Coronavirus reveals our African spirit

Tuesday March 31 2020


By Alex Ojacor

A lot is being said and done about the current coronavirus at every level. I would like to add my voice but from a moral-ethical and religious point of view, not about the virus, but about how we react to this pandemic.

The African is often generously touted as the most social and religious being on the face of the earth. People speak superfluously how communitarian the African is compared to their more individualistic counterparts of Western culture.

This seems tenable and admirable…until disaster strikes! As they say, “Adversity does not build the character, it reveals.” Epictetus long ago was correct in saying, “Circumstances don’t make the man, they only reveal him to himself.” Such calamities as coronavirus do reveal to us who we are as Africans

As an African born, raised and educated in Africa and now working in the Western world, I cannot but draw gapping contrasts on the way the two cultures react to disasters.

I work in a small parish on the Western suburb of Chicago that has about 800 families. During this time of coronavirus, I am amazed at the way people go out of their way to look out for their families, neighbours and friends. People drop off supplies to the Food Pantry so that needy people can pick them.

Even in the context of social distancing and isolation, the Food Pantry remains open for people who need help and they can pick supplies (food, beverages, sanitary towels, etc) that can serve them for at least one week. And this is in a society that is perceived to be individualistic!


But what is happening in Africa? This is the time for cashing in and taking full advantage. Transport fares are hiked at will. Food prices are arbitrarily raised. Basic commodities like salt and sugar suddenly cost five times as much.

Goods are hoarded and sold in the “black market”…and market! Basic services become unaffordable to the ordinary person. The heartless and depraved Africans are profiteering from their own people’s misfortunes.

To make matters worse, some of them use this opportunity to defraud and cheat, and to hawk fake goods and services! If this is not immoral, evil, wicked, unethical and indeed inhuman, then I do not know what is! You cannot bake cakes from the tears of your suffering brothers and sisters.

I know that the hyped African communalism is more than the sum of the actions of individual avaricious Africans, and that it has a dimension that is not simply additive, but geometric. Still, the soul of a society is measured and judged by how it cares for its more vulnerable members. The good old book says, “There is a kind of man whose teeth are like swords, and his jaw teeth like knives, to devour the afflicted from the earth, and the needy from among men” (Proverbs 30:14).

The Book of Job says: “The wicked man swallows riches, but will vomit them up; God will expel them out of his belly . . . as to the riches of his trading, he cannot even enjoy them” (Job 20:15).

Remember the day of judgement awaits us all. Jesus was very clear about that in Matthew 25:35-40
“I was hungry…thirsty…a stranger…naked…sick…in prison…” and I add “..was threatened or afflicted with coronavirus” and what did you?

Rev Ojacor is a priest from Soroti, Uganda working as an Extern Archdiocese
of Chicago.