West African business leaders’ donations can lead to potential structural change

Temi Ibirogba, Program and Research Associate, Center for International Policy Africa Program

Aliko Dangote (left) and Patrice Motsepe (right), a South African businessman who
has also donated a sizable amount to fight COVID-19 in his country.

In the wake of the global coronavirus pandemic, African entrepreneurs, business leaders and moguls from West Africa notably, have stepped up to help the continent and their respective countries defeat the virus. Tony Elumelu, Chairman of UBA (United Bank for Africa) has donated 5 billion naira (14 million dollars) to Nigeria and 19 other African nations. Deji Adeleke, the CEO of Pacific Holdings Limited pledged 750 million naira (2 million dollars) to Nigeria’s federal government and Osun State. Access Bank, a major Nigerian multinational bank and Aliko Dangote, the richest man in Africa and richest black man in the world, have joined forces to help treatment centers with testing and caring for patients. These stories are important to highlight because in times of crisis, Africans have notoriously been falsely stereotyped as incapable of helping themselves, allowing dehumanizing narratives to dominate the discourse surrounding African agency. International NGOs and other humanitarian actors have undoubtedly helped the continent immensely during times of turmoil in the past but in 2020, discussing what Africans are doing for their own people will encourage and inspire the next generation of African leaders to one day do the same.

So what’s next for the continent in the fight against COVID-19, there are currently 51 countries affected, 9,393 cases, 445 deaths and 906 recoveries. Experts fear that the worst is to come based on the waves and peak points of outbreaks that countries like China and Italy have already witnessed. As African cases also begin to increase, the number one cause for concern is the continent’s weak healthcare infrastructure and a lack of resources overall to combat the coronavirus. Donations like the aforementioned will help alleviate some of the effects but will not be enough. For now, preventative measures like continued mandatory stay at home orders, the banning of public gatherings and travel restrictions are key.

These are all important efforts aimed at mitigating the consequences of the disaster on the horizon. The cash contributions of wealthy Africans to those efforts are valuable but it will be the political struggles to achieve structural change in Africa’s healthcare systems that will determine if the needed long-term change is realized. COVID-19 might become the tragic wake up call that convinces African governments to invest much more in their neglected public healthcare systems.

The Center for International Policy Africa Program analyzes U.S. foreign policy toward the nations of Africa to promote greater positive U.S. engagement