Let’s learn something from Cuba

Cuba is a small country of just over 11 million people.

But that has not stopped it from daring to defy the mighty United States, its neighbour, and living to tell the story. This has been achieved because of sheer determination of the Cuban leaders.

That Cuba is now the single biggest provider of health workers in the Ebola-hit West African countries, many more than those so far sent by far richer nations, according to the World Health Organisation, is just admirable.

According to reports, the president, Raul Castro, shook hands and embraced the 83 doctors and nurses who waved Cuban flags as they boarded a government jet bound for West Africa, arriving in Liberia and Guinea on Wednesday. These joined another 165 health workers sent to Sierra Leone a few weeks ago.

This is humbling, especially when compared to African nations, with the exception of token help from the likes of Nigeria, that are unable to offer a hand, and of course the richer world. But Cuba has not just started leading at the international stage. Cuba first came to Africa’s aid during the liberation struggles of the 1960s and 70s, helping independence movements in some southern Africa countries.

But if there is a field that Cuba has convincingly made its own, it’s medicine. When the Uganda government conceived the idea of starting Mbarara University of Science and Technology, it looked to Cuban doctors to teach in the medical school. So, what does Cuba’s approach teach us?

That being small or poor doesn’t mean a country can’t come to the aid of a friend or neighbour in need. That it makes sense to define your priorities and develop a niche as a country, the way the Cubans have taken to health and education. Besides universal health care, available data indicates Cuba has 99 per cent literacy rate.

Uganda, and other African countries, can emulate Cuba by cultivating at least one thing that they can be known for and proud of. Africa must work to end the beggar mentality of always waiting for help to come from the traditional Western donors. Cuba has shown it can be done.

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