FEATURE- CORONAVIRUS: FIRE ON THE MOUNTAIN WITH A COOLANT

By: Napoleon Ato Kittoe/ www.africanakua.com, Ghana

Africa’s lockdown in the wake of coronavirus has opened the continent’s Pandora box. Emerging issues then offer opportunities for the continent to rise. When the alarm bells sounded, on the eve of most lockdowns, there was real jostle within the populations to stock up in what African leaders and health experts described as the snare in atmosphere of conscientiousness. None of the shoppers in the melee bought electronic goods, decorations, clothing, cars and other niceties of life.

Rather, it was moment people rushed on food and water and to some extent electricity, as insurances for the looming uncertainties. The President of Ghana in a televised speech, described gravity of the  restrictions so imposed with the phrase  “your front door is your front line”. He spoke with a stern mien, sense of urgency and conviction. Against the backdrop of news flooding the market that coronavirus razes like bushfire, fear and panic ensued. The situation triggered desperate shopping in town. Artists gave a satirical angle to the exigencies, with an artwork depicting human beings crammed in a cage and their freedoms curtailed. In absolute freedom were domestic animals in the surroundings of the cage, with a reaction that was anything but hilarity and surprise at their now shackled predators.

I eavesdropped on two hawkers of oranges on the eve of the lockdown. Dramatising a situation they witnessed in a shop, one said “local rice that most people don’t like, a desperate man was told by the shopkeeper, it is local rice ooo”. Oh the man said, “madam give it to me quickly before someone picks it”. The hawkers burst into laughter.

An orange seller in Ghana

Suddenly ordinary waakye sellers became important. Any item consumable through the human buccal cavity, became a treasure.  In a 2017 interview with AfDB bank president in Accra, Dr Adesina said “we don’t drink oil and gas but we eat food. The food chain business means a lot to humanity. Food is life blood.”

 These observations sank me into further contemplation. The times have revealed how important the food chain industry is to nations. Food is livewire of man and countries ought to take a second look at their options. Rwanda saw her leader Paul Kagame moving from house to house distributing food and other essentials. All countries engulfed by the pandemic have issued items to mitigate the social and economic cost of the lockdown. They range from the superficial to very deep responses. With all places now understanding that agriculture is the fortress of man, it will be interesting to see how discussions in electronic media goes henceforward. Will it be a rehash of the personality cults or we are going to hear more about issues like buffer stocks and innovative agriculture ?

Two, three days into Ghana’s two-week lockdown which was expected to be smooth and noiseless, ugly situations reared their heads. The security personnel placed at vantage positions to enforce the order, were in the picture for wrong reasons, ostensibly to have used disproportionate force on civilians. 

Security Brutalities meted out to civilians

Government must not extend the lockdown for more than one month otherwise people would gasp for air. As people are rooted in their homes, they are crammed like sardines in their lodgings because of known housing conditions. To some extent, this vitiates the merits in the well intended lockdown. Rather, moral exhortations need to be intensified. If care is not taken, people in lockdown might instinctively jump out of any outlet in search of means to acquire basic necessities. It is the progressive situation that is going to test endurance but experience shows that all animate things cannot withstand the push to elastic limits.

Ghanaian Chefs provide front-line security personnel food

Even persons in flashy cars are so vulnerable. After buying basic necessities and sending wards to school, you see their eyeballs escaping their sockets. They are also fretting at this point, their fur covering up actual conditions. Social interventions must be multiple track, taking into consideration, peculiar circumstances of groups.

The failings within the lockdown are the alleged security/civilian breaches running on social media. This author cannot independently confirm the authenticity of these claims. However, what can be confirmed is that, some people are fretting especially  those whose very survival is tied to daily activities. As businesses slowed down, claims of having returned home empty-handed after hassling in town, influenced the weary inevitability.

In times like these, one has to put ears on the ground and listen to what people are saying. The following are vital concerns of some middle class citizens.

1.”Is that not what is happening in Kenya? People are resisting the curfew because they have little or no food.”

2. “The lockdown is not being implemented properly and therefore causing a lot of confusion, extortion and untold hardship to Ghanaians. Ghanaians are definitely not happy with this and if it is extended the anger will grow against the government for being incompetent in tackling this emergency!”

3..”our pro poor interventions are not well structured and targeted. For instance LEAP targets individuals and families in rural and hard to reach communities ignoring urban poor communities. This pandemic is now drawing the attention of policy makers of the need to target the urban poor who are willing to risk if their situation become dire”

The above statements are in quotation marks and therefore not my words. It is to avoid these predicaments that hundreds of residents facing the lockdown embarked the unplanned pilgrimage out of cities where movements are to be controlled. It therefore comes as little surprise that national spread of coronavirus infections is becoming fairly balanced? Within the Ghanaian context, one of the few breaking news items was when “head porters, known in local parlance as kayayei, grouped themselves and boarded buses in the capital city Accra, and took the beeline to their indigenous localities in the north.

