Some of the restrictions that African governments imposed on their populations in order to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus have most certainly changed many aspects of life.
However, as many governments have now started to gradually ease some of these measures, the question is which of these changes will remain with us and which will be reversed when COVID-19 has been brought under control.
The disease itself will surely go away some day, most likely through a vaccine, possibly also through herd immunity, when most people have been infected and recovered. But the efforts to control it now will leave all of us wondering which of the behaviors we have adopted against the disease will remain behind long after the coronavirus has receded.
There is no doubt that Covid-19 is here to stay for a very long time, not just in terms of its spread and threat to life, but mainly in terms of what impact it will leave on the social order as we knew it, on family life, on the way we work, the economy, the way we travel, how schools and universities will innovate new learning methods in the context of social distancing, etc.
People living in sub-Saharan Africa are still debating about what the real picture looks like with regards to Covid-19. Governments, health experts and laypersons alike insist that case numbers in Africa are still quite low, though no one can say with any measure of certainty why this is so. But this may have caused some people to start thinking that the worse is over or that Africa has been spared the ravages of the coronavirus disease. Some see it as vindication of the earlier speculations about the possible unique circumstances that favour Africa in terms of the spread and potency of the disease. But global public health experts and donor agencies, from the World Health Organizations to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to the UK government and others insist that the main and logical reason for these low numbers in Africa is lack of adequate testing and reporting. So in reaction to the latter, many African governments have endeavored to increase their testing capacity, contact tracing and quarantining. But apart from the dearth of resources, shortage of equipment and personnel, what else is standing in the way of testing?
While the coverage efforts remain woefully inadequate, there is another layer of complexity of this issue in East African countries, and that is the disconnect between the value of testing for the disease and the popular perceptions about why testing is important. As a public health measure, testing is mainly aimed to identify individuals who may have been exposed but remain asymptomatic. If these individuals have actually been infected but have no signs of it, they become the perfect spreaders of the disease, so determining their status is a great measure of controlling the disease spread. This means that testing is only useful if it is combined with isolation while awaiting the test results. But there are many people who seem to think that a negative test result means one is immune to the disease. The obvious fact, that a negative test result today does not prevent one from contracting the disease the next day is not so obvious to some. And this simple difference has not been clearly communicated to the public, at least not in an accessible language. This means that the real value of testing is being watered down in many African contexts.
This really muddied the picture for the populace. At one point in South Sudan, the High-level Taskforce on Covid-19 got inundated with requests for testing by people trying to verify their status before they travel outside Juba. The Taskforce started issuing certificates of negativity for people whose reasons for travel, include taking the body of a relative who died of the disease in Juba for burial in the countryside. This became the quickest way the disease was able to spread outside the big city.
But the real danger in these certificates lie in the fact that those requesting and obtaining the tests would give their samples to be tested but go about their lives and interacting with others for days while waiting for the results, not considering the very obvious possibility that someone can give their sample today and then get infected shortly after. In other words, someone’s results could come back negative, but the person has already been infected during the time between the nose swab and when the results are announced. When they travel upcountry or to another town, they go and spread the virus while walking around with a certified negative status. This practice has been observed in Kenya as well.
In his address to the nation on July 6, 2020, President, Uhuru Kenya may have given a glimpse into how Kenyans and other East Africans will answer that question. He outlined Kenya’s strategy for the return to a degree of normalcy, following the ravages of the pandemic on the economy, on social life and on the livelihoods of Kenyans. The speech was received with a great applause all across East Africa and beyond. It was as if the region thought it will watch how Kenya’s reopening will pan out and then decide which of Kenya’s experiences could be adapted to other country’s reopening steps. After all, both Kenya’s economic weight in the region and what Kenya has achieved in her strides to be self-sufficient in the fight against Covid-19 allow other countries to follow in its footsteps without needing to reinvent the wheel or chart their own course, depending on the country’s successes or failures.
How much of Kenya’s strategy will look like a return to “normal”, how much of it will be a hybrid of the old and the new? How much of the Covid-19 style has become the new normal? For example, how sustainable is a partial reopening of the houses of worship? How practical is it to open up the economy but keep the schools closed? And what will it mean for families when parents need to return to work but school children stay home this year? What will childcare look like for one-parent households with limited means to hire caregivers?
Whatever happens, what will not change is that, like other crises that have come to the region before, someone will weaponise the measures to combat the pandemic against political opponents or in favor of allies. They will keep some of the restrictions in the fight against the disease to suppress certain voices and to magnify others, to swell someone’s pockets and impoverish someone else. This will not be the first time we see the functions and benefits of crises in favor of a few who are savvy enough to seize the moment. In this sense both the coronavirus and the measures against it will stay with us for a while.
The author is a professor of anthropology at Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, Syracuse University.
