At the time the corona virus hit the European continent, President Akufo-Addo was on a 12-day tour of Europe. This led many social commentators to wonder whether the President needn’t be quarantined for 14 days on his return. A Norwegian diplomat to Ghana who was with the President’s entourage in Norway was the first to test positive for the virus a day after the president’s return. That same day, the president threw a stone that had formed a part of Jerusalem’s temple walls into the foundational pit and cut the sod for the commencement of construction of the ridiculous National Cathedral, a Cathedral we are building because of the president’s personal religious promise, and for which Ghanaian property have been destroyed. The Cathedral is estimated to cost $100 million; the same amount the president ordered his finance minister to make available towards coronavirus preparedness efforts.
Since then, it’s been a helluva roller coaster ride as Ghana confirms more and more cases. One patient has died, and the president has had to speak gravely to Ghanaians severally on national TV to assure the people that his government is on top of the issues, and to also encourage them to embrace publicised hygiene practices. Ghana has 24 confirmed cases to date and the rate of increase will keep growing.
This is why the president’s addresses have been important. With absolute clarity, he has outlined the problem and justified his immediate, executive decisions to isolate affected persons and prevent large scale transmissions by closing down schools and universities and banning church and social gatherings beyond 25 persons. By attempting to limit movement of the broader Ghanaian population, and mandatorily quarantining people coming from affected nations, the president has unequivocally announced he is unafraid to do whatever it takes to keep Ghanaians safe.
While the president did not lack verbal clarity in his addresses, the gonads required to strictly enforce his drastic measures have seemed lacking. The National Identification Authority, headed by an academic that has until now been an authority on mob action and mob psychology, lacked the intellectual capacity and the good sense to understand that going ahead with Ghana Card mass registration exercises in the Eastern region flew in the face of the Commander-in-Chief’s direct orders banning mass gatherings. Government stooges immediately began to deploy PR photos of registrants sitting in accordance with W.H.O 2-metre distancing gaps, but social media remained unimpressed and responded with actual photos of the clusters of people in close proximity to each other in NIA sanctioned queues and booths. It took the superior wisdom of a Court of Law to temporarily nip their senseless braggadocio in the bud, and immediately after, the NIA issued an offensive letter, revealing that the president’s directives were irrelevant where his reelection bid was concerned. By going ahead with eastern regional registrations, opinion leaders contended that the president was attempting to secure his second term in his party’s second stronghold at the expense of Ghanaian lives; one of a series of critical missteps and missed opportunities that might possibly increase the tally of coronavirus cases in the region if an infected person was among registrants.
While I am unhappy with the fragmented chain of command and the inconsistent messages comparing the president’s grasp of the problem and the NIA’s nonsense, I recognize that this president has the misfortune to make the toughest decisions a president of Ghana has ever made in peacetime, including the decision to lockdown the country in order to slow down community transmissions and flatten Ghana’s infection curve, which is currently higher than Italy’s was in the same number of days after first coronavirus confirmations. The president is screwed if he makes that call, and he is also screwed if he doesn’t make that call. In fact, while deciding between the calls, he is screwed in the waiting period. To understand his absolute screwage, we need to examine what exactly a lockdown in Ghana will look like, and why the president is probably taking his anxious time.
On average, a visitor to Ghana spends around GH¢41 ($7.38) per day. In Accra, the average Ghanaian spends GH¢14 ($2.50) on meals a day, and GH¢13 ($2.43) on trotro. When you add rent, water, electricity, internet and side chicks, there really isn’t enough to go around having three square meal supplies beyond 2 days without needing to restock. If you throw the pure water seller into the equation, you can’t lockdown Ghana beyond 6 hours a day. The president must clearly be worried about the economy taking huge hits from a lockdown in addition to the hits we are taking for falling oil prices. Unlike the UK, and until the $100 million money arrives, government must be extremely worried about feeding people in a lockdown. Government cannot pay all of us; neither can it send a collapsed food distribution corporation to bring Ghanaians food in their homes. The fear of economic collapse is what likely fed the late closure of our borders and airport, and the fear of not being able to feed Ghanaians is what feeds into allowing businesses to continue to operate until lockdown. Without adequately answering these concerns, a lockdown will place curfews on hungry people. Before long, those people will revolt from not being able to feed their families and themselves and usher in an unrest that can quickly escalate the infection rate and mess up the economy.
Enforcing a lockdown requires the security agencies. The president couldn’t keep a rein on the miserable NIA. He would need to highly equip the Ghana Armed Forces and the Ghana Police Service before he can ask them to assume the all-out risk of enforcing a lockdown. Without appropriate gear, we might lose a full quarter of our security because the rate of spread to date of the coronavirus suggests that the years of health sector fuckery by governments and an incompetent NHI system will catch up to us by the time we hit 400 cases. These costs require careful thinking before lockdown enforcement. This is the reason we are asked to fast and pray because, to be honest, we will be overwhelmed faster than western countries have been, and while all the talk of sanitation will help, the vast majority of our people are too poor to make sense of the gravity of the situation and alter their lifestyles accordingly.
In spite of the above challenges, government needs to lockdown by Friday, March 27 or risk having an Italy on its hands. And these are the reasons, beginning with an address of the predicaments outlined above: (1) While clearly broke and at risk of messing up the Ghanaian economy, a lockdown will provide pause for the government to assess organic compliance and estimate what level of preparedness to send enforcement troops in. Ultimately, people may comply with the strong suggestions, and government can then recommend only essential movements. This might remove the delay in imposing the needed restrictive measures without spending too much. The problem of food access for the poor and the need to thin down numbers in our markets can be cured if government operated shift systems in local markets. Indelible inks can cut down sellers’ numbers to one-fifth of total market capacity a day, and buyers will have only one day in a week to do their weekly shopping of basic foodstuffs. This means fencing markets and putting in incorruptible prefects. (2) We do not have enough ICUs to wait to get to 100 infections because for every 100 we confirm, at least a thousand will be vectors. Already 24 confirmed cases is too much, and that line about a victim dying from underlying medical conditions is a load of crap. Dead is dead, so long as the person tested positive and, when folks begin to lose loved ones, confidence in medical competence will dwindle, forcing citizens to remain at home with their infections and under-report themselves to authorities. (3) Government has sent mixed messages that will haunt it going forward if a lockdown isn’t immediately ordered. Silly hashtags calling for calm and the call of a secular state for religious prayers and fasts can only do so much in the beginning. But when infection numbers increase, the populace will correctly interpret those calls as cover-ups for gargantuan incompetence, and the legitimacy and intent of government will be called into question. (4) A lockdown is required to protect vulnerable groups, especially the aged and people with chronic diseases. And that includes all the old people we have in the Jubilee House, Parliament House and in the Supreme Court. (5) We do not have to lockdown indefinitely; we can lockdown intermittently or partially in order to reduce transmissions. Since urban centres are more at risk, we can ban all travel from the interior to epicentres.
The Italian experience proves that we need to take bold steps to isolate the virus and the infected, and limit people’s movements around both immediately and with absolute conviction, and then strictly enforce compliance. 24 cases call for desperate measures, and it is action that will save us, not the ecstatic, unintelligible gibberish of tongues-speaking prayers and fasts. 😦