By Prof Artwell Nhemachena
CAUTION used to be the watchword among Africans who lived on the colonial frontiers centuries ago.
However, in the 21st Century, caution is often readily thrown to the wind.
The proposal for a WHO Pandemic Treaty was made in 2020 by the President of the Council of the European Union.
Among those who threw their weight for the treaty were the German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Emmanuel Macron, the then British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and the Rwandan President Paul Kagame.
The proposed Pandemic Treaty gives more power to WHO.
It is designed to bind member-States to follow WHO directives and to generate political commitment from States to address pandemics.
The proposed treaty forces States to co-operate in surveillance, outbreak notification, sharing pathogen samples and genetic sequence information, zoonoses, misinformation and disinformation, and it strengthens WHO.
Writing about the proposed treaty, The Nature issue of September 23 2023 states thus:
“But the US and the EU have been reluctant to make concrete commitments that would ensure that vaccines and therapeutics are distributed more equitably.
And yet, they have pushed strongly for the treaty to include a binding provision that all countries share samples and genomic sequences of pathogens.”
Of course, the ongoing discussions around WHO Pandemic Treaty have to be understood in the context of the emerging information economy that is driven by Big Data from which transnational corporations are already massively profitting through harvesting Big Data from humanity.
In other words, the proposed treaty has to be understood not only in terms of the necessity of curbing future pandemics, but also in terms of the imperatives of transnational corporations or global corporations which are seeking to profit from harvesting Big Data that has become the new oil in the emergent information society.
It is common cause that global capitalism prioritises profits over human lives and, as evidenced by its advice to African States to privatise ‘loss making State enterprises’, the overriding aim for global capital is to make profits and not to care for humanity.
For the above reasons, some scholars have characterised capitalism in terms of what they call necrocapitalism and necroeconomies which profit from the death of other humans.
The million-dollar question then is: If global capitalism is necrocapitalism in the sense of it profitting from the death of others, how plausible is it that the same global capital is interested in human lives and wellbeing?
Since the colonial era, African leaders have been forced to sign treaties, including Treaties of Friendship and Protection Treaties with those who intended to use such treaties to colonise Africans.
In Zimbabwe, Kings Lobengula and Mzilikazi were forced to sign treaties with those who sought to colonise the country.
In Namibia, chiefs, including Hendrik Witbooi (the Nama Chief) and Samuel MaHerero (the Herero Chief) were forced by the Germans to sign Treaties of Friendship and Protection Treaties which were meant to facilitate and legitimise the colonisation of Namibia.
The colonisers called them Treaties of Friendship and Protection Treaties even though they knew that such treaties were meant to deprive Africans of their sovereignty, land, livestock, mines and autonomy, among others.
Indeed, the colonialists became impatient and angry with African chiefs and kings who were too intelligent to be tricked via pretences of treaties of friendship and of protection.
The pre-colonial Nama Chief Witbooi was attacked during the night when he and his people were sleeping, because he resisted signing the Treaties of Friendship and Protection Treaties which the Germans were anxious to foist on him.
And, of course, Chief Witbooi also angered the Germans when he alerted other African chiefs, including Samuel MaHerero, that the Treaties of Friendship and Protection Treaties were colonial gimmicks to grab African sovereignty and land.
Much as is happening in the 21st Century, at the inception of colonialism, inquisitive Africans were dismissed as ‘conspiracy theorists’.
In the early colonial era, African chiefs, like Witbooi, were dismissed by the Germans as misinforming other African chiefs that the Germans wanted to colonise them.
Witbooi was dismissed by the Germans as effectively spreading misinformation; as effectively a conspiracy theorist; and as effectively spreading infodemics when he alerted other African chiefs to the dangers of signing treaties of friendship and protection treaties with the Germans.
Of course, when some African chiefs refused to sign the treaties, the Germans would sign on behalf of such African chiefs who were deemed to constitute miscreants in the eyes of the colonialists.
As happened in the case of King Lobengula, colonialists would also often corrupt African kingdoms through bribing some aides to African kings who would then assist the colonialists to persuade and coax the kings to sign the treaties that legitimised colonisation.
Treaties have a colonial dark side which makes it essential for African leaders to be wary of them.
In other words, it takes a larger-than-life fool to throw caution to the wind, given the coloniality of treaties in Africa.
Put differently, what I call the coloniality of treaties is something that Africans must take seriously if they are to learn from, and avoid, the pitfalls of the colonial past.
The coloniality of treaties is witnessed in the Lancaster House Agreement which the British subsequently ignored when they refused to fund the Zimbabwean land redistribution programme even when they had initially agreed to provide funding for the land redistribution at the point of Zimbabwe’s independence.
The coloniality of treaties is also evident in the recent Minsk Agreements which the Russian President Vladimir Putin was made to believe were peace agreements with Ukraine, when in fact they were meant to serve to provide time for Ukraine to prepare for war with Russia.
Besides, the coloniality of treaties is witnessed right across Africa, and in North America and Australia where indigenous people were dispossessed through treaties that were alluringly named Treaties of Friendship and Protection Treaties with those who sought to colonise them.
In other words, it is essential for African scholars and thinkers to think in terms of the coloniality of treaties.
The shocking thing is that Africans who cannot even sign a treaty among themselves for the constitution of the United States of Africa always rush to sign treaties with the West, and others from outside the continent.
Experience shows that signing treaties with those from outside the continent of Africa negates African sovereignty and autonomy.
This is why the US often refuses to sign some treaties which, strangely, some African leaders rush to sign even before they understand the full implications.
As they say: “Little knowledge is very dangerous.”
It is absolutely essential to have full knowledge, including of the dark side of treaties, before African leaders append their signatures.
Even in courtship relations, the Shona people say: “Rinonyenga rinohwarara rinosumudza musoro rawana.”
By this, the Shona people urge Africans to be cautious even about that which appears to be alluringly good at one point.
Of course, the one who is doing the courtship would not tolerate those who can see through one’s dirty schemes. Those who see through the masquerades of the courtiers are preemptively dismissed as liars, mis-informers and conspiracy theorists, among many other names.
Because the Shona people have always been democratic, even in matters of freedom of expression and freedom of information, they say: “Chati homu chareva/Akuruma nzeve ndewako.”
Ignoring the seemingly unimportant utterances of others is to the detriment of those who refuse to listen or take heed.
For Africans, caution has aways been central.
Thinking in terms of the coloniality of treaties makes it possible for Africans to unpack the dark side of treaties which they are asked to sign in this world.
Treaties are not necessarily meant to help all the signatories.
The problem in the 21st Century is that empire has become extremely self-referential.
Whatever it does is self-referential in the sense of referring to the imperial self.
Treaties speak to imperial self-referentiality in so far as they are designed to serve the empire that asks everyone else to become a signatory to the dazzling allures that the treaties constitute.
Thus, when he realised that he had been tricked into signing the Rudd Concession, King Lobengula remarked:
“Have you ever seen a chameleon catch a fly?
The chameleon gets behind the fly and remains motionless for some time, then he advances very slowly and gently, first putting forward one leg and then the other.
At last, when well within reach, he darts his tongue and the fly disappears.
England is the chameleon and I am that fly.”
Africans deserve African health sovereignty, particularly in a world where everything is being weaponised to serve imperial ends.