As I write this, I am observing a very large family of elephants, mingling easily with giraffes, zebras, even a few elands, eating peacefully the tall grasses of the Savannah that stretches for thousands of hectares across the Lakipia Plateau in Northern Kenya.
Yes, I’m in Africa, where early COVID predictions said the numbers of infections and death would exceed those of any other continent—that Africa would suffer the most from the deadly virus. An April report from the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa estimated as many as 3.3 million deaths. To date, the number is 56,427.
Scientists continue to investigate why this continent has far fewer cases than Europe, many parts of Asia, and certainly less per capita than the U.S. I would offer that credit must be given to fast-acting leaders who implemented lockdowns, travel restrictions, and strict protocols without exception. Negative COVID tests are required upon entry, airport health checks are far more robust than any U.S. airport, daily temperature checks happen at lodges and hotels, and everyone wears a mask.
Another possible explanation is Africa’s experience with deadly epidemics like Ebola, which threatened the entire continent. It was stopped at the border of Rwanda by the decisive actions of Dr. Agnes Binagwaho, Rwanda’s Health Minister at the time who immediately closed the borders to all traffic.
These lessons learned informed early and quick action again. Rwanda has had fewer than 7,000 cases total and only 57 deaths out of a population of more than 12 million. Rwanda now has fewer than 200 new COVID cases, and was the first country on the continent to re-open its borders to tourists, welcoming many back to view the awesome mountain gorillas. And it’s no coincidence to us at InfluencHER that the majority of voices in government making the decisions about pandemic response and economic recovery are women.
There are other countries on the continent with extraordinarily low numbers of infection, too. Ghana tests everyone coming and going in the airport with mandatory on-site quarantine if positive. And Kenya, where I am staying, continues to follow African CDC guidelines to ensure that the local population is protected from tourists whose return is essential to economic recovery. For many African countries, the return of visitors is critical to restore an economy largely dependent on tourism to sustain the conservation of land and wildlife, and community empowerment and employment.
Distribution of vaccines may take time to reach the African continent, and there will be some cultural distrust to overcome, as well. In the meantime, the rest of the world has much to learn about pandemic response from the continent that has survived the threats of infectious diseases before, as well as extreme poverty, food insecurity, and violence.
In spite of these challenges, the African continent models for many of us a harmony with the natural world, a re-wilding of soul and spirit that is essential for any full and sustainable recovery.
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InfluencHER: A Return to Africa