To be or not to be Compassionate.
If there has ever been a controversial era for the peoples of Planet Earth, it is the year 2020. The newly born millennium has started out mean, with some sort of melodrama; the ‘name and shame’ movement, slapped parts of Eastern Africa with desert locusts, and before the dust could settle, the corona virus crept in and caught the world unawares. We have been thrust into a pool of mixed emotions; sometimes the direness of the situation rendering one unsure of how to act or feel. It is simply a comi-tragedy. The denominating emotion of course is anxiety and unease. One wonders who will be struck next; from celebrities, politicians, civil servants, and of course the omuntu wa wansi. It seems like no one is safe.
Leaders world over are struggling with solutions to the COVID-19 pandemic. In the African case, our leaders seem to have been rendered helpless. Someone joked on twitter that they do not know how to deal with problems that they cannot harass, arrest or teargas. However, we can commend them for trying to contain the problem. For now, the common plan has been pronouncing curfews, bans on public transport, social distancing, national distribution of sanitizers, among other measures. According to the BBC news desk, Eritrea, with 6 confirmed cases, is shutting all school and public transport, as well as all commercial flights. They have also banned all gatherings of more than 10 persons. South Africa, after the confirmation of its 2 first deaths, has declared a three-week lockdown and banned the sale of alcohol. The President of Nigeria, the most populous African country, has recalled disease control experts from overseas and announced new restrictions, including on shipping, and extra funding for Lagos state, which has registered 44 of Nigeria’s 65 cases of coronavirus.
However, most of these measures that have been established have however caused a lot of strain on the African populace, and have thus been very difficult to enforce. One wonders whether this difficulty is because of the stubborn nature of our race (probably some special ingredient that the creator used to spice up our melanin), or that the ‘Ubuntu’ spirit is so entrenched in our social and cultural fiber that it cannot be easily broken by something as mere as a presidential directive. In most villages, relatives still call on each other, visitors always drop in on other households, and life goes on as normal. Just yesterday, people in my village mobilized a mob to discipline a thief caught stealing a goat. To them, the goat was more important than social distancing. The corona virus must have licked its lips in glee, anticipating its next prey. The only new thing for the rural communities probably is that the subject of gossip in group gatherings has changed, as everyone follows with keen interest, the rising number of cases of infected people, as though they are oblivious to the fact that they too are vulnerable. In the urban centers, where life is becoming increasingly unbearable for the average African, people still defy the directives in order to look for food, or income to sustain their livelihoods.
And so, what has been the response of our governments to this? –The only form of leadership they are acquainted with; to rule with the iron hand! The one trait that most of our presidents have is a chronic allergy to opposition. Any whiff of defiance and reluctance to fall behind their policies invokes their righteous wrath to rain upon the poor citizens. Thousands of police, military and paramilitary officers are deployed to ensure compliance with decrees. Like a pack of underfed bloodhounds; chiseled canines barred out, dry lips peeled back, tongues dangling out, adrenaline pumped by one command from their masters; “Bite, don’t just bark!!”, they rush onto the streets, armed with batons, teargas canisters, heavily armored vehicles, and hollow bodies devoid of compassion. The only emotion they are capable of is exponential anger, as they mercilessly pulverize and batter second class citizens.
In Kenya, a video footage showed police lobbing teargas at passengers of Likoni ferry as they waited to board and cross a channel in Mombasa, as well as brutalize people found outside after curfew time was due. It is important to note that there is a 60% only policy for matatus carrying passengers, and most people work across town. It is almost inevitable to be caught out of home by the curfew. In South Africa, military and police officers have been seen wrestling down and arresting cyclists found with alcohol, the sale of which was banned. A man who refused to part with his alcohol was severely punished. In Uganda, police have terrorized citizens found in town and those found on public means of transport.
Debates have been sparked in a two-fold faction kind of manner; those for the citizens, and those for the hounds. A Ugandan MP, Hon. Odonga Otto, deliberates that it is better to brutalize 20 Ugandans than put the lives of 40 million people at risk. The Kenyan Inspector General, IG Mutyambai has made excuses for the police, and President Cyril Ramaphosa has said that drastic steps are necessary to save lives. While they may make sense in this utilitarian based argumentation, it still does not justify the demeaning nature in which these officers carry out their job. It seems they have forgotten that their duty is to maintain law and order, not to draw blood.
If the peoples of these countries had been given alternative ways in which to sustain themselves for the duration of the epidemic, I probably would volunteer to help the police force them to stay indoors and save their lives. But what use is it telling me that staying in my house will save my life, yet if I do so, I will die of starvation? The average African, who lives on a hand to mouth economics, does not have enough income to stock food that can last over two weeks. This is without considering other supplies like water and medication. The market places where they previously get these supplies, have been closed down. Where should they then get help from? –the government doesn’t say. Has South Africa found some alternative livelihood for those that formerly survived on selling alcohol? It hasn’t. However, they want the world to understand why they have to be tortured for trying to survive. They want us to stand with them, and urge them on as they strangle the blood and life out of the lives of these poor people. They want us to praise sing the valor of their minion bloodhounds as they use their batons, guns and teargas to stifle the breath of our freedoms to fight for our lives at no cost. Let’s refuse to do so.
I always think that the biggest curse a dysfunctional democracy (like Africa’s) can have, is the misfortune of having ignorant leaders who do not understand the impact of their laws and policies on the lives of the people who are perpetually at the mercy of chance; chance that someday they will come to their senses and desist from making thoughtless decrees.