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As Democracy is Quarantined, should we be Vaccinated Against Politics?

As Democracy is Quarantined, should we be Vaccinated Against Politics?

No present-day living specimen, organism or specimen may have ever experienced what the world is witnessing these days; thanks to the pandemic Corona Virus. It goes without saying that pandemics are nothing new to the world, as many refer to  past occurrences to gauge the current situation. These have included the Spanish flu, HIV/AIDS, SARS, Yellow Fever, Ebola etc. While most of these will serve as references for learning, planning, treating and coping, others see it differently. The world sees this as a crisis, but could be an opportunity to the Chinese. This has presented a lot of challenges and opportunities, though not in equal measure. The current situation has either presented politicians the opportunity to quarantine democracy or the chance for the average man to find a vaccine against politics. It has given some politicians to invoke sweeping powers, against all the fabric of civil living to bring emergency powers into the corridors of power; under the cover of the deadly Coronavirus.

In Sierra Leone, President Maada Bio has ushered in a state of emergency for 1 year. Hmmmm. This has left some people baffled. Understandably so, many will rationalise with the concept of a state of emergency; faced with the COVID-19 pandemic, and rightly so. But there are many who may struggle with the 1-year time scale. Make no mistake that this pandemic presents a potential to cripple nations back to thy kingdom come. But there are also those who see this response as a sledgehammer approach. Why 1 year? Considering that this state of emergency is coming hot on the heels of allegations that Paolo Conteh visited the State House with a loaded weapon, cynics and conspiracy theorists have not missed the opportunity to link the two. There are others who believe that with the Commission of Inquiry (COI), apparently winding down its investigations, there is the potential for some big guns to be reined in for some difficult conversations with government authorities; namely the security and CID officials; to cough up what was illegally stolen from the masses. Take your pick, as cynics may see this as preparing the ground to squeeze any “shake tail”.

As this is the season for conspiracy theories, suffice it to say that the COVID-19 saga is one of those typical bazaars to peddle such a trade. There is no question that this pandemic is man made; a manifestation of mankind’s indulgence for self destruction, or penchant to attract chaos. With the world scratching its universal head to grapple with, and get solutions to this “fithna”, it is understandable to many that some governments have used this window as an opportunity to bury bad news. But that the saga has provided the cloak of darkness for some governments around the world to use their emergency powers to quarantine democracy.

In neighbouring Guinea, we have just witnessed how president Alpha Conde bulldozed a constitutional change; which was wrongly called a referendum. The new constitution will limit presidential terms to two but extend the length of the term to six years. This change has come at a huge price, as 32 people were killed in mass demonstrations. In its defence, the government argues that the new constitution will codify progressive changes — especially for women — but critics fear it is a ploy for extending President Alpha Conde’s time in office. What makes this issue worrying is the fact that Alpha Conde has reverted to the bad old days; just when the continent is slowly but painfully accepting presidential 2 term limits; at an average of 5 years. The opposition is not only fearful that this will reset presidential terms to zero, but would also give Alpha Conde, 82, a carte blanche and raison d’etre, to govern for another 12 years when his second and final term ends this year. You do the maths.

 And to think that this was carried out at a time when Africa is paralysed with the fear of the Coronavirus beggars belief.  This is not withstanding the fact that the opposition boycotted the “referendum”. The irony is that Alpha Conde is a former opposition figure who was jailed under former hard-line regimes that were notorious for coup d’états and interregna. He was the first democratically elected president of Guinea. When George Orwell wrote his “Animal Farm”, little did we know that this will be dramatized on the African political landscape. In the meantime, France and the USA have expressed doubts about the referendum results; and that seems to be the farthest they can go. And who can blame them? When your in-tray is loaded with figures about the death of your fellow citizens to an invincible enemy, a constitutional homicide in a far-flung African country will be the least of your worries. But that is exactly what Alpha Conde capitalised on; to press on under the cover of the Corona saga.

Back home in Sierra Leone, President Maada Bio was described as the big guy in the political playground; for extending the hand of cooperation to Paolo Conteh and other members of the opposition, in preparation for the Corona Virus. Although some dyed in the wool cynics described it as a mere window dressing, many of us appreciated it, even if a “gesture”; as a mark of goodwill for nation building. An American state official recently referenced Sierra Leone and especially Tonkolili District, as a blueprint to show America how Ebola was tackled in 2014. That is the same reservoir of experience that Bio counting on. The paradoxical irony is that the same Ebola experience is allegedly part of Bio’s fight against corruption. Despite these sidewinders, the hope is that the COVID-19 will not provide a shield for political gymnastics; just like former President Koroma who toyed with the idea of extending his term because of the Ebola virus. May be, therefore some view this 1-year state of emergency along several prisms. If this is linked to the fight against the Coronavirus, well at least we know the Corona, just like the beer has an expiry date.

We know that the Coronavirus issue continues to churn out cynicism and conspiracy theories by the bucketload. There are those who believe that the average African and especially Sierra Leoneans, have a natural immunity to the virus. They see the symptoms of coughing, dry mouth, runny nose, high, loss of taste and smell, as sharing the same DNA with what we call “fresh cold”. One  in 2 Sierra Leonean suffers from malaria yearly and many feel that they have acquired capacity to cope by now.  Some are confident that the Ebola enriched us against the Coronavirus; and that the latter is not as deadly. With all this bravado floating in the air, we should guard against the risk of misplaced complacency. Either way, Corona is deadly.

On the other hand, some cynics, firm in the belief that years of gbangban, tea bush and lemon grass is enough to provide immunity, even though  scepticism is growing about our ability to diagnose the Coronavirus. President Bio took the opportunity to announce the first case of the Coronavirus in a widely televised speech to the nation. Reports indicate that this was rather a misdiagnosis. I am not the one to say that this was embarrassing. Suffice it to say that these are some of the reasons why some might be sceptical about our ability and capacity to diagnose correctly. This brings a reminder to the Ebola epidemic; during which any people are believed to have died from the measures taken to fight the disease. Many people reportedly died from the chlorine that was used to douse alleged victims in; thanks to misdiagnosis and you know.

Some have gone as far as accuse African governments that there is money to be made from this pandemic; that the world Health Organisation (WHO) will disburse money to fight the virus. In order to be a recipient of this disbursement, a country must be engaged in the fight or appear to be doing so. They conclude that African leaders are forcing the presence of the virus in order to benefit from this supposed windfall; at the expense of human lives. These allegations, theories and conjectures are regrettable but not surprising. Some of these have political persuasions as the midwife.

Irrespective of your view, Coronavirus is real, it is deadly, and it is not bias or discriminatory. Let us treat it with all the seriousness it deserves. But in doing so, we hope that the response, treatment and preventive measures will be measured, proportionate and based on scientific and common-sense approach. The president of Burundi is reported to have said they have not had any reports of the Coronavirus. Why? “Because we don’t have the kit to test it”.

The lockdown will be a difficult situation. But its better to be safe than to be sorry. The government stands to be damned if it does and damned if it doesn’t take the appropriate steps. President Bio and his government will be criticised; no matter what measures are implemented. The government should do what is right, rather what is popular. We’ll come to the popularity contest later; in 2023. Safety first for now.

Stay safe and don’t forget to wash your hands when you leave the room.

Abdulai Mansaray.

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