When you hear the amounts of money being pumped into Malawi to fight the coronavirus disease (Covid-19), you can only wonder if the governments and institutions making these donations care that less about their money.
Of all the things that this country has bungled, from elections to development, none rates highly than the fight against Coronavirus.
When it appeared on the scene, we all panicked and in our hysteria called for government to act. Ever willing and ever benevolent, our development partners joined the gravy train and poured in resources into the fight. However, two months past that hysteria one cannot help but wonder if all the panic and begging was worth it.
For context, it is important to remind that schools are closed. Not only that, gatherings have been suspended just as foreign travel has been suspended. Actually, as is, Malawi is in a lockdown that cannot be implemented only because of a court order. That court order falls today, by whatever miracle, we go into a lockdown.
All these, and others not mentioned, are said to be measures in place that Malawi has instituted to fight the coronavirus.
As those measures are in place, campaign has hot up where social distance or personal hygiene are just words that politicians mentioned before the electoral machine started grinding. Political parties right now are in a contest of who outsmarted the other in defeating social distance, they call that game ‘numbers at a political rally’ as if we choose leaders basing on whose rallies were well patronised.
It is not as if even before the election fever Malawi was fighting the coronavirus. Malawi, right from the beginning, refused to engage into the coronavirus fight. It just chose to pretend to fight the virus yet the deep feeling was that this is a virus that only attacks developed countries.
A vendor I met in Limbe on the day people protested the lockdown certainly mirrored the mind of Malawi when he said ‘this virus is for the rich. Let us continue with our hustle.’
As it announced measures pretended to be in the best interest of Malawians to keep the virus at bay, nitty-gritty details were either deliberately omitted or never thought through. Measures announced always came with questions whose answers neither information minister Michael Botomani nor health minister Jappie Mhango had.
Meanwhile, in the areas bordering Tanzania which has also messed up the coronavirus fight worse than us, people were still able to leave and enter Malawi both through unchartered and even chartered routes where for a few thousands of Kwacha the police would face the other way while coronavirus carriers travelled.
As our government kept begging for money to use in the fight against the coronavirus, it refused to impose a mandatory quarantine for all people returning into Malawi. All that begging and the measures were certainly just grandstanding postures while in reality we did not care about the virus.
It has been a response of chaos at all levels. As the executive run around with proclamations while refusing to walk the talk, the judiciary added wood to the fire of disconcert. It is not in their blocking of the lockdown, another of those measures just meant at showing that Malawi is doing something even when it is doing nothing. Rather, it was the admission of Chinese nationals into this country when the entire world was beginning to get some sense.
Meanwhile, health professionals found an opportunity to skin the government. Instead of just demanding the deserved risk allowances, they started adding in new demands: a duty free importation of a vehicle every 5 years (thank God that nonsense didn’t survive for long). Security officers just run around collecting allowances while ministers were not sure the money they were getting for their role in the virus was for allowances or just a coronavirus token of appreciation, forget they denied they had been getting the money.
Citizens on the other hand played along to the music of chaos. Markets kept opening, fake news got a wider prominence, funerals enjoyed attendance like before and in gated compounds the rich kept having weddings and engagements while posing for twenty-people-in-one selfies. Others thought the coronavirus induced holidays meant time to catch up with people they had missed.
Other unscrupulous traders, meanwhile, thought their falling businesses would resurrect on the fears of the virus. So, sanitiser that sells at everyday change in normal life suddenly got a cost of a first class Blantyre to Pluto round-trip air ticket. Despite being dismissed as just a fashion sense, tailors abandoned their generous customers and rushed to establish themselves in face mask business, charging an arm and a leg for them.
To ask for a person who has been serious with the virus in Malawi is to ask for a Malawian who has never paid a bribe and certainly it is not over a thousand Malawians, if any.
Almost every Malawian has played a part in dismissing the virus. However, online we want to fake outrage at politicians or others displaying their own carelessness for the consumption of the public. This fake outrage has eventually bound the government to keep schools closed and other pretending actions. The terrible thing about all this is the havoc that this pretence is having on people’s lives.
Teachers who survived on closed schools suddenly have found themselves out of jobs. Pastors with congregations that cannot match a Bushiri-style sowing have also been left jobless. Children of poor families who cannot afford a tyrannical Kalibu Academy style of learning are also being deprived of their education. The collateral costs of this pretence are just numerous.
At this stage, certainly we need to be honest with ourselves: should we still keep pretending to fight the virus or we should just come out?
I, for one, am of the opinion that we should come out and get life back to normal. We should not even be pretending to be gradual in returning to normal. All those buckets with horrible smelling soaps should just be kicked out and all these masks should be set ablaze.
I should say before I leave that I fear that the threat of coronavirus still looms large on us. Following the path of the virus gives me a scare that our worst times might not be here yet. However, our approach to protecting ourselves from this virus leaves a lot to be desired. At its best, it just looks like a money making exercise for those in government right now. It is certainly the more reason the opposition feel it too late to have an election after the virus has been controlled.