Op-Ed: Course Correction, Paradigm Shifts And A Profound Truth

Rakesh Wahi
Published 8 months ago
Rakesh Wahi

THE WORLD Health Organization (WHO) stated recently that we are still in the first phase of the
Covid-19 pandemic. The five stages determined by WHO are ‘Pandemic, Deceleration, Control, Elimination and Eradication’.

While this projection did create debate from various groups, it’s complex to predict whether future mutations of the virus will be as severe as the Delta variant. Since it’s hard to have any certainty regarding future mutations, it’s best to err on the side of caution and remain vigilant. I believe that these phases are not mutually exclusive. Given all the expenditure on research and vaccine development, the phases will dovetail and expedite to the elimination phase and in time, the eradication phase of the virus. What is clear is that periodic boosters and the Covid-19 vaccination certificate, like the Yellow Fever card, will be an essential part of our travel documents. Despite all the underlying risks, the optimistic human mind has momentarily conquered the fear of Covid-19 as many people have boxed the virus into the category of a flu.

It was, therefore, not surprising to see that all flights out of Dubai, a global transit hub, over the last three months had extremely high occupancy. This is good for economic recovery, particularly for the tourism and hospitality sector which has seen a sharp resurgence in the first quarter of 2022. With lockdown behind us, we hurried to South Africa (SA) to take advantage of the interspersed windows of travel opportunity.

Johannesburg was, as always, full of action; the highlight was the in-person South Africa Investment Conference under the patronage of HE President Cyril Ramaphosa. The presentations were encouraging and the positivity in the conference rooms reassuring; it was a great time to catch up with old friends some of whom I was meeting after over two years. However, the speech that resonated the most with
me was the keynote address at dinner by Dr Patrick SoonShiong, the South African-born scientist, entrepreneur and billionaire.

Dr Soon-Shiong’s journey is well-documented and has been a lifetime in the research and development of cancer-related Abraxane and then many other ventures including his current NantHealth and NantWorks that are focused on using his vast experience and resources to find a sustainable cure for cancer. He advocated the prioritization of healthcare in Africa, specifically building cancer centers, diagnostics and manufacturing in SA and perhaps over time, other parts of Africa. Of all the projects showcased, this one would unquestionably find financial backers including the African Development Bank that could easily underwrite the venture.

It has to be seen whether the SA government steps up and accords approvals for expeditious implementation as this project could be a strategic pilot project that would inspire many others to follow.
Another important message from Dr Soon-Shiong’s talk was his emphasis on self-reliance, particularly in the manufacturing of vaccines and medicines. Indigenization has been talked about for many years by almost all governments but the implementation ends up in vain as vested interests and unnecessary regulatory minefields prevent the setting up of sustainable projects in Africa.

In general, the continent is not short of raw materials, qualified people or money. What it lacks is research capacity, intellectual property, technology and most importantly, amidst corruption, political will and the lack of continuity and consistency in economic policy.

This gap continues to foster the export of raw material to different parts of the world with no sustainable development within the continent. What is required is a paradigm change towards indigenization not because of the opportunities as they present themselves but also because of the necessity demonstrated by recent global events.

The war in Ukraine is complex and is going to change the world in more ways than any previously known conflict. Other than the unnecessary and condemnable death and destruction that has been the immediate outcome, the economic and geopolitical ramifications are going to be far-reaching. Sadly, the lesson that has been propagated from this crisis is that countries must militarily align and spend more on defence for a safer future; the truth cannot be further from this.

It is undoubtedly every country’s mission to defend its territorial integrity but creating a war hysteria and
overspending on defence is not a sustainable solution particularly for developing countries. There is far too much at stake and nations must not fall into debt traps by vested interests advocating the prioritization of defence spending over economic development.

The immediate global priority is that the war must end. Looking ahead, the realignment of power blocs will be the outcome of self-interest that will drive every nation towards making choices that suit their long-term goals. In my book, Be a Lion, I have talked extensively about ‘interdependence’ and that relationships diminish in value when there is inequitable dependence.