A thief for all seasons: Not even Covid-19 will stop the corrupt
Albert M’peti Biyombo, Democratic Republic of Congo’s Deputy Health Minister, is a very brave man.
In a leaked letter to the prime minister, he accused Cabinet members of receiving kickbacks on contracts for the coronavirus response, while health workers went unpaid for months. He said Covid-19 funds are being embezzled by a “mafia network”, which are taking kickbacks of up to 35 percent off contracts for virus supplies.
Biyombo might also have a death wish. Remember in that same DRC, in May Judge Raphael Yanyi, who was presiding over the corruption trial of President Felix Tshisekedi’s chief of staff Vital Kamerhe, died suddenly of a “heart attack”. Kamerhe has since been found guilty and sentenced to 20 years’ hard labour on charges of embezzling almost $50 million.
Turns out, Judge Yanyi didn’t die of a heart attack, after all. He died of stab wounds to the head. When $50 million is at stake, things like that happen in DRC – and many other countries. DRC is not alone.
Zambia’s Health Minister Chitalu Chilufya was arrested last month on suspicion of corruption after he suddenly came into a lot of money and went on a property buying spree.
Zimbabwean Health Minister Obadiah Moyo had his snout deep into a $60 million Covid-19 contract scandal, and just got fired by President Emmerson Mnangagwa. You know it’s bad if Mnangagwa, like Robert Mugabe before him, fires someone for corruption.
South Africa just announced a probe into allegations of corruption involving 500 billion rands ($26.3 billion) relief fund to ease the impact of Covid-19.
In Uganda, several officials were jailed over coronavirus supplies theft. Not too long ago, in Kenya the hashtag #MoneyHeist trended on Twitter for days, after a parliamentary committee sniffed high corruption in the use of KSh1.3 billion ($12.2 million), a big chunk of it donated by the World Bank for the fight against the pandemic.
Where big money goes, corruption usually follows, so perhaps it is not surprising that the Covid-19 bounty is attracting crooks. What is surprising is that even in the face of a pandemic that has taken so many lives, ruined millions of livelihoods, and set back the progress of most of our countries by decades, the corrupt aren’t able to draw a line and say, “no, this we will not steal”.
For that reason, coronavirus-related corruption is a barometer of just how deep the rot runs in our governing structures, and how broken public morality is. It also raises the question of whether anything is left that is so sacrosanct the corrupt will not touch, or would wish to but are too afraid.
Our corrupt don’t even fear God, perhaps only the wrath of the president. They wouldn’t steal from the president’s pot, or would they? Ask Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni. The biggest pot every five years in Uganda is Museveni’s re-election war chest. At the last election, word is that it was plundered by his minions so much, to save his campaign, in the last stretch he literally had to keep the money under his mattress at State House. So, the corrupt have nothing left that they fear.
We can pick a few leadership lessons from animals
George Bernard Shaw made the following observation: “If history repeats itself, and the unexpected always happens, how incapable must Man be of learning from experience.”
Flipping through my WhatsApp messages, I was captivated by one video post in which, lions were collaborating in a hunt. I paused to watch what was a really intense moment of life and death. The lionesses took the lead, with their matriarch seemingly guiding them along every step. A dazzle of zebras, fifty meters away, were unaware of the plan. In a split second, the lead lioness crushed one zebra into the ground. The rest joined to finish the job.
As the zebra wriggled for its last breadth, a male lion appeared with a roar that sent the lionesses scampering for their lives. Although the male lion takes the leadership responsibility of the pride and was part of the strategy, its role in the kill is often minimal. Often, males have been known to drive the targeted animals towards the ambush of the lionesses, but they always appear to unfairly benefit from the kill more than the real workhorses, hence the phrase, “the lion’s share.”
It struck me that this was analogous to life. That no matter how history repeats itself, we always elect leaders who tell us the same things our grandparents were promised. At independence, leaders told us that we elect them so that they can bring development. We always expect them to build roads, schools and hospitals, but then the unexpected always happens. Is it possible that we are incapable of learning from experience?
In the lion kingdom, it is expected that male lions will eat first, followed by the lionesses and the cubs last. As we work like lionesses and taking salary cuts, some of our leaders have other intentions. Since March, Members of Parliament (MPs) and Members of Count Assemblies (MCAs) have been quietly pushing for more allowances although some of the allowances they want were scrapped by the Salaries and Remuneration Commission. This is in total disregard of the prevailing conditions of stalled global economies as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.
I have since discovered that even in the animal kingdom, some animals’ behaviour patterns are better than that of lions. I watched a pack of wild dogs hunting a gazelle. Their strategy centers on stamina and positioning themselves in such a way that they can eventually wear out the fast-moving gazelle. Once they manage to make the kill, they share the meal peacefully and even remember to take the meat to their elderly, the injured, the sick, cubs and the caretakers that didn’t join them in the hunt.
