COVID-19 AND BAD GOVERNANCE
COVID-19 is not just a pandemic but a test on good governance and people centred leadership. I am not in any way opening up a political debate for the virus itself does not respect political figures.
I have developed a serious sense of neglect and frustration which has increased my level of anxiety and fear around COVID-19 pandemic. I remember that mystery enforces fear what gives powers to our traditional witch doctors who communicate with the spirits. For the mere fact that one does not understand a situation, especially that which brings fear, pain and death, the services of witch doctors are solicited to get an understanding and also prevent the worse from happening. I fear the government is handling the prevention of COVID-19 like the traditional witch doctors of old and their ignorant client. The communication gap and lack of detailed information of the virus by the masses create the atmosphere of mystery and the need for help. The government’s positioning in the case of COVID-19 makes them the consulters of the spirits (virus). We the citizens are now at their mercy for only they can speak and hear from the spirits. Mortals who want to hear from the spirits have to give them goats chickens or cowries first.
How can the Ministry of public health stop updating the citizens on the evolution of the virus in the country? I presume to create dependency and desperation among the citizens who have little or no options left. Why give us just information on what is of interest to them? I may attempt a response saying to politicize the issue and give credits to a group of persons as the saviors of the suffering people. We now have to follow instructions and even run the risk of getting fined without a clear understanding of what we are up against. The atmosphere is so tensed because a lot of uncertainty and fear of the unknown. A Cameroonian cannot make plans on anything since the roadmap to fighting the spread of Corona virus is not clear just like the virus itself is not clear even to scientists researching around it. I feel I am suffering from psychological corona virus due to lack of comprehensive information on the virus in Cameroon. I can’t decide on going out to get grocery or other supplies because I am not sure of the presence of the virus in my community already. I am not comfortable using a mask because it is mostly locally made that is available and no information has been shared to check quality of what is on the market. I can’t afford standard masks because the prices have increased like twice and stack is limited. One thing stands clearly communicated by the government which is put on a mask or get fined. Has economist within the government had time to assess and evaluate the financial implications of the measures being put in place by the state to address this pandemic?
Today after following on social media the interventions of different stakeholders in the field I got really troubled. What will be the fate of Cameroonian if we continue to lag behind digitalization? I got reports of careless disposal of used mask causing children who can’t afford to pick and reuse, handling of masks for sale where people freely try them on their faces to get what fits and leaving it for others to try, quality and availability of masks on sale is not clear and nobody seems to care, no water supply to enforce the washing of hands with soap many times golden rule and more others. I told myself after collecting this feedback from the field that there is a disconnect between the policymakers and the actual reality of the people those policies are meant for. This made me fear so much because the real virus that will kill us is lack of gadgets or resources to prevent COVID-19 and also ignorance which is going to challenge personal commitment made by individuals to prevent the spread of corona virus.
I flashed back two decades or more ago when HIV/AIDS was the one-eyed monster terrorizing our world. I remembered with pain how families lost loved ones in their numbers from a disease that could be prevented or managed. HIV/AIDS separated families, ruined many and dashed the future of thousands to the wall. The bottom line of this pain was ignorance due to poor communication about the disease that led to denial and stigma. Ever since the world adopted the right communication the virus has been contained. These days we have a systematic manner in which information on HIV/AIDS is being disseminated to the public. A lot of materials have been contextualized into our local languages, support groups of people living with the virus created as well as subsidizing of the treatment of the disease once affected. These measures have proven really productive and full of impact since it addresses both the clinical and social needs of the virus. Is this not a tried and proven approach to respond to the virus that can be adapted to the prevention and management of the COVID-19 pandemic?
I wonder whether stakeholders in Cameroon working to prevent the current pandemic remember the HIV/AIDS experience. I take the liberty to blame the government for not playing its role adequately in the prevention response. The ministry of public health was an integral part of the HIV/AIDS response and has a huge database on actions carried out then. As a concerned citizen I am bothered why the government is not copying best practices from the strategy used to apply in the context of preventing the corona virus. My citizens believe administration in our country has no continuity plan since building on past experiences in several circumstances have proven problematic. I feel alarmed because health for all should remain the priority of every government for it to have a healthy population to govern. This implies having an atmosphere free of politics and positioning but focus on results-oriented actions that are largely people centred. I strongly uphold that the national governance approach has crawled into the response strategy put in place. I weep because the casualties will be numerous.
I said bad governance reflected in the centralized nature of leadership with instructions from one source is the experience with the prevention of COVID-19. Imagine the sociopolitical crisis plaguing Cameroon because of bad governance and its adverse effect on the population. The same method is being used for the prevention of COVID-19. The entire nation has to wait on the government to decide which direction to take or not take in the prevention. In as much as any government needs to proof its capabilities in handling such a pandemic and protect its citizen adopting the coordinating role will not destroy such an objective. The government is not making adequate use of the assets and competent expertise from diverse sources within its national territory to speed up the response strategy put in place. Though we have diverse views on issues as a country, coming together to prevent the spread of COVID-19 should not be centralized but inclusive for a common goal. I foresee a total failure and pain and misery characterizing the lives of the people is the powers that be fail to revise its approach adopted so far.
Why not try an inclusive response strategy to prevent the virus is a preoccupation I am still to get an answer for. Instead of staying around government departments why not include civil society organizations and local communities leaders? How can we respond comprehensively to a disease without disaggregated data to inform our action? Is it difficult to get the data when we have actors all over the national territory working on COVID-19? Why not instantly create a central reporting platform online to collect data?
Corona virus has shut the world down so we should recognize it is powerful and deadly. It goes beyond local politics and power sharing that defines most governments. COVID-19 needs proper management which only well-defined structures and clear interactions between actors for maximum results.
Sally Mboumien Maforchi
Secondary School Teacher/PhD Student, University of Bamenda, Cameroon