Challenging stereotypes: Regenerating Africa in the era of Coronavirus

Updated: Jan 27

In my final year of high school English, my classmates and I were studying issues surrounding representations of black and African experiences through titles such as: Trevor Noah's Born a Crime, Ava DuVernay's 13th; and Wole Soyinka's Telephone Conversation, among others mentioned throughout this piece. Our concluding assignment read as follows: "How can we challenge stereotypes about Africa?"


Now, challenging stereotypes about Africa is often seen as a noble cause to better the continent and further our development as we seek first world status. However, it is in fact this colonial chase for Western approval that devalues our society and determines our path as second to the rest. What the continent truly needs is to refocus its sights not on the progress or development it supposedly lacks, but on revitalising it’s harmonic identity, which for centuries has slumbered. It may be in these trying times that Africa is finally reborn.


The current age of the Coronavirus pandemic has challenged the Western world’s credibility on all fronts, from its capitalist nature to its colonial infrastructure. This is made evident by the West’s coverage on Africa’s Covid-19 response. According to the BBC and on other western news broadcasts, experts predicted Africa would be devastated by the virus. At his presentation to the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in February 2020, Bill Gates alluded to the prospect of Africa becoming overwhelmed by the virus as it’s impact on the continent would be “very, very dramatic” since it didn’t have the same capabilities as the developed world (Telegraph).


For context, as of 29th November 2020, Africa has a total case count of 2.2M infections compared to South America’s 11.1M, North America’s 16M, Asia’s 16.6M and Europe’s 17.1M. (worldometers.info). These statistics are even more impressive as the World Health Organization (WHO) explains that despite being 17% of the world population, Africa is responsible for less than 5% of all cases and 1% of all deaths. In stark contrast is the U.S. with 25% of all deaths despite only 4% of the world’s population.


These results led to a myriad of theories to justify Africa's success. Such as, the low median age of 19.7 (worldometers.info) meaning less deaths, the low case count being a mirage due to a supposed lack of testing capabilities (Zewdu, 2020), or Africa’s familiarity to health crises, notably, Ebola. Some scientists, according to DW, went as far as speculating that some Africans have parasitic worms that protect them from the effects of the virus.


Whether these claims are true or not, the motive for their coverage is questionable as Solomon Zewdu brilliantly makes the point in his article, which is ironically published on Gatesfoundation.org: “What we don’t know about Africa and COVID-19 is far less important than what we do know. Because the things we do know are amazing and important and have surely contributed to Africa’s overall success in weathering this disease” (Zewdu, 2020). Here he alludes to the world’s inability to acknowledge Africa’s good leadership and thriving communities. This connects to Trevor Noah’s snarky comment that the West’s surprise by Africa’s positive response is due to their racism (The Daily Show with Trevor Noah, 13th Nov 2020).


Upon reevaluating the scenario, Africa’s feats did not eradicate any stereotypes, in fact it pushed the West to find more. This response is predictable as Wainana beautifully details in his satirical piece, How to write About Africa, the ways in which Africa is allowed to be portrayed: “Africa is to be pitied, worshipped or dominated. Whichever angle you take, be sure to leave the strong impression that without your intervention and your important book, Africa is doomed” (Wainaina, 2005). Reading his piece from 2005 and witnessing this scenario fifteen years later makes challenging these stereotypes of Africa’s primitive state seem despairingly impossible. However, there is one truth that remains. We are not primitive. Despite the world’s rhetoric and expectations, Africa remains the same. They can tell us that we’re underdeveloped, that we have parasitic worms, but in reality Africa is still the leading continent in the Coronavirus response.


Africa’s success was due to its ability to act fast on its own needs, with the rest of the world focused on themselves, Africa’s actions were not determined by international powers but it’s own. Zewdu goes on to praise the many African communities who adapted quickly and with understanding of the stakes - a reminiscence of humanity’s potential whilst led by the spirit of Ubuntu.


The philosophy and social theory of Ubuntu, as explained in Value Exchange Africa - the Spirit of Ubuntu, depicts a communal existence that unlike communism and capitalism, “demonstrates a social synthesis between person, community and the environment” (HiA, 2020), with the capability to regenerate the pan-African connection across the globe. This renewed inter-connectivity would dismiss Africa’s need to challenge stereotypes around the world as it would ensure African people's ownership of their stories. In her well renowned Ted talk, The Danger of a Single story, Adichie talks about power’s role in storytelling: “Like our political and economic worlds, stories too are determined by the principle of Nkali.” Describing the term as “to be greater than another”, she alludes to the exchange of stories as dependent on those with more power. This, however, ignores the ideas of spiritual connectivity found in Ubuntu, which depicts the “inherent oneness of the person, of peoples and the environment” (HiA, 2020), dismissing the idea that one can be greater than another, thus, in all exchanges including stories, we are all equal.


Delivering on this promise of a regenerated Africa means the active participation in reconnecting communities across the world. Hosted in Africa (HiA) strives to be a spring for active discourse, creative spaces, channels of exchange, collaboration and social reconnection. I am calling out to my peers across the globe - join us and be part of rejuvenating the spirit of Africa!

Adichie, Chimamanda Ngozi. “The Danger of a Single Story.” TED, TED, July 2009, www.ted.com/talks/chimamanda_ngozi_adichie_the_danger_of_a_single_story.

Knapton, Sarah. “Bill Gates Warns of 10 Million Deaths as Coronavirus Spreads to Africa.” The Telegraph, Telegraph Media Group, 15 Feb. 2020, www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2020/02/15/coronovirus-bill-gates-warns-10-million-deaths-virus-spreads/.

Noah, Trevor. “How Africa Is Leading the World in Corona Response | The Daily Social Distancing Show” The Daily Show with Trevor Noah, November 2020, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rq29fhtwfC0&ab_channel=TheDailyShowwithTrevorNoah

Worldometers. “Coronavirus Cases:” Worldometer, 2020, www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/.

Zewdu, Solomon. “Africa: In the Fight against COVID-19, an Unsung Continent.” Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, 2020, ww2.gatesfoundation.org/ideas/articles/coronavirus-solomon-zewdu-africa-response.

HiA. “Value Exchange Africa - the Spirit of Ubuntu.” Hosted in Africa, 2020, www.hostedinafrica.com/.


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