Africa has long been tormented by experts parachuted in from the West to help with whatever crisis the continent was facing. Yesterday, the UK’s former Health Secretary Matt Hancock became the latest in this line, appointed as UN envoy to Africa on matters relating to Covid-19.
There is nothing in Matt Hancock’s résumé to suggest that he would know what’s best for Africa. His work in government has focused on exclusively British affairs, and before his he entered politics in 2010, he was an economist at the Bank of England.
So why is he now being tasked with helping Covid recovery in Africa?
Hancock hardly has a stellar record. Not only did he leave British politics in disgrace after being caught breaking his own lockdown rules, he also botched the handling of the UK’s pandemic response. His own Prime Minister described him as “hopeless”. Given that he failed so spectacularly in a country of 65 million people, it makes me wonder what he thinks he can achieve for a continent of 1.3 billion people.
By appointing Hancock, the UN has once again shown how little they understand about Africa and its fight against Covid. When African leaders sit on “smaller chairs” by the UN’s “big old table”, the big nations play their usual game of musical chairs with “jobs for the boys”.
So it is no surprise that the UN did not consider any of the many highly qualified African politicians and technocrats for this position. Why not Carlos Lopes, Executive Secretary of the UN Economic Commission for Africa from 2012-16, for instance? Or our Ghanaian sister Martha Ama Akyaa Pobee, currently Assistant Secretary-General for Africa? Were they not better qualified than Hancock?
The appointment shows that the UN is oblivious to Africa’s real fight: not Covid, but the devastation caused by Covid restrictions. The enormous socioeconomic crisis that has begun to impact the continent because of the measures imposed by the West has caused untold damage. As recently shown in a UNICEF report, “an additional 140 million children in developing countries are projected to be in households below the poverty line” as a result of Covid policies. Education is just one example of this immiseration of Africa’s children: a report issued yesterday by the Global Schools Forum found that “Only three schools in Kenya (of 22) and 11 schools in Nigeria (of 59) reported that over half of their students had access to learning.”
Hancock’s appointment will not deliver the “magic bullet” that will fix Africa. This continent does not need a Covid Messiah, particularly as the West has been infinitely more hard-hit than countries in Africa. The truth is that Africa does not only need to recover from Covid-related impacts: it must also recover from the UN and decades of misjudged interferences, enacted through mouthpieces like Matt Hancock.
Dr Samuel Adu-Gyamfi is Head of Department of History and Political Science at Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology in Kumasi, Ghana.