Developed nations are not vested into Africa and their interest could falter based on unpredictable external factors. How does one insulate against these risks of being left unaided in the time of need? The only answer is immediate diversification by prioritizing regional collaborations and creating greater interdependence.

Security in all its forms has to be derived from our neighbors and not from nations and allies so far
removed that they have no interest in our long-term sustainability. The continent today has several economic blocs that include the Southern African Development Community (SADC), the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS), the East African Community (EAC), the Community of Sahel-Saharan States (CEN-SAD) and the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD). These blocs need to be further
strengthened. In addition to these blocs are various trade partnerships, the most prominent of which is the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) which came about in 2018 and the AfCFTA agreement is signed by 54 of the 55 African countries and ratified by 36.

AfCFTA could not have come at a better time for the African continent and has the right stated focus – “AfCFTA aims at accelerating intra-African trade and boosting Africa’s trading position in the global market by strengthening Africa’s common voice and policy space in global trade negotiations.”

It’s now time to start implementing various proposals and building self-sufficiency. There is absolutely nothing wrong in protecting your local markets and your people by deciding what is in your long-term interest. As we build infrastructure, industries, technology, power and logistics, the priority sector focus in Africa must be food and water security.

Africa has all the natural resources and an arable land mass; we must ensure that the continent is capable of feeding its population and then feeding the world. To entice the younger generation, there is a need to provide incentives and create an environment where the youth see the same value in agritech as they see in fintech.

There are other weaknesses that have emerged from the continuing war in Ukraine. The sanctions against Russia and its expected response has exposed the global supply chain vulnerability. To illustrate, the termination of Russian oil and gas supply can create significant disruption to the countries particularly in Eastern Europe. Switching suppliers is not as easy as it is being made out to be. Industries and refineries have been designed around certain raw material specifications; the cost and losses resulting from inefficiencies and medium-term supply will be catastrophic. On the Russian side, there is alienation from payment systems, credit cards, communications, logistics and just about everything, including but not limited to healthcare and food. As we condemn these acts, there are realities that we need to ponder over in the period ahead and implement plans to ensure that Africa is insulated from arbitrary actions that can cripple its development through over-reliance on external strengths.

I had the good fortune to attend a seminar organized by the Schiller Institute that focused on the new
security and development architecture for all nations.

The conference resonated with my beliefs for course correction and the need for a new world order. The webinar theme was around the fact that “our world is under the immediate existential threat of generalized warfare and economic destruction affecting billions of people, including the possibility of nuclear war, and thus the possible annihilation of the human species. It is therefore extremely urgent to establish a new Security and Development Architecture for all Nations, which must take into account the interest of every single nation on the planet”.

Through the various messages articulated was a profound message: “Man is the only species endowed
with creative reason, which distinguishes him from all other living beings. This creative capability enables him to continuously discover new principles of the physical universe, which is called scientific progress. The fact that the human mind, through an immaterial idea, is able to discover these principles, which have an effect in the material universe in the form of technological progress, proves that there is correspondence between the lawfulness of the human mind and the lawfulness of the physical universe.

Seen from this perspective, the economy has nothing to do with monetary profit, but with the happiness of the people, in the sense meant by Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, i.e., that people are able to develop all the inherent potentials they have into a harmonious whole, and thus contribute to the best further development of mankind.”

The sheer brilliance of these words will resonate with every human because more than anything else, we
strive towards happiness. This was further validated by an articulate Scott Galloway who ended his webinar on ‘provocative predictions’ by highlighting the most common question raised to him by audiences – “Where does one see the most investable opportunity in the post-pandemic world”? His response could not have been more profound – “Invest in your relationships and in happiness”. Your economic status has no bearing or value if at the end you do not have happiness or the unadulterated support of your near and dear ones.

In the words of the Dalai Lama: “Happiness is not something readymade, it comes from your own actions.” If the essence of life is happiness resulting from building close relationships, then why are we losing our way?