She is a leading thinker, a Pan Africanist, International Health Adviser and a tireless figure on many Diaspora Global Health platforms. I have been privileged to work with her on a number of global health programs, including our new collective Diaspora initiative, Better Health for Africa. Dr Titilola Banjoko’s vision for Africa’s potential is grounded in experience and knowledge. I love how she is so accessible and how she consistently reflects her views at grassroots level. Titi kindly took time to talk to me on Tribal Sands:
DG: Titi you are one of the leading figures in Global Health African Diaspora, how did you develop your interest in Global Health?
TB: Thank you Dorcas. I have come to realise that the world is very highly networked and linked, and that a problem in one country will and does have an impact in many other countries. Take the current migration crisis, the immediate problems and public health challenges that the people have in the various refugee and internally displaced camps with medium to longer term problems such as the Female Genital Mutilation, you can see how important global health is to all of us.
DG: You and Dr Aliko Ahmed jointly lead a new initiative called Better Health for Africa, a common platform formed in the wake of the Ebola crisis, could you tell us why it was important to form this new platform?
TB: There are many things we can and are all doing at individual or organisational level which is great, however as you know real lasting change requires a movement of people all pushing in the same direction. As Africans we need to work collectively and not compete or allow others to continuously divide us. There is so much to do and it requires all of us to bring our collective together, driving through the barriers and obstacles and be the difference we want to see. As famously said by Helen Keller “alone we can do so little; together we can do so much”
DG: What are key lessons can we can learn from the Ebola crisis?
TB: There are many lessons however the three key ones for me are aspects of our culture and traditions that negatively impact health and how we actually bring these agents into main stream delivery. Secondly, I would say that Africa’s health care needs to mature into a robust effective system and structure. I actually believe that we have sufficient technical skills however we have limited management and governance skills and structures. Thirdly, we need to acknowledge that we are not effectively mobilising and leveraging on all our assets for example our competency and capability at all levels to ensure we have quality healthcare accountable to the people.
DG: Mental Health in developing countries receives very low priority and funding yet it is one of the leading causes of death across the globe. What more can governments, institutions and individuals do to improve mental health outcomes for all populations?
TB: Mental health is an area where culture, beliefs and traditions sometimes have a negative impact and this needs to be addressed by having polices and robust public health messages in place backed up with prosecutions. Funding needs to be reviewed in the overall context of financing healthcare.
DG: The Africa is rising narrative has been much discussed, in your view is Africa really rising or are we sugar coating the concept?
TB: Africa as a continent is rising, what is not rising are the millions of people within the continent. The growth is superficial as it is grabbed by a few corrupt at the expense of the millions. Africans need to start acting as informed and engaged citizens calling for accountability and not seeing mediocracy as the norm. Tolerating and in some cases praising unaccountable leaders’ needs to stop.
DG: African philanthropists make huge contributions around the continent and yet receive very little media cover, how could their role enhance public health responses across the continent?
TB: Indeed African philanthropists make huge contributions which is great. I don’t expect the western media to cover this but I expect African media to cover these efforts and indeed beneficiaries of the various philanthropists to speak about it. Their roles can and should be enhanced through naming health scholarships, hospitals and public health programmes after them. Beneficiaries of the schemes should also be obliged to give back through volunteering to the various programmes.
DG: The agenda for women empowerment across Africa has been echoed by many large institutions including the Africa Union. Are we making progress in empowering women across the continent, what are the challenges?
TB: Oh yes we are definitely making progress. Just look at where we were years ago and now but we have a long way to go. Women are still most likely to be abused, raped, maltreated, and harassed at home and work. We need to see visible prosecution of law breakers and evidence of change such as flexible employment laws that support women to work from home; inheritance laws; time and places where political parties hold meetings are a few examples.
DG: The dark scenes of African migrants crossing and sometimes dying in the Mediterranean sea as well as the xenophobic attacks in South Africa reveal complex issues happening within the continent. What in your view are the push and pull factors, could African governments and institutions do more to address this issue?
TB: These were very sad heart wrenching scenes, African governments have a moral responsibility to their citizens and organisations such as the AU also need to take action. Mass migration is not driven by the pull of the West but the push factors. African governments who have structure’s that push their citizens to the point of desperation and hopelessness in their country/continent need to face the global media. They should also be questioned on what they are doing and how they would be addressing these issues. If countries have stable environments where hope can be fostered and where dreams can be realised, people would not make desperate journeys to other countries where they are not welcomed or wanted. Leaders should also visit these refugee camps and speak to their citizens with the media present.
DG: Gender violence is often viewed as an unfortunate by product of conflict within the continent as we have seen with the abduction of the Chibok girls and disturbing rates of rape in the DRC and South Sudan. What more could be done to safeguard vulnerable groups across the continent?
TB: This is a reflection of the culture where women are seen as objects for the pleasure of men and this is then taken to the extreme. There needs to be a lot more public messages to the masses, education in primary schools and visible examples of what it is to be gentleman in the context of being an African, and this needs to be fostered at all levels. Safeguarding policies need to be implemented with prosecution of perpetuators making the news.
DG: The African Diaspora is very vocal on debates on ‘Aid in Africa’, what is your view on this?
TB: Aid is supposed to be a short term safety net not way of life. We also need to start asking ourselves how much aid do we get and how much do we lose in corruption and corporate tax evasion to the West? According to Tom Burgis in his book “The Looting Machine: Warlords, Oligarchs, Corporations, Smugglers, and the Theft of Africa’s Wealth” he indicated that in 2010, $333 billion of exports left seven times more than the value of the aid. What are our leaders doing, and why are we as citizens allowing this? Some say it is because we as Africans are always looking for how we can have competitive advantage rather than how we can work together, again reason for Better Health in Africa.
DG: Who are your favourite writers and why do they stand out?
TB: I love autobiographies especially of people who have pushed through barriers and have a long history of leadership as an example that of Martin Luther King, Mother Teresa.
DG: The music, film and mobile phone industries are revolutionalizing the continent and bringing us closer to our cultures, what has been your observation of this?
TB: It is great exhilarating and refreshing to observe this progress. It creates a sense of pride and has galvanised the youth including those in the Diaspora and ensures that they are aware of the culture. It also creates much needed employment and shows that talent does work i.e. Africa has talent.
DG: The African youth are becoming increasingly globalised, advanced and restless. What more can grassroots programs do to include the youth in African development, what is your best example of youth development?
TB: I watched a TV discussion programme recently on Africa. One of the panellist was a young man from Mozambique and he said something very profound about leadership in Africa. He said that the older generation don’t leave power and as we are all waiting for them to give us a chance we become old while waiting and then enter old and continue this cycle. As a result they are restless – what is required is a society that enables the young to express their dreams and also have opportunities to do so either in employment or in setting up businesses themselves. I wouldn’t want to name specific examples of good ones what I can say is that the good ones tend to be run by individuals and so are not sustainable.
DG: Favourite African dish?
TB: Jollof rice!
DG: Dr Banjoko thank you very much for talking time to talk to me on Tribal Sands.
Dr Banjoko talks to UNICEF on Africa’s future
Ref: Breaking Views, Innocenti, UNICEF.
Published with permission from Dr Titilola Banjoko.