These are young girls who for economic reasons and lack of opportunities in northern Ghana, had migrated to the south to eke out a living. Their situation in cities is dire as they have no decent accommodation and are self-condemned to streetism. Sending them back to their origins has been broached with care with policy interventions, either misapplied or too slow or perhaps unattractive to them.

Head potters or kayayes in Ghana

The government of President Akufo Addo is considering building hostels in the cities for these young girls, as a stopgap measure to abate some of the harsh realities they face. It took the coronavirus scare for these head porters to advise themselves and to dash back to the vast and sparsely populated territory which has one of the lowest population to farmland ratios. The hypothetical conditions are grossly lopsided and inadequate for its labour intensive nature. Government has been criticised by other politicians for not doing a balancing act through the creation of a nectar in the north to hold back the north-south migration.

A Ghanaian epidemiologist, Prof. Fred Binka says, the country may not have the capacity to deal with the outbreak should the tallies hit one thousand.

A social thinker and management strategist, Dr Imrana Umar, also a Ghanaian, proffers between radical and mild strategies to contain the pandemic. He says, there must be a combination of coercion, persuasion and education. In the most endangered zones (epicentres), he recommends a cordon around the area that disallows entry and exit. He calls for closure of public facilities and banning of mass public gatherings, conducting rapid testing, encouraging good hygiene and assisting the group with basic necessities to maintain the lockdown.

For areas that are relatively safer and therefore defendable, Dr Umar says they also need an impervious fence that blocks entry and exit. Then residents must be educated to adopt good hygienic practices and ways of boosting their immune systems.

He describes a third group as most at risk or at receiving end of spillovers. He recommends both persuasion and education in addition to tight controls.

Government has followed expert advice but it is racing against time to slow down the spread. In the words of the President, the lockdown is subject to review making it a fluid scenario.

 Large sections of the populace are indubitably smarting under this pressure. A segment within this group who are on the margins of literacy, has failed to walk the fine line and has muddied the waters. Some were spotted washing their mouths with liquid soaps placed beside “Veronica buckets” in open spaces to enable members of the public to wash their hands with soap under running water. Some have actually gone to the extent of asking whether hand sanitisers are edible? Ghana’s newly acquired middle income status did not come along with a highly educated public that understands the mechanisms of action and transformation.

Health workers run parallel to the above. Listen to this one from one of them. “I beg you guys this thing is not a joke..!!!!

Please please please…no one should leave their homes without a mask. Routine surveillance reveals 115 positive cases, how many people have these people infected before they got tested …??? …….Please advice them to get masks on at all cost…we can’t afford to contract this virus, because  it will wipe us out!!!!! Our healthcare system cannot support the management necessary if you get complications.!!

Get a FACE MASK AT ALL COST, and wear it without apology!!!!!”””

Lurking around academic and research based positions, are footages running on social media like the one in which a man questions other passengers on a public van as to why they have taken to facial masks, ignorantly bluffing that the nose needed unimpeded passage for breathing. [WATCH VIDEO https://www.instagram.com/p/B-aiiTWnmJn/]

Another item in events telescoping into each other, is the role of governments in this whole coronavirus affair. The virus has called into question, the neoclassical attention for the private sector, calling it “the engine of growth”. I have not seen the private sector anywhere except isolated handouts by few oligarchs. Rather, the state took centre stage in the period being reviewed and commandeered/conducted the orchestra. A fallacy that if the state builds structures, installs machinery in them and employ people and pay them, the enterprise will fail.

Most importantly coronavirus has handed a lifeline to socialists, as all intervention measures worldwide bear the tinge of that system. America sharing money to households, the big hand of state in full swing with factors of free market economy nailed to coffin in the exigencies. This is an opportunity for world leaders to trade off homegrown measures with international prescriptions, arguing with the case of coronavirus, the no respecter of persons nor nations.

To the African the vector spreading the virus is the aeroplane which moves the disease carriers across the globe. An isolated case in Kpong, in Eastern region of Ghana appears to fuel the myth that coronavirus is a foreign import. In the town in question, the black sheep has been an expatriate with frequent overseas travels.

Time and again, Medical doctors have insisted on a minimum of eight hours of sleep in humans, as a lifestyle that boosts immune systems and prevents fatal medical conditions brought about by diabetes, hypertension among others. The lockdown is an opportunity for people to recover from the stress associated with workaholism and sleeplessness.

Definitely a coolant for the fire burning on the mountain.

Napoleon Ato Kittoe is a columnist for www.africanakua.com and a senior journalist with the Ghana Broadcasting Corporation.

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