Leadership of a pride of lions and a pack of wild dogs determines the outcome. Many of the leadership theories come from studying behaviour pattern in order to predict leadership outcomes. Prior to the advent of Western civilisation, Africans had their own methods of choosing their leaders.
The process often took very long as the community studied the behaviour patterns of potential leaders – sometimes based on lineage – but what they sought to know was always if the person had the interests of the people at heart. This they referred to as Mtu wa watu (Swahili), Omonto bwa abanto (Kisii), Mundu wa andu (Kikuyu), part of the Ubuntu (Nguni Bantu) worldview.
There is no direct translation of these words but they are variously thought to mean a person with humanity in them or in other words an empathetic person who has a worldview that is larger than himself. Africans could see these qualities in a young person who will go through apprenticeship for several years before they take up leadership.
Dylan McGarry says that apprenticeship is perhaps the oldest form of education and is closely related to transformative leadership and intergenerational learning, as traditionally it consisted of the transfer of knowledge from skilled (usually older) and more experienced members of society to younger generations. Parents too were supposed to take their children through apprenticeship.
It is this leadership process that we have destroyed in favour of other approaches to leadership development assuming that traditional education as we know of it today will produce the leadership we want. In leadership, it is not how much education you have or how little educated you are. It is how much humane you are. It takes time to see this in people before they are bestowed with leadership.
There are indeed theories of leadership that come closer to the old African model of identifying and apprenticing leaders. J. Robert Clinton carried out several studies of Christian leaders—Biblical, historical, and living. His work, The Making of a Leader, centered at formulating a method of identifying the incidents involved in the development of a leader’s capacity to lead, which he referred to as leadership emergence.
He eventually realised that “a great leader is shaped over a long period of time, and that this formation is not automatic”. He defined his theory of leadership emergence as “the overall process in which God is at work in selecting that leader. It is the broad life-time process in which a potential leader expands capacity for influencing to become the leader God wants him or her to be.”
Further, he noted that throughout the life of a leader, certain incidents happen that shape the leader’s character, leadership skills, and leadership values. This is not a one-off thing, but an ongoing process. His conclusion was that “Leadership selection is a lifetime process in which God continues to ‘select’ leaders for leadership responsibilities at higher and higher levels.”
The kind of leadership that we have is one where individual force themselves into leadership positions based on either money or education. The outcomes have always been disastrous. As we approach the 2022 elections, many prospective candidates are busy looking for consultants to identify issues in counties where they plan to run for office.
Many have no clue about the history of their constituencies and care very little about the problems of the people they want to lead. They say their money will give them the seat. That is not the leadership we want. Such leaders just want to be the king Lion, which eats before those who are more deserving. Let us be more thoughtful as we make our electoral decisions this time round.
The writer is a professor of entrepreneurship at University of Nairobi’s School of Business.
Guidance on lengthy school closure crucial
The initial shock at the prolonged closure of schools by the government over Covid-19 fears is ebbing but the harsh reality is beginning to dawn on learners, teachers and parents.
This is the first time in Kenya that a whole generation of learners has lost an entire academic year. Even during some of the worst moments, such as the aftermath of the aborted military coup of 1982, schools were not closed for a long time.
Only universities were closed for nine months to deal with restive students, some of whom were allegedly involved in the insurgency.
The learners’ greatest challenge now is coping with the reality that they have to repeat a class, irrespective of their academic abilities, and what they should do with themselves for the next five months.
That is quite distressful and dispiriting. In the same vein, parents have found themselves in uncharted territory. Staying with their children at home since March, without a proper plan for their schooling and academic progression, is discomfiting.
Most of them are thoroughly disoriented and unsure of what to do. Equally troubled are teachers, who have to stay out of work for months, worry about their learners and are unprepared to deal with the challenges brought about by the coronavirus pandemic.
When schools were closed, the Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development (KICD) embarked on an intensified school broadcasting programme to fill the void. To its credit, many programmes have gone on air and, more than ever before, the public is much more aware of the online lessons.
However, there are discernible loopholes. In the first place, the broadcasts to schools were conceived as supplementary to face-to-face learning. In the absence of physical classroom sessions, the programmes are inadequate in delivering the curriculum.
Secondly, the programmes do not reach all learners, given the logistical challenges such as lack of access to the requisite gadgets as well as connectivity.
Additionally, the mode of delivery is traditional; there is little interaction between teachers and learners. Yet modern learning is two-way: Interactive and participatory.
Having deferred school reopening to January, the government has to give direction to learners, teachers and parents. The ministry should mount communication campaigns to sensitise parents and communities on what they should do to support children.
We are faced with unprecedented challenges and it is not sufficient to postpone school reopening without providing guidance on how to cope with it.
The psychological, social, academic and economic ramifications of the long closure of schools will reverberate for years. That is why we call for psycho-social support to learners, teachers and parents.
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