Racism has crept into the already deadly COVID-19 pandemic, caused by the nouvelle coronavirus. It was President Donald Trump of the United States that first gave the virus a racist twist when he, last year, described it as a Chinese virus simply because it first broke out last December in China. Now the racist undercurrent is flowing in Africa’s direction.
Professors Jean-Paul Mira of Cochin Hospital in Paris and Camille Locht of INSERM (France’s national medical research centre) were debating possible COVID-19 cures on French television channel La Chaine Info last Thursday, and Mira asked: “If I may be provocative, should this study not be done in Africa?” Locht then replied: “You are right. We are currently thinking similarly about a study in Africa regarding the BCG vaccine. There is a proposal that has gone out — or will. We will seriously consider it.”
Their uncharitable racist comments have caught the attention of, not African leaders, but the continent’s football icons in Europe. Cote d’Ivoire’s Didier Drogba, who won four league titles and the Champions League during his career at Chelsea, has criticised the idea. “It is totally inconceivable we keep on cautioning this,” he wrote on Twitter. “Africa is not a testing lab. I would like to vividly denounce those demeaning, false and most of all deeply racist words. Help us save Africa with the current Covid 19 and flatten the curve.”
Drogba also pleaded with African leaders to offer greater protection from such threats. “Do not take African people as human guinea pigs! It is absolutely disgusting. African leaders have a responsibility to protect their populations from those horrendous conspiracies. May god protect us!”
Cameroon international Aurelien Chedjou joined the chorus of African players to condemn the idea that vaccine testing for the coronavirus should be done in Africa. “How can we not be shocked by these kinds of comments, especially as they are on a channel that’s seen by millions and millions of people?” he asked. “How can we test products in Africa when we know there are the most cases in Europe? I don’t need to give you the figures in Italy, France, Spain and Portugal. We can’t let these kinds of comments pass.”
The insensitivity of the two speakers reflected mainstream French thinking about Africa. In a statement, INSERM defended the comments made by Locht, and argued that the video had been “the subject of erroneous interpretation.” But it was a defence not accepted by Chedjou. “We can’t deny that these French people have spoken about Africa in terms that, for me, are racist,” he said. “They are saying that we didn’t understand them well, but no, we didn’t understand anything (said) incorrectly. We understood exactly what there is to understand, that Africa, for them, is like a rubbish bin. [The professors] carried on with this line, talking about prostitutes without condoms and everything, but do they really think that there are no prostitutes in Europe?”
One of the speakers who said she was being provocative was right. She was sickeningly provocative. If testing a vaccine for covid-19 is being considered, the right place for that is Europe whose ageing population is being decimated by the disease. Africa’s total of reported cases is nowhere near Italy’s or Spain’s. The prime minister of a European country is in intensive care, fighting for his life.
The racist comments coming out of Europe, sickening as they are, are not altogether surprising. What is shocking is the silence of African politicians in the face of this racist affront. They should, with one voice, condemn it and demand an unequivocal apology from the French TV channel and the French government. Confronted by a common new enemy, the world must not be distracted by people pushing racist agenda. It must stand as one to defeat this enemy.