One of the missing links to democracy in Africa is leadership elected on merit, sound policies and a clear vision for the future. This sobering reality has left many nations stuck with a burgeoning burden of the incompetent AK-47 generation of leaders. These leaders won the battles in the bush but have lost the governance war. The groundwork of power consolidation involves drying up national coffers to build massive armies while living lavishly at the expense of a poverty stricken populace. Africa’s Big Men are gifted story tellers often meandering into gun touting war stories while deflecting attention from failed economies, education, healthcare and dilapidated infrastructure. Scars acquired from battles of corruption, plundered resources and growing national debts continue to bleed without hope for complete healing.
The lack of big ideas and intellectual curiosity among our leaders to craft sound policy is evident from the struggling economies, poor healthcare and education. Innovation has been nonexistent on the economic front without a trace of new paradigms to rescue the suffocating beast. Africa’s economic prospects have been surrendered by our leaders to the Bretton Woods institutions that have surgically dragged our nations into deeper waters without even a life-jacket. Development has been redefined in broader terms of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and rising income– focusing on the absolute while paying lip service to relative growth. We continue to double-down on this failed agenda while stuffing our heavily indebted national wallets with a Structural Adjustment Policy (SAPs) sealed credit line– an inevitable path towards economic suicide. SAPs prioritize debt payment and economic restructuring (privatization, deregulation and reduced government spending) at the expense of a pro-growth strategy. The result has been growing national debt, high-unemployment, extreme poverty and a widening gap between the rich and poor.
Africa is home to 25% of the global disease burden. This staggering statistic illustrates the need for a fully functional and effective health-care system. Millions continue to perish from preventable diseases as a result of lack of access to affordable health-care. There is urgent need to create an offensive assault on all fronts to have a healthier population. Leadership has to lead the way in devising policy that would improve the current ratio of 2-3 healthcare workers per 1000 people. Aggressive training and retaining of healthcare workers should be number one priority. Secondly, it is time to explore creation of a national health insurance system. Insured patients are more pro-active in seeking primary and preventive care– reducing the occurrence of full blown and costly conditions. A modernized pharmacy network is also critical towards the health of a population. Prescription drug abuse and misuse can pose a significant health and financial burden to society and in certain cases can result in death. In many of our nations any individual irrespective of age or health status can walk into a pharmacy and purchase a wide range of medications without a prescription. These prescription drugs are often provided with inadequate labeling, warnings and patients have no access to professional counseling on proper use of these drugs. The current state of our healthcare system is unacceptable often a hit or miss- an accident waiting to happen. Something has to be done–and done now.
There has also been a major challenge of failed regulation and enforcement of national drug policies. Prescription drug and healthcare product trafficking is rampant across our borders. Patients are often manipulated and exploited to use products that are not safe and often lack proof of clinical efficacy. The Amezcua bio disc is a recent example of a scam product that has been widely marketed across Africa. Manufacturers claim that inserting the bio-disc in water or another liquid would transform it into a miracle cure. The “magical water” can then be used to cure conditions such as insomnia, stress, hypertension, diabetes, depression and anything else one can think of. As bizarre as this myth sounds, this scum product continues to be marketed without clinical evidence at a price tag of $700 to $800 per disc. Our governments have to be more vigilant in rooting out such profit minded individuals that not only pose a danger to our health-care system but also exploit a populace that continues to languish below the poverty margin.
We have often believed that education is the ‘great equalizer’ but never took the time to ask what kind of education. Education has turned out to be the ‘great confuser’ for many in Africa. Students graduate from school equipped with the skills to succeed in the western society and find themselves misfits in their niche. The current education system is a case study on why copy and paste can have disastrous consequences. We continue to invest in education with diminishing returns. Our nations continue to exhibit record levels of under-employed, unemployed and idle skilled and educated workers unable to apply acquired knowledge. There is an urgent need for leaders with the political will and courage to reform our education system and provide the future generation with the tools to flourish and optimize the resources in their communities. The new curriculum should tackle the challenges in our nations focusing on critical thinking and innovation, blending environmental, societal needs, traditional African knowledge and contemporary education. Relevant education is the great equalizer.
Africa is a continent blessed with natural resources and human capital. We need leaders who have the vision to optimize rather than exploit these resources. Leaders who can make us dream and dream big. The economy, education and healthcare should be at the frontline of every battle that our leaders engage in. We need leaders with Big Ideas not Big Guns.