It is with much regret that we continue to see cases of the Coronavirus pandemic on the rise in the last few weeks in Zambia. The third wave of this pandemic seems to be very lethal and unforgiving to say the least. And to make matters worse, the manner in which COVID-19 is being addressed by the Patriotic Front government is beyond concerning. The way the tests are conducted; how data is collected and how the government communicates information with the public is all flawed. If anything, to ensure efficiency and adequate implementation of measure to combat COVID-19, we propose that reputable non-governmental organisations should take centre stage because this government has proven to be untrustworthy on many issues.
There is a danger in having the government as the only entity or point of reference when it comes to dealing with this pandemic. For example, the mismanagement of millions of dollars of COVID-19 donor funds by the Ministry of Health under the rein of Minister of Health Dr Chitalu Chilufiya cannot be ignored. The lack of accountability in the PF government on various issues has led to much skepticism among many citizens when it comes to the issues of COVID-19 related cases. Therefore, we only hope that after the August 12, 2021 elections, the Ministry of Health will begin to do the right thing, by cleaning up the mess with regards corruption, COVID-19 related issues and then begin the process of regaining the confidence of the Zambian people.
In most developed countries, COVID-19 testing is not only the responsibility of government institutions but also other stakeholders. Private clinics and private institutions help ensure proper accountability, easy access to testing facilities, and efficiency in dealing with the pandemic. Unfortunately, the opposite seems to be the case for most African countries. It has become the sole responsibility of the state under a specific ministry or department of African governments. They have taken up the monopoly of fighting the pandemic through contact tracing, COVID-19 testing and even public awareness. The reason for such a move is primarily to use COVID-19 to disadvantage those in opposition, especially for countries which have scheduled elections during this difficult time. To some people, the idea that a government would politicise the pandemic to create unfair advantage against its enemies at the expense of actually fighting the pandemic in sincerity is laughable. However, this is the reality for some countries which have held elections or are about to go to the polls since 2019. For example, let us consider Zambia as a case in point for this predicament in terms of how politicians have decided to use the pandemic as a political tool for manipulation and to fight their battles at the expense of saving lives.
According to the Zambian constitution, which was amended in 2016, the Republic of Zambia is set, without fail, to hold its elections on August 12, 2021. The political climate across the country is heated and the Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ) has already announced in the campaign period. Nonetheless, like any other country, Zambia is currently threatened with the possibility of the third wave of the coronavirus. In fact, the Ministry of Health has begun to “record” a rise in the number of cases in the last few days.
The major problem for the current Zambian government is that this regime has become very unpopular due to corruption allegations and unfulfilled promises. These and many other factors have led to the people of Zambia to no longer have trust in the present government and this makes it difficult for the people to actually believe any official pronouncements and statistics from those in power.
Until few weeks ago, Zambia had been recording significant reductions in the numbers of COVID-19 cases. However, since the campaign launch of the Patriotic Front on May 26, 2021, the sudden increase in the number of cases has been received with much resentment from the public. Especially when the Head of State who is the presidential candidate on the ruling party ticket, prematurely directed his own party not to have public political rallies. Everyone saw this presidential directive as just window dressing because of its timing and perceived motive. It is clear that the aim of this decree is to curtail the influence of the opposition especially in urban areas where people’s livelihood has become unbearable due to economic hardships. Not long after the President’s decree banning rallies for his political party, the Electoral Commission of Zambia went ahead and banned all political rallies using the disguise of COVID-19. But the question that begs an answer is simply that; why would the ECZ ban political gatherings when the country is not on any form of lockdown? In fact, the open traditional free markets are carrying on their businesses as usual, the churches have not been closed, the bars and restaurants are wide open, and people’s movements have not been restricted at all. Hence, this ban on political gatherings or rallies are nothing but a piece of fantastic nonsense and a clear tactic by the regime to fix the opposition political parties. This is the oldest trick in the book used by even the likes of Yoweri Museveni of Uganda during the general elections of January 2021.
The PF government will do well to step up to the plate and do the needful for the country. These folks have the mandate to protect and save lives of all Zambians. And in order for them to achieve that, the government should ask themselves a fundamental question concerning COVID-19; what is the right thing to do? By sincerely answering this question, our government can focus on what matters the most as they attempt to save lives and in return restore their credibility in the eyes of the Zambian people. On the contrary, if this question is not addressed, the consequences can be far reaching and has the potential to affect the outcome of the August 12, 2021 elections. For most Zambians, the double standard exhibited by our government is vivid and very unfortunate. If not properly handled, this marginalisation of the opposition parties using COVID-19 has potential to cause chaos and misunderstanding among our political players.
It is often said that words matter but actions matter more. This is a statement of fact with regards to everything except only when it comes to the PF government and how it has been dealing with COVID-19. A good example would be the contradictions between the words and the actions of the President of Zambia himself, when it comes to the struggle or fight against COVID-19. President Lungu has been nothing but a hypocrite in terms of everything he has said and what he is doing about fighting the pandemic. The president definitely speaks with both sides of his mouth. In one breath he advocates for always wearing a mask while in public and maintaining social distance, while on the other hand he absolutely does nothing in leading by example in this regard. We have seen how the President has been all over the country for three days working visiting in one province, and another four days or so in other provinces with huge crowds of people flocking to him without any social distancing among them. To some of us, the commander-in-chief is guilty of spreading this pandemic either directly or indirectly because of his carelessness and unnecessary “campaign” trips disguised as working visits from one province to another.
In the midst of all these challenges, we are hopeful that the PF government or any government for that matter will put the sacred lives of the people before politics or before anything else. Unfortunately, just a visit to some of our public health institutions such as Kitwe Central Hospital or Ndola Central Hospital, one would be quick to observe that our fine men and women in the health sector need more support and help from this government. We cannot allow a situation where our healthcare workers who are the frontline workers in this fight against COVID-19 to go to work without proper personal protective equipment. To expose our nurses and doctors to this vicious variant of COVID-19 which otherwise could have been avoided is unacceptable and inhumane.