Governments have employed a wide-range of strategies to fight COVID-19. While some of these strategies are unprecedented, we need to keep an eye on how they work and the foot prints they may leave in post COVID-19. It is very important that we do not lose guard of the threat that some of these strategies pose to our rights and freedoms. Across Africa, citizens have been told to accept restrictions on their rights and freedoms in order to contain the spread of COVID-
19. I must say that our governments have legitimate reasons to be worried about COVID-19.
The health status of a lot of Africans is very poor, a lot of places do not have access to healthcare facilities and those that have are poorly equipped, and others travel longer distances to access healthcare. Clearly, our weak health system will not be able to contain COVID-19 patients if the numbers of positive cases keep increasing. In order to prevent such a deadly situation, governments have come out with a plethora of strategies to contain the spread of COVID-19.
We must acknowledge that it is in our best interest to follow government directives in this critical time in order to survive this deadly virus. Thus, we must accept a degree of restriction on our rights and freedoms that we dearly cherish. However, one must also take a critical look at the possible dangers that this could pose. Across Africa, governments have declared a state of emergency. In Ghana and other African countries, governments have quickly enacted legislations that will enable them enforce measures aimed at combating COVID-19. The new law gives the President the power to restrict our movements. The minister of justice has made it clear that the legislation will help the government to deal with both current health risk and future risks. Ghanaians have therefore, being asked to stay home, go out only when it is necessary, and also observe physical distance. Accra and Kumasi, the two major cities, have been partially locked down.
The police and the military have been deployed to ensure that people comply with the directives of the government. However, the display of guns and whips by the police and the military in this lock down exercise only puts fear in the citizens and one wonders whether it is even necessary for guns and the military to be involved in this kind of exercise at all. It looks like the country is at a physical war. Fear of the police and the military has already engulfed some Ghanaians. People who want to step out to buy essential goods may be reluctant because of the presence of the military out there that makes it appear as if the country is at war with its own citizens. You do not hand a gun to a soldier to control unarmed civilians unless you have a purpose to use the gun. The citizens have, without protest, given up their freedoms of movement and association for the sake of national interest. Therefore, the least that was expected was to see guns flying out there as if we are at a physical war.
We do not fight a virus with a gun. But I guess if the only tool you have is a harmer, every problem will look like a nail. There have already been reports across Africa of police and military brutalities during this hard time. In Nigeria, while COVID-19 has killed 16 people, the police have killed 18. In South Africa, police have killed at least 8 people. In Uganda, the police have been accused of beating journalists covering the effects of the country’s lockdown, beating food sellers, and raiding a shelter for homeless transgender, lesbians, bisexuals, and gays. In Kenya, there have been reports of deaths and police brutalities. For instance, a 13 year old boy was shot dead while playing on a balcony. In Ghana a man was shot dead by a soldier at Ashaiman, a woman was also beaten by police, and a motor rider was shot at Doboro near Nsawam. How come that in our efforts to save lives we rather take lives?
Governments have also being accused of trying to take advantage of the COVID-19 crisis to extend their rule. Ethiopia for instance has postponed its August election due to COVID-19. Malawi has an election in July but the President has declared a state of national disaster which gives him the power to ban public gatherings. This action has been seen as a deliberate strategy
to extend the President’s rule. We must take note that governments may be reluctant to return to how things were before COVID-19. I guess it is hard to enjoy power and willingly want to give it up.
The power that the police and the military are enjoying in this unusual time will not be given up without them putting up a fight. The task is therefore how the citizens will strip them of this power after COVID-19. Post COVID-19 must therefore be characterised by a deliberate attempt by citizens to ensure that the government, police, and the military have given back the special power they enjoyed during COVID-19. How we do it remains a test for us. There is a fear of human rights abuse in Africa after COVID-19. Thus, if we do not take back the rights that we sacrificed during COVID-19, we may be at the mercy of the brutal force of the government, police, and the military who may target specific groups in our societies.
After COVID-19, while the government, police, and the military may want to still hold on to the power they enjoyed during COVID-19, we must not stand aloof. Until then, we have a responsibility now to watch the government, police, and the military and report and challenge any cases of abuse of power and brutality. We must also guard against situations where government may try to take advantage of COVID-19 to extend their stay in power.