[By Melvin Chisanga]
If Covid-19 was a human enemy, the most plausible strategy to approach the war which His Excellency, Dr Edgar Chagwa Lungu, declared against the infamous queen of the east, would have been to simply to say “soli”, even if we did not wrong her. A further apology to say we only allowed her people into our country because we were intoxicated with their dollars, would have been in order.
Since the virus reared its invisible ugly head on Zambian soil last month, there has been some hope that maybe it would not take us as a serious enemy and leave us alone. Daggers were only drawn in earnest when the queen of the east claimed the life of one of her hostages, as she also continued to add to the number of her captives. COVID-19 threw the gauntlet. How does the Zambian government respond?
From my vantage point, when it comes to real dynamics of the fight itself, Zambia is no match to the Wuhan-born COVID-19 virus. Socially, economically, politically, spiritually and otherwise, our preparedness to hold our own in a fight against COVID -19 is nothing more than just wishful thinking.
From the social point of view, we Zambians are strong believers in numeric superioritism. Adages such as, “united we stand, divided we fall” and “there is safety in numbers”, are often recited to emphasise and promote the need for folks to do things together. But in the wake of the COVID -19 pandemic, the narratives can no longer hold as we have seen that the only way we can stand firm against the queen from the east, with some meagre chance to succeed, is to divide ourselves in social distancing and quarantine. There indeed is no longer safety in numbers.
Social distancing is one of the fronts on which Zambia is weakest for a myriad of reasons. Our traditional, religious and other general social habits that are typical of us Zambians make us easy targets for COVID-19. We unnecessarily love to shake hands and hug, defying distances to visit one another just to spread unfounded rumors and gossip.
Without digressing into the differences between being religious and spiritual, but using both interchangeably as is commonly done, I would like to posit that the way we conduct ourselves in our various places of worship, in as far as exposing one another to the deadly COVID -19 virus is concerned, leaves much to be desired. In almost the same way as in other social interactions, we tend to cause our congregational assemblies to be overly tactile.
During ceremonies like traditional, weddings and funerals, we love to exaggerate our pretenses by giving one another some fake hugs and pecks, all to the heightening of our being potential vectors for the spreading of COVID-19. It is upon taking cognisance of our social habits that many have suggested a total lockdown as the most feasible way to deal with COVID-19.
It is the proposal to have a total lockdown that brings us the second and perhaps biggest challenge in Zambia’s fight against the Orient Queen; the economy. With Zambia’s COVID-19 cases relatively higher compared to those recorded by her neighbours and having recorded the first fatality from the battle on April 2, 2020, a lockdown would have long been effected had all things been equal. The way government has been shilly shalling to go this route only speaks to the fact that it is broke. It is indeed testament to the assertions that many expressed in the past, both distant and recent, to the effect that the Zambian economy is dead.
Whilst it is true that a total lock down would stop the economic wheels from turning, it is also true that it would in the same token enhance Zambia’s chances of emerging victorious in her battle with an invisible enemy. The million kwacha question that arises is: which way mother Zambia? It is a time bound catch 22 situation that demands for an urgent decision, as the enemy keeps advancing all the time, relentlessly improving on her stock of hostages in the process.
Instead of putting its citizens on the frontline of the battle field where the COVID-19 guns are blazing the most by allowing them to continue trading, the COVID-19 battle has accorded the Zambian government a perfect opportunity to show care and leadership by telling everyone to stay home as it both wrestles with the pandemic and provides for those that could not be able to sustain their livelihood during the lockdown. This is what Zambia’s, even poorer neighbours and counterparts, have done.
Furthermore, if the videos coming out of Kazungula and Livingston showing the haphazard way the so called quarantined cross-border drivers are being handled is anything to demonstrate our government’s would-be way of handling a national lockdown, then we are better off left to keep dodging the virus freely. It is difficult to imagine that the government is aware of what is obtaining in Kazungula and Livingstone because if they did, they would already have devised another way of handling the drivers instead of jeopardising the lives of the communities with which they have been left to rub shoulders.
The finance minister alluded to the inability of government to sustain a lock down but knowing how good the PF rank and file can be at arguing on things they do not even understand, perhaps this is the time they will for once own up to their political opponents that their party has indeed mismanaged the economy to the extent that it cannot feed even just a quarter the citizenry for a single week. With their exit door on the horizons, when are they going to demonstrate their claims of a good economy?
As if oblivious to the threats that the enemy at hand poses, not only to this country but to the entire world population, politicking undertones and overtones have continued to be heard from both the ruling party and the opposition even amid the crisis. If you cannot call for a ceasefire, can’t you for once at the barest minimum call for a truce so that you can concentrate on the common enemy? Come on folks, this is not time to hold on to any political, religious, ethnic, national or continental allegiance. Though we are fighting this battle from within our territorial boundaries, the fact that our enemy has festered to the rest of the globe inevitably calls us to lay down our differences and focus on the commonest aspect that defines us all; humanity.
From the updates given so far, it remains a wonder how the number of people who could have got the COVID-19 virus from Pakistan has kept increasing. It equally remains a wonder how none of the cases has been traced to recent travel to China, where it not only started from but we had hordes of Chinese visiting their country in December. Looks like we have more business ties with Pakistan than China, do we?
Partial or total lack of disclosure of the developments on the ground pertaining to COVID-19 is another weakness that our government has shown, which has the potential to negate their efforts in fighting the pandemic. If at all the number of victims is being massaged for reasons of managing perception, as is the shared view of many, one thing whoever is doing that can be sure of is that they are not helping the situation. The only direction that would be of help, if someone really needed to massage the numbers, is upwards, as it would make people to be more careful.
High-ranking government officials should emulate their counterparts from other countries who have come out in the open to announce their statuses when they have been diagnosed with the virus. This idea of shrouding their sickness in unnecessary secrecy is what opens up some illnesses to stigma and speculation. It is uncalled for. As long as we do not ditch our Zambian way of doing things, our fight against Covid-19 will remain nothing more than a pipe dream never to come, wishful thinking indeed.
With our cooperating partners who have always been on hand to help with bilateral aid in times like this one also grappling with COVID-19, our health sector is bleeding profusely as the economy is teetering at the verge of a total collapse. We await the actions of our leaders to resuscitate it, even as we are also all eyes to see how they will use the multilateral aid that has been pledged by the World Health Organisation.
Maybe they have been at ease for a long time, it is time they did what they are in government for; work and more work. Do not be the ones to weep the loudest and longest in the face of COVID-19. Quickly wipe your tears, put on a poker face and hold COVID-19 by its horns. Do not look to anyone for pity, it is that time when everyone is weeping for themselves.