alexa While Kenya isn’t looking, the magic is happening in Africa - Daily Nation

While Kenya isn’t looking, the magic is happening in Africa

Wednesday August 14 2019

Ebola vaccine

A man receives a vaccine against Ebola from a nurse outside the Afia Himbi Health Centre in Goma, DR Congo on July 15, 2019. PHOTO | PAMELA TULIZO | AFP 

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In a world where some people have been chased off news by the horror and negativity of the stories, Monday brought some welcome tidings.

Scientists announced that Ebola may soon be a “preventable and treatable” disease after a trial of two drugs showed significantly improved survival rates.

Four drugs were trialled on patients in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where there is a major outbreak of the virus, and two of them, REGN-EB3 and mAb114, were found to be dramatically effective in treating the disease.


The drugs will now be used to treat Ebola patients in DRC. They were developed using antibodies harvested from survivors of Ebola, which has killed more than 1,800 people in DRC in the past year.

We learnt that the survival rate among patients with low levels of the virus in their blood was as high as 94 per cent when they were given REGN-EB3, and 89 per cent with mAb114. Kudos to the World Health Organisation (WHO), which coordinated the trial, and the Wellcome Trust and the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), which co-sponsored the trial.


The breakthrough on Ebola is important because most African problems, including diseases, even when they have global implications, still don’t get the international attention they deserve, and our own governments and regional institutions even care less.

No, the above is too sweeping a statement. All over Africa and the world, there’s a small tribe of fellows who have dedicated themselves to tackling the problems most people don’t want to know about.

In the attention economy and social media age we live in, problems that can’t be photographed for Instagram; issues that you can’t use as a backdrop for selfies; and programmes that have little possibility of being turned into a reality TV show, are not very fashionable.

So, this small tribe of men and women – innovators, policy wonks, bureaucrats, politicians, and philanthropists – have taken advantage of the fact that few are paying attention, to achieve great things.

Just over a fortnight ago, we woke up to news that Ethiopia had planted more than 353 million trees in 12 hours, a world record. The massive tree planting exercise was part of a wider reforestation campaign named “Green Legacy”, spearheaded by the country's reformist Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed.


However, perhaps the most dramatic news wasn’t the 353 million trees. Some news reports noted that the Green Legacy aims to plant four billion trees, and so far, Ethiopia had planted 2.6 billion in recent months. 2.6 billion trees? Where were we when that happened?

Even closer home, some of these developments are happening to little fanfare. A while back, with all the roadworks on the Red Hill Link Road to Waiyaki Way, some of us gave up travelling that route. The Red Hill Link Road is now almost done, and it really is the magic bullet that eventually decluttered Limuru Road. There are people who swear by the Red Hill Link Road, but most Nairobians have probably not heard of or travelled on it yet.

Two weeks ago, we were in western Kenya, and drove into the countryside. Because most stories about the counties are about crude corruption, and governors and members of the county assemblies (MCAs) behaving badly, you might get the impression that upcountry Kenya is full of men and women in balaclavas, stealing every taxpayer shilling they set their eyes on, and doing bugger-all.

However, there is also some impressive infrastructure building taking place, and there are signs of social and economic transformation.

Recently, we have been hearing noises about a project to revamp Kisumu Port. The port, which Daily Nation said was the biggest dry dock in Africa in its glory days, has been undergoing an intensive seven-month upgrade.


When I first heard of this news, I was a little puzzled about it. The decrepit Kisumu port for years was hidden from view behind tall trees, illegal structures, and some of the land had even been grabbed.

So, on our journey, we swung by to see what the hullabaloo was all about. With the grass and other funny things cleared, and lands reclaimed, the scale of it is quite impressive.

It is easy to see why the port once served as a key passenger and cargo hub linking Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania. This one, though, should make for some good selfies and Instagram photos if the ambitious restoration is achieved. A few years ago, few would have bet on it. We didn’t see it coming.

A friend who is in manufacturing, and has an interesting outlook on East African regional integration, recently introduced what he says is the safest flour in Kenya, with the most seal-proof packaging. It’s quite popular too, apparently.

The real surprise is that it is packed by an outfit in Rwanda that probably all the people who buy the product in Kenya have never heard of.

Mr Onyango-Obbo is the curator of the ‘Wall of Great Africans’ and publisher of explainer site [email protected]