When the BBC published an ‘analysis’ linking the low death rate of Africans from the novel coronavirus to the soaring levels of poverty in the continent, many of us were outraged. First at the framing of the piece: “Coronavirus in Africa: Could Poverty Explain Mystery Of Low Death Rate” then at the racist undertones that seemed unreasonably preoccupied with why a certain group of people isn’t dying as fast or as much as scientists around the world have predicted.
The piece actually offers very little by way of a profound thought or fact-based postulation as to why the country is recording low death rates. Written by a BBC Africa Correspondent, Andrew Harding, a part of the piece had this to say;
“For months, health experts have been warning that living conditions in poor, urban communities across Africa are likely to contribute to a rapid spear of Coronavirus…but what if the opposite is also true? What if those same crowded conditions also offer a possible solution to the mystery that has been perplexing experts on the continent for months.
“What if- and this is putting it rather crudely – poverty proves to be the best defense against Covid-19?”
The question around Africa’s relatively ‘low death rate’ is valid. For a continent with many countries suffering from poor infrastructures, wonky government policies, underfunded health sectors, and non-existent housing policies, it makes sense to be scared of what the fate of the masses would be and it is certainly mind-boggling to consider why the worst fears of many are yet to be confirmed. But there is a problem here.
Global news outlets like the BBC and most recently New York Post might be asking an important question, but they are doing so in the wrong way. Those pieces continue to ignore nuance while distancing their analysis from actual data that points to why African countries have such low death rates. African countries like Rwanda and South Africa that are facilitating more tests and recording death rates as low as 19 and up to 3,000 recoveries from just over 4,000 confirmed cases.
This lack of nuance is why we need to keep deconstructing the single gaze that continues to be cast on the African continent. This is why we need to stop lumping Africa as just one thing functioning under a single narrative. But more importantly, this is why we need to have stories about us told by people with a wide, nuanced, and humane view of who we are.
Nelson C.J is a culture writer with works in The New York Times, Xtra Magazine, OkayAfrica, Black Youth Project, AfroPunk, and a few other spaces. You can find him saving dog pictures on Twitter.