Africa: Covid-19 and Research in Africa


Japan and Cuba provide lessons in research and development for Africa.

In 1966 Professor Johan Galtung, a Norwegian peace researcher with academic doctorates in Physics, Mathematics and Sociology, toured Africa to argue that it was a grave error to accept the British Government’s measure of imposing economic embargo on British immigrants in Southern Rhodesia who had declared a plan to turn the country – for themselves and their descendants – into another Australia or New Zealand or Spanish colonies in South America.

His tour of the country a year after Ian Smith and is political party had declared to be independent from British colonial rule “without the permission of Her Majesty’s Government” was giving proof to his theory that economic sanctions deliver bitter pills which trigger genes of: determination to survive; heroic visions of a “David defeating Goliath”, and creativity to invent replacements for what were imported from other economies.

When I intercepted him on a Kampala street he was feeling triumphant that the rebel Rhodesians were proving him right. By 1980 the Rhodesian bravado had collapsed and Robert Mugabe had trampled on Ian Smith’s boast that his breed would rule over Blacks for one thousand years.

Johan Galtung’s theory had already flourished in Japan where a self-imposed form of embargo fuelled national development. In the field of education Japan started a policy of shutting out books and journals written in foreign languages. Publications which were most highly rated in Medicine, Agronomy, Economics, Engineering, Literature, Mathematics, etc., would be translated into Japanese language. They also borrowed the German model of conducting research and delivering lectures in universities in VERNACULAR, namely switching from Latin to German language.

This policy had been preceded by sending brilliant students to top level universities in Germany, France, Britain, Spain and the United States. They translated publications into Japanese. In the field of industrial production, imported capital and consumer goods were taken to pieces and fabricated by Japanese workers.

Research became combative horns of Cuba. From 1961 when Fidel Castro and his revolutionary fighters declared ownership by Cuba’s government of vast sugar plantations, sugar processing factories, banks and ancillary businesses, successive American governments imposed economic embargoes on the island. The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) would later under pressure by a committee of Congress that try as hard as they did, they had failed to deepen the embargo by assassinating Fidel Castro.

The drive to starve Cuba into abandoning communist economics, society and politics fuelled the resolve to be so creative and inventive that they would bypass all measures which used American technology. In the area of health they eliminated malaria by eliminating mosquitoes by denying them stagnant water in pools, grass, broken pots where to breed. American medicines were made redundant.

This strategy relied on brilliant minds being invested in research. They would ask daring questions and chase daring roads into search of new knowledge. Cuba’s tropical vegetation (plants and fungi), mushrooms, insects, reptiles, insects, resources in and under the sea became frontiers to explored for medical, chemical and industrial products.

Earning money and making profit was replaced with serving a need as the principle for delivering the impact of a medical skill. Accordingly the best surgeon would operate on a peasant at the demand of the ideological dictate of the Cuban state. Hugo Chavez as president of Venezuela would fly in patients from other South American countries for high quality medical treatment in Cuba and pay with barrels of oil for Cuba.

The combination of unconventional creativity with the ideological priority on delivering service to all human beings was a threat to practices by the American Medical community. Cheap drugs invented and manufactured by Cuba and cheap medical skills used in treating patients would become a magnet to American middle classes who can afford to travel across the 90 kilometres which separate Cuba from Florida. Medical tourism would flood patients into Cuba while denying market to money-guzzling American personnel.