Chadwick Boseman and Arthur Mutambara are taller than 1.8m – cut in the mould of your typical tall, dark and handsome – if you are that way inclined. Boseman was T’Challa, the Black Panther in last year’s sci-fi movie and Mutambara the erstwhile leader of Zimbabwean opposition Movement for Democratic Change.
Watching the Black Panther film that gripped the world with its Wakanda craze, portraying a fictional innovation valley in Africa, left me comparing the two men.
What else do Boseman (or more aptly T’Challa) and Mutambara have in common? Science. One is fiction, Wakanda; the other is somewhat fiction, but only because Mutambara never pursued his career in robotics. Yes, that also-ran politician is a robotics graduate.
What if Mutambara had taken robotics a step closer to his fellow Merton alumni? This British alma mater – Merton College at Oxford – has a knack of producing outliers who have collected a few Nobel Prizes. In 1921, Frederick Soddy received a Nobel Prize in chemistry, Nikolaas Tinbergen matched that in 1973, but for physiology, followed by Anthony James Leggett for physics in 2003.
What if Mutambara had set out to establish a real Wakanda when he graduated? Why not now?
My senseless musing was more strident on Wednesday when a Wakanda-like headline blazed the African skyline. Californian company Zipline International claimed the mantle of being the world’s largest medical drone delivery service, taking its business to another African country: Ghana.
“We really want to show that the right technology company with the right mission can help every person on the planet,” said chief executive Keller Rinaudo.
My luck saw me visit Zipline’s dispatch centre in Muhanga, Rwanda, last year. From there, the company delivers blood to 21 hospitals nationally using unmanned aerial vehicles – fancy aviation parlance for drones.
Rwanda is not dubbed the Land of a Thousand Hills for nothing. What the drone delivers in 30 minutes would require up to three hours by road. Come rain or shine, the centre dispatches drones – as long as the wind is not too strong. On arrival, the aircraft circles twice before deploying a miniature parachute attached to the parcel. No other country has that, or at least not to the same degree as Rwanda.
Zipline, said Rinaudo, completed 4 000 life-saving emergency deliveries last year. The new centre in Ghana, he adds, will be able to do 20 times that. Each centre will be equipped with 30 drones, giving it capacity to deliver to 2000 health facilities – dispatching 148 different vaccines, blood and medicines to people who need them.
Reducing delivery time from three hours to 30 minutes is not revolutionary health access, but a new way of improving the quality of life of people.
An American company, a 21st century innovation, visionary and decisive African leadership can combine to leapfrog decades of accelerating access to healthcare, as Rwanda and Ghana have demonstrated. What are other countries waiting for? And, where is Arthur Mutambara?
* Kgomoeswana is the author of Africa is Open for Businesss, a media commentator and public speaker on African business affairs.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.