Let’s learn to live with COVID19 and move on

By Alfred Geri

The struggle by governments and people of many African countries to keep themselves safe from the novel coronavirus, better known as COVID-19, leaves a lot to be desired. Like in many countries across the globe, lockdown measures were instituted following media reports of high infection and death rates in China, the epicentre of the disease, and in countries in Europe and America.  

Educational institutions, faith-based institutions such as churches and mosques, hotels, bars, salons, recreational facilities, public road transport, airports, etc. were hurriedly and in many cases haphazardly closed. People who had gone to visit relatives or friends in distant locations, or those who had gone to attend to their farms on either side of the border, found themselves locked there. Their pleas to be allowed to return to their families because of difficult conditions often fell on deaf ears of those entrusted with the responsibility of enforcing the lockdown measures. Instead, especially if suspected of not complying with curfew hours, they would be “rewarded” with beatings, arrests, extortion of money, or outright shooting!

What really appears hilarious to me is the near daydream by politicians and government leaders alike in many African countries that COVID19 presents opportunities for them to grow and develop their economies through launch of import substitution strategies. In their view, governments would set aside huge capital for citizens to borrow at low-interest rates with a view for them to engage in investing in manufacturing and entrepreneurship. Such politicians and government leaders continually preach the “sermon” of COVID19 having “awakened” them to the realisation that more and more importance should be placed on developing the “real economy” instead of overreliance on economy of “leisure” and “pleasure.” By “real economy,” they mean agriculture while the economy of “leisure” and “pleasure” is a referent for sectors such as sports, tourism, etc. The point here, according to such politicians and leaders, is that even during lockdown people have to rely on agricultural produce but they can do without leisure and pleasure for their survival.       

That now governments and people in African countries have to have independent and self-sustaining economies. So, if one may ask, where were they all this time? What were they doing to realise that certain sectors in their countries are key drivers of their economies? In countries whose economies primarily depend on agriculture, don’t the politicians and leaders know that farmers have to be supported through reasonably high budgetary allocations to the ministry of agriculture in order to realise high quality output? Don’t they know that farmers have to be supported to access competitive domestic and regional markets? Must people first fall and drown in a river before fixing a bridge over it?

Then, there’s this hype about “digitalisation…” Why is it now more important during the time of this global health pandemic than in normal times? What were our planners in the different ministries and organisations doing to advise on the importance of digitalisation? See: meetings and job interviews, via zoom; church service, via TV; lessons and lectures, via online apps such as WhatsApp…

Oh, COVID 19! Did I hear that some dirt roads would soon be upgraded to three lanes? That one lane would be for pedestrians, another for boda-boda cyclists and the other one for motorists? That schoolchildren will learn through radios, televisions and WhatsApp? What a revolution! How I wish I were still a schoolboy… I think chemistry and trigonometry that made me “walk on four feet” in then Zaïre would see who I am. I’m tempted to think that learning through these instructional media would not produce good learning outcomes, especially in the less developed third world countries such as the Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda and South Sudan. Anyway, I will be around to observe and record history.

There’s this whole set of COVID 19 guidelines: washing hands, sanitising yourself, keeping social distance, not touching the “soft parts,” wearing facemasks when in public, etc. Good guidelines! But, was there really enough awareness given to people in many African countries? Many ministers of health and presidents as well as members of the different national taskforces on COVID19 took it upon themselves to draft and enforce the guidelines without much sensitisation. Journalists working with different radio and TV stations as well as with print media were not allowed nearer persons put into quarantine centres or COVID19 patients receiving “treatment” in hospitals. The resultant effect is the high degree of doubt by citizens about the credibility of reports of infection rates.    

Without much sensitisation and wary that citizens aren’t complying with the instituted COVID19 guidelines, governments through the law enforcing agents resorted to use of brute force. Many people apparently comply with the instituted measures only to “please” the authorities that be, “les ayantdroit.” This is why the use of facemasks is not widespread. In Uganda, especially in the central region, people put on facemasks when they are boarding a bus or taxi, or when they want to enter into offices where doing so is a requirement. Otherwise, they would simply with their facemasks kept securely in their pockets or bags! In South Sudan, it appears more of a “laissez faire,” with many people seemingly unbothered about putting on facemasks even when in thick crowds. Many are quick to say “mafi korona,” meaning, there’s no corona virus disease here.

The biggest worry now is the closure of some vital sectors of our economy. In Uganda and South Sudan, educational and faith-based institutions as well as land borders still remain closed. Kenya has unlocked almost all its hitherto closed economic sectors save for educational institutions. The government there made it categorically clear that schools would reopen next year… Tanzania, besides removing the lockdown measures put in place, has allowed learners in candidate classes to resume. However, in Uganda and South Sudan the governments are tight-lipped on when schools and higher institutions of learning would reopen.   

If we take long to reopen our economies, we will probably not be able to deal with the grave resultant effects of the lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Already, there are reports of increasing cases of domestic violence, rape, early pregnancies, robberies and suicidal killings as people try to cope with the lockdown measures. In different areas, school girls are being impregnated, suggesting that most of them would be dropouts when schools are not reopened quickly. The situation may not be any better for boys, as many of them would take to consumption of alcohol and drugs as well as engage in early marriage. Many parents would not be able to sustain their families as their only sources of livelihood would be lost if the lockdown measures remain in place for far too long.

To me, COVID19 isn’t about to go away. It’s not like rain that falls for some time and later stops. I remember an early morning meeting in Zaïre in the 80’s convened by our head teacher, late Kakule Myakiviri Wayahi, during which he informed us about the eruption of some scary disease known as SIDA (Syndrome Immuno Defficience Acquis – HIV / AIDS). During that time, it appeared to us as if humanity were going to be wiped out… Thankfully, here we are still living. So, we have to know “how to live with COVID19” so that our lives are not badly affected. But if we want to first defeat the disease, trust me it will instead deal us a very heavy blow in the long-run.

Let’s pray and hope that our governments drive us carefully and safely through the murky waters of the COVID19 pandemic. I pray and hope our teachers and learners can all report back to their schools sooner than later without being blown away. We need our varsity lecturers and students back, the businesses back, the farmers back to their fields. In fact, we need everybody back to their businesses, occupations, etc.

About the author: Geri is a veteran journalist and an educationalist. He’s a commentator on topical social issues. The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author. 

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