• Tuesday, July 23, 2024
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BusinessDay

Arikana

“With villagers driven out, they moved in to cart away Africa’s mineral wealth. This, to Arikana, was unconscionable.”

For many Africans, and many people all over the world, their first awareness of the existence of Arikana was sometime between 2016 and 2019, while she was the Permanent Representative of the African Union to the USA.

Invariably such awareness arose from hearing snippets of her fiery speeches as she sought to rally fellow Africans to action against disrespect and injustice. Her exposure to the inner workings of international diplomacy, arising from a job which, according to her, she never expected to get, led her to see many unsavoury things which many others saw every day, but which occasioned no particular outrage in them.

When you heard Arikana speak, your first thought was to worry for her job, and then her personal safety. You quickly concluded that she would not last long in her job.

Her outrage was wide-ranging, from disrespect that was routinely shown to African nations and their representatives in the United States when they went with their begging bowls, to inequities in the international financial system that allowed IMF and World Bank give loans to the rich Western nations at interest rates that were a sixth of what poor African nations had to pay for the same loans.

She took special issue with France and the stranglehold it kept on the politics and resources of its former colonial territories. These countries, to her, were independent in name only.

Multinationals were not a relic of a departed colonialism but active agents of continuing exploitation. They fuelled conflict and division on the continent to perpetuate their grip. She gave the example of flying over the Democratic Republic of Congo and beholding runways in the middle of the jungle, big enough to land Boeing 747s. Corporate behemoths identified deposits of precious minerals by satellite, Their agents armed local insurgents with sophisticated guns for endless wars. With villagers driven out, they moved in to cart away Africa’s mineral wealth. This, to Arikana, was unconscionable.

Powerful politicians and shareholders of large multinationals from Washington to London and Paris must have been alarmed by her noise, and its reverberations, which, unchecked, could become a threat to the ‘global order’.

They fired her.

Sacking Arikana has achieved the opposite of what was intended. It has freed her of any need to observe diplomatic niceties. It has expanded her platform, and her reach. It has amplified her voice.

Arikana is now a much-sought-after speaker at African and Diaspora events. Her views are avidly lapped up on everything from the coups in Burkina Faso and Niger to who the ANC should align with after their recent election fiasco in South Africa. (‘MK and EFF – never-never the DA!’)

In Arikana, Africa has found a voice that speaks not just to past injury, or present inequity. She harps on the imperative for Africans to decolonise their minds and see what they are doing to themselves. This is the only way to make their story take a different turn.

Having returned to her medical practice and hospitality business – located in Atlanta, in South Africa and in Zimbabwe, she finds herself even more constantly in the news, stirring audiences in Ghana or receiving honorary awards, including one from normally apathetic Nigeria where she was recently conferred with an honorary doctorate degree by Ahmadu Bello University.
Dr Arikana Chilhombori-Quao is a medical doctor, an activist, and an entrepreneur. She was born in the village of Chivhu in Zimbabwe. She emigrated to the USA in 1977. Graduating from Medical School in 1986, she did three years of General Surgery at State University of New York, Brooklyn, and another Residency in Family Medicine in Nashville, Tennessee, where she went on to practise for several years.

She showed an active interest in improving healthcare systems in Africa and promoting Women’s Rights worldwide. At a conference organised by a body known as African Resources, she received a prize of recognition from Presidents Nelson Mandela and Robert Mugabe in their heyday.

In 2012, Arikana was Chair of African Union-African Diaspora Health Initiative (AU-ADHI) where she mobilised African Health Professionals in the diaspora to pool resources to address the health needs of their mother-continent.

In 2015, she received the ‘Women of Excellence’ award alongside President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Mrs Joyce Banda and Winnie Mandela.

Her stormy period as Permanent Representative of African Union in the US, which began in December 2016, and which she herself expected to be brusquely terminated at any moment, lasted till October 7th, 2019. Since then, she has been a ‘free agent’, reaching far and deep to awaken her much abused continent and fellow Africans at home and in the Diaspora. Multinationals and International Financial Institutions ‘which need Africa to fail so that they can succeed’ are an issue. An invidious French neo-colonialism which continues to imprison the money of former colonies in the Parisian treasury is an issue.

It is no wonder to Arikana that young people in former French African colonies are rebelling and damning the consequence.

The African Diaspora needs to fund and develop their homeland, as the Jews have done for the State of Israel. The minds of Africans must be decolonised. They need to ask themselves why a Chinese shop would be patronised in preference to an African shop nearby in a black neighbourhood. They need to ask themselves why a white contractor would be preferred over a black rival in an African country, as is regularly the experience. They need to ask themselves why they are not teaching their children about their history and heroes. Why is there in Ghana no book about Osagyefo Kwame Nkrumah that is compulsory reading for schoolchildren in the country?

She is a beautiful woman and an irrepressible warrior for Africa. At the same time, she is a regular African wife and mother with five children. And a medical doctor running her own business, as African women are wont to do.

Human Angle salutes the spirit of Dr Arikana Chilhombori-Quao, proud daughter of Africa.

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