in Africa.

Mrs. Gates – who has visited many African slums – also mentioned the weak healthcare systems in African countries, the shortage of welfare safety nets for the impoverished and the fact that it is unrealistic to expect folks who can’t access clean water or afford to even briefly suspend income generating activities to accept lockdown instructions or prioritise hand-washing and social distancing.

Several Nigerians have taken umbrage at Mrs. Gates’s comments and heaped opprobrium on her and her spouse. Social media warriors and some of my own friends have been furiously vocal, saying things like: “That racist woman should leave us alone!” and “God will not allow her evil prediction to come true!” and “Bodies will litter the streets of America before they litter the streets of Africa, in Jesus name!”

Frankly, I’m bemused and puzzled by these hostile reactions because some of Mrs. Gates’ strongest detractors have expressed identical fears about our ability to cope with the COVID-19 drama.

Before Mrs. Gates opened her mouth to “insult” us, Nigerians were insulting the Buhari administration for spectacularly failing to establish a credible healthcare system for all Nigerian citizens…and for not even ensuring that the Presidential clinic, to which vast sums have been allocated in recent years, was well-equipped (there is still plenty of anger and scorn doing the rounds about the fact that when Buhari’s former Chief of Staff, the late Abba Kyari, caught the bug, he had to be airlifted to Lagos treatment).

Before coronavirus reached Nigeria, Nigerians were anxiously monitoring its devastating impact on China and Europe from afar and assuring each other that we would be “finished” if coronavirus ever reached Nigeria…because, unlike the formidably dynamic Chinese and steadily competent Europeans, our leaders cannot build decent hospitals quickly or administer multiple safeguards intelligently.

Meanwhile, no day passes without a Nigerian telling me that he or she is absolutely convinced that the low infection/mortality figures being trotted out by the Nigerian Government are very inaccurate. OK, so it’s fine for us to be cynical and pessimistic prophets of doom, but terrible for Mrs. Gates to echo our concerns?!

OK, so yes, it is embarrassing to hear the shortcomings of struggling African societies highlighted so starkly, especially by a rich white person who is judging us from on high. And, yes, there is a touch of the patronizing Lady Bountiful about Melinda Gates. And, yes, some Oyinbo experts are saying that Africa may not wind up with the kind of coronavirus problem America has.
And, yes, America is tottering under the enormous weight of pandemic stress and Trump’s stupidity, so maybe Mrs. Gates should concentrate on her own backyard for a while…or simply not carry on as if Africa is the only place on earth that is not handling this challenge ideally.

But it is not Mrs. Gates’s fault that most African countries are in a huge mess; and Madame and her husband mean well, if you ask me; and they have certainly put their money where their mouths are.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has donated millions of dollars to African charitable ventures in good faith (I don’t buy conspiracy theories about them having ulterior motives that are linked to their commercial interests or alleged desire to destroy the black race).

Long story short, I don’t know the Gates duo and have nothing to gain from them. But Melinda has not told any lies and I think that her critics are being unfair and should resist the temptation to irrationally take offence and shoot an essentially benign messenger for saying what we ourselves have repeatedly said.

By the way, the average Nigerian is too superstitious! Advise the average Nigerian man to write a will, so his wife, children and relatives don’t descend into warfare if he dies without clarifying his wishes about distribution of his money, property and possessions; and he will eye you suspiciously and conclude that you wish him dead!

But it makes sense to prepare for unwanted possibilities. And we should, in my opinion, see Melinda Gates’ warning in that light.

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