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"The problem of Africa is largely leadership"

BEARING GIFTS: President of Nigerian, Muhammadu Buhari (right) with the country's former leader Goodluck Jonathan (image credit: Reuters)

POOR HEALTHCARE is a daunting challenge in most African countries. But despite resources – local and foreign – committed to the sector over the years, there is still a chasm in funding, infrastructure and service delivery and the continent's leaders do not seem to be doing anything to alleviate the dire situation.

According to the International Finance Corporation (IFC), “people in Sub-Saharan Africa have the worst health, on average, in the world”.

The IFC goes on to say:

“The region (Sub-Saharan Africa) has 11 percent of the world’s population but carries 24 percent of the global disease burden. With less than one percent of global health expenditure and only three percent of the world’s health workers, Africa accounts for almost half the world’s deaths of children under five, has the highest maternal mortality rate, and bears a heavy toll from HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria.

"The region lacks the infrastructure to provide even basic health care to many of its people.”

The corporation also says spending on healthcare in Africa is expected to double in the next 10 years, and that investments of $25 billion - $30 billion are needed to meet the demand.


It is worrying that despite the exigent health needs of Africa, some of its leaders fancy embarking on medical peregrinations or 'health tourism' in Europe and the US. A colossal amount of state funds is often lavished on these trips. In this respect, Africa appears to be burdened with leaders who sequestrate themselves from the realities of their constituencies. They would rather spend state funds on medical binges abroad than develop their countries’ health sector.

In January, President Muhammadu Buhari of Nigeria travelled to London for medical treatment. He did not return until February. In May, the 74-year-old ex-military officer left the country for London on another medical voyage. These trips occurred despite millions of dollars allocated annually to the presidential hospital in Abuja.

The Nigerian government has refused to disclose the amount of money spent on the trips, but it is speculated that it is in the region of millions of dollars.

Recently, a jarring controversy over the presidential hospital was sparked by an impassioned statement from Buhari's wife Aisha, who said that the facility lacked the commonest of drugs – Paracetamol, and - wool.

Aisha’s outburst was an indictment of her husband’s “anti-corruption government”, which had earmarked funds for the hospital. In spite of the parlous state of Nigeria’s healthcare system, the government allocated only four percent of a $23.62 billion budget in 2017 to the sector. This is way below the 15 percent target set by the AU.

CRITICISM: Nigerian first lady Aisha Buhari has bemoaned the country's presidential hospital's lack of resources (image credit: 'This Day')

In April 2001, AU countries met and reached an accord – what is known as the Abuja Declaration – to allocate 15 percent of their annual budgets to the health sector.

Journalist Martins Ifijeh, in a report on February 9, said while the US would spend about $7 million per prisoner in Guantanamo Bay in 2017, Nigeria would spend N1,688 ($5) on the health of each of its citizen in the year.

Other African presidents like Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe and Patrice Talon of Benin, who have had medical stays abroad, have showed a lack of faith in their states’ healthcare system, which they have failed to develop.

In 2016, 93-year-old Mugabe, whose destination of choice is Singapore, was reported to have spent $53 million on foreign trips – medical included. Since the turning of this year, he has embarked on three medical trips to the south east Asian country. Hospitals in Zimbabwe were reported to have lacked painkillers while the nonagenarian globe-trotted.

In June, 59-year-old Talon, spent weeks in France undergoing surgery. He governs a country where only about 42 percent of the population has access to healthcare.

'Medical tourism' is a nucleic problem in Africa. Some members of the elite, who have a niggling discomfort such as a cold, would rather have it checked out at a hospital in Europe than in their country. Leaders and citizens alike have little faith in their states’ healthcare system because it is in bad shape.

CHILLIN': Benin's President Patrice Talon (image credit: Hottest Heads of State)

For a change, Africa needs new leaders who are ultra afro-centric; lodestars who will put the health needs of their people first, and unapologetic ideological deviants who are committed to country.

The continent once had a constellation of such leaders like Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana, Nnamdi Azikiwe of Nigeria, Patrice Lumumba of Congo, Julius Nyerere of Tanzania, and Nelson Mandela of South Africa. These were leaders, who gave up personal comfort, and at worst liberty, for the sake of their countrymen and women. Nkrumah dreamt of a united Africa; Azikiwe shared the dream; Lumumba was murdered for refusing to sell his country to imperialists; Nyerere fought the colonialists at a personal cost, and Mandela spent 27 years in jail for the freedom of the blacks in his country.

Will any African leader give up his comfort, liberty or life for his country today? Why are some African leaders not prioritising the health of their citizens?

The problem of Africa is largely leadership. If not, why is a continent so rich in mineral and human resources trapped in the coven of poverty, disease and underdevelopment? Election results are often manipulated and the true representatives of the people do not find their way into government.

'Sit-tightism' is a quotidian challenge in Africa – where 'elected' representatives do not relinquish power. President Mugabe has ruled Zimbabwe for 37 years; President Paul Biya of Cameroon, 35 years; Omar al-Bashir of Sudan, 28 years; Idriss Deby of Chad, 27 years, and President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda, 31 years. Despite their years in power, their countries have not turned the corner.


Africa cannot make meaningful progress if the votes of the electorate do not count; if its leaders are unwilling to relinquish power; if they waste state funds on foreign medical trips instead of developing the local health sector; if they steal from their people and silence voices of dissent.

Africa must find a solution to its own problems. Though separated by natural and artificial borders, and of diverse tongues and culture, the continent faces common challenges.

Nkrumah summed it all up when he said:

“It is clear that we must find an African solution to our problems, and that this can only be found in African unity. Divided we are weak; united, Africa could become one of the greatest forces for good in the world.”

Fredrick Nwabufo is a writer and journalist based in Abuja, Nigeria. He was the Abuja Bureau Chief of and his works have appeared in major publications in Nigeria, Ghana and beyond.

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