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When Africans solve Africa’s problems

By Vision Reporter

Added 9th October 2014 08:44 PM

Some of the greatest sources of discontent in Africa are to do with social systems that are not working right. The health sector, for example is often frustrating, with congestion in public hospitals, absent medics and poor service delivery. In Uganda, the feeling of helplessness is captured in a common saying: ‘Tusaba Gavumenti Etuyambe’ – meaning we ask the government to help us.

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Some of the greatest sources of discontent in Africa are to do with social systems that are not working right. The health sector, for example is often frustrating, with congestion in public hospitals, absent medics and poor service delivery. In Uganda, the feeling of helplessness is captured in a common saying: ‘Tusaba Gavumenti Etuyambe’ – meaning we ask the government to help us.

Book Review

Title: African Health Leaders: Making Change and Claiming the Future

Edited by: Francis Omaswa and Nigel Crisp

Publisher: Oxford University Press

Reviewed by: Esther Namugoji
 
Some of the greatest sources of discontent in Africa are to do with social systems that are not working right. The health sector, for example is often frustrating, with congestion in public hospitals, absent medics and poor service delivery. In Uganda, the feeling of helplessness is captured in a common saying: ‘Tusaba Gavumenti Etuyambe’ – meaning we ask the government to help us.


However, here is a book that seeks to redirect our attention from what is failing to how we can solve these problems. It tackles the root of our governance problems, but also shows that there is actually a lot of hope and the solutions begin with us.


Edited by Professor Francis Omaswa and Nigel Crisp, it is a compilation of stories by different professionals in Africa who have been at the heart of life-changing systems in the health sector. Omaswa is Executive Director of the African Centre for Global Health and Social Transformation (ACHEST) based in Uganda.

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“When I completed medical school and joined the civil service in 1970, we were a hopeful Uganda. Systems worked, our salaries were sufficient for our needs. I bought a car with my salary alone. I worked in Pallisa Hospital and it was a good place, with proper facilities. We did not need to do any other work to top up our salaries. Ugandans had a can-do attitude,” says Omaswa.


 He notes that many systems started breaking down in the 1970s, under President Idi Amin, but adds that even if we did not have Amin, the same thing would have happened, as indeed it was happening in most of sub-Saharan Africa. Factors for this decline included the cold war which encouraged bad governments and military dictatorships and a sharp rise in the price of oil.


As Africans became beggars without choice before donors, they accepted even policies they knew to be wrong. Eventually the self-respect and can-do attitude faded; systems broke down and corruption flourished.


But Omaswa notes that things are changing now, thanks to some factors like the refocused African Union whose membership now includes civil society organisations holding African governments accountable. Secondly, there is a rise in strong global movements on social justice, accountability, women and human rights, among others. The voices of civil society have also led to relative stability in African economies.


The leaders who have been at the centre of this change show how Africans can raise themselves out of dire situations.


The book identifies who should be fixing Africa for the future we envisage. The techno-professionals are already in the centre of preparing policies that the politicians use. With a tripartite partnership between them, the communities and the politicians who make the decisions, this constitutes what the book describes as ‘The triangle that moves the mountain’.

 

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(L-R) Nigel Crisp, Francis Omaswa, Prime minister, Ruhakana Rugunda, officials and the minister of Foreign Affair, Henry Oryem Okello  at the US launch of the book.

 

Some solutions are addressing the implementation gap to match the good policies on paper, and advocating cheaper community and home-based initiatives to stay healthy. Embracing science and technology to improve health and drive the continent forward is also vital.


Some of the leading names of health leaders in the book include Dr Peter Mugyenyi whose innovative work against HIV/AIDS in Uganda is well known. There are stories about mobilising the community to conquer maternal death in Malawi, combatting river blindness and several discussions on health financing that works.


The book was launched at Uganda House in New York and at the Rockefeller Foundation in the US last month. Hon. Sam Kuteesa, the U. N. General Assembly president and Prime Minister of Uganda Dr. Ruhakana Rugunda, stated in a joint statement:  “The book starts to shift Africa’s story from being told by foreigners to being narrated and celebrated by African doers themselves and not by commentators. The diverse experiences described by the authors of the book are unique.


The major achievements described in the book have never been told in the same original and authentic narration as is the case in the book. The key message of the book is that Africa’s recovery from poverty, poor accountability and lack of ownership is now firmly grounded and on course.”


This book is a resource for anyone’s knowledge bank, but also for future reference on how to solve Africa’s problems by engaging the communities more. It also celebrates the positive work and the courageous people who have done that work.
The Uganda launch takes place on Friday October 10th at the Sheraton Hotel.

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