Ghana has never been the same since the two gentlemen who returned to the country from Norway and Turkey tested positive for the coronavirus infection on 12 March 2020. The nation was taken unawares because no measures had been put in place by the government to stop its entry into Ghana since the World Health Organization (WHO) confirmed that coronavirus was the cause of a respiratory illness that had affected and killed thousands of people in Wuhan city in the Hubei province of China. The WHO declared it a pandemic on 12th January 2020.
In Africa and especially Ghana we are lucky to possess some wise sayings from our forbearers with broad knowledge and experience in life. A saying like “if you see your friend’s beard on fire, don’t hesitate to keep water besides yours” just in case. So what happened to our counselors?
Coronavirus in Africa
But as a nation, did we buy into the misleading assertion and assurance that the blood under the dark skin of the African is immune to the coronavirus or the virus cannot stand the warm climatic conditions in Africa? The truth now is the coronavirus has spread across the length and breadth of the African continent except tiny Lesotho and Comoros Island.
As of 17th April 2020, 7am Africa has;
- Confirmed cases = 18,441
- Number of deaths = 966
- Recoveries = 4,344
- Infected countries = 52
- Virus-free countries = 2 (Lesotho and Comoros)
COVID-19 in Ghana and Government reaction
The spread in Ghana started at a snail pace in the Greater Accra Region and moved into a galloping stage when more and more people tested positive for the infection. Currently, the virus has spread its tentacles to cover ten out of sixteen regions of the country. To stop the importation and contain the virus spread, President Akufo Addo directed the closure of all entry points to Ghana, quarantined all airline passengers for 14 days and ordered mandatory testing. Social distancing followed.
He put in measures restricting the movement of people in the Greater Accra Region plus Kasoa as well as the Greater Kumasi area. Schools have been closed, worshipping in churches, mosques etc banned. Normal social gatherings have been suspended, shopping and marketing restricted with police and army deployed to enforce the ban.
In addition, the government has taken the initiative to support badly affected communities with logistics which have been proved to be woefully inadequate in view of the numbers involved even though funds have been obtained from the stability fund Ghc200m, International Monetary Fund US$1billion another US$100m loan from other sources. Besides this, President Akufo Addo has put in necessary measures to supply medical equipment and other necessities to medical facilities. Some of the previously neglected massive health infrastructure constructed by the former President Mahama, have suddenly been revitalized to fight the pandemic and save lives.
Other institutions and individuals have responded positively and contributed in cash and kind into a Covid –19 Fund to back up government efforts.
In support of what government had done so far, the NDC led by its flag bearer his Excellency J.D Mahama;
- Set up a high-powered professional medical emergency response team to work with the government Codiv–19 medical team to spearhead national efforts to save the situation. And so far so good, so I hear.
- Activated its own internal mechanisms to meet the needs of the occasion and supplied large quantities of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and other medical necessities to the Greater Accra Regional Hospital (Ridge Hospital), the Korle bu Teaching Hospital and other regional medical centers across the country.
- Responded to inadequate food supplies to the badly affected population and ensured that needy people benefitted by passing distribution through Chiefs and Assembly members in the communities who are familiar with the living conditions of the people.
- Dwelling on the background knowledge and experience he acquired in the fight against Ebola virus disease outbreak in the West Africa sub-region in 2014 in which thousands of people lost their lives, Mr. Mahama proposed and submitted to government far-reaching, thoughtful and effective strategies to deal with the corona pandemic.
- The flag bearer has also directed that all NDC campaign vehicles should be rebranded to support the medical outreach teams in the regions in their transportation and public education on the pandemic.
President Akufo Addo has implemented a good number of Mahama’s proposals to bring relief to the nation, like subsidies on power and water within this period. It is believed, President Akufo Addo is carefully weighing the options to implement other Mahama proposals advanced to him like bringing down the cost of internet data and reducing the cost of fuel to support the people especially commercial drivers who have been directed to observe social distancing in their vehicles, a move which has adversely affected their daily income. Commercial drivers will wholeheartedly embrace this idea if petrol prices are reduced. This should be a matter of course as world market price of crude oil has fallen dramatically to unprecedented levels.
Miscommunication in Government Social intervention package
It has been observed that there were challenges in the communication of the implementation of the proposals to the nation. For example, the Minister for Energy Hon. Peter Amewu came out to announce that the assurance by the President for Ghanaians to enjoy power at a reduced cost from April, May to June cannot be implemented by the Ministry and power generators and suppliers. Rather, Ghanaians should expect it from May, June, and July.
The promise for the people to enjoy subsidized water also faced similar communication hiccups because the Management of the Ghana Water Company came out with a different interpretation.
Furthermore, to reward medical doctors, nurses and other health workers engaged in the management of the Covid-19 patients the President used the term ‘Frontline Staff’ to cover a section of the medical staff. The Ghana Medical Association came out with its own interpretation of the term ‘frontline Staff’.
What prevented the President from engaging the affected stakeholders for them to agree on the necessary modalities before coming out with such interventions? How serious would Ghanaians believe the President if he should come out with the next set of a social intervention package?
Can it be said that Mr. Mahama, who developed the ideas and made the proposals would have implemented them differently, if he were the President?
State of the nation under Covid-19
Ghana now tops the Covid-19 infected countries in West Africa as records indicate. This is certainly not like football, athletics or boxing tournament to be proud of. This calls for intensification of efforts to contain the virus. It is interesting to note that other well known deadly diseases have suddenly been driven to the background as if they don’t exist anymore. That is the power of the virus.
This pandemic has the potential to drive weak economies like that of Ghana into recession if the situation continues into the future. Whatever economic gains the government has made in the past few years have been swallowed by the pandemic. Ghana has luckily benefitted from a US$1billion approved by the IMF Executive Board to address the Covid-19 pandemic. It is hoped that the government would put it to proper use.
There is no proven medication to combat Covid-19. The initial belief that Africans are immune to the virus has been proved otherwise. The hot Africa climate has failed to tame the virus as it mutates to survive under different climatic conditions.
The nation has been thrown into confusion. Businesses are collapsing. NDC party activities have been put on hold and diverted attention and resources to support the fight against the pandemic. The NPP primaries have been suspended indefinitely. The Electoral Commission time table has been thrown out of gear. The National Identification Authority (NIA) has put on hold its registration exercise. The Trades Union Congress has cancelled their 2020 May Day celebrations.
According to the Minister for Information Hon Kojo Oppong Nkrumah unfortunately, Ghanaians along the borders are smuggling Coronavirus patients into the country to worsen the situation. Community infection is spreading rapidly. Now the number of infected people is heading towards 700 since the first two cases were confirmed positive on 12th March 2020. The testing for the virus currently going on is very limited due to the limited capacity available. Massive testing of the population is required to determine the true state of affairs.
The coronavirus is present in 10 out of the 16 regions of the nation. The government is borrowing massively from internal and external sources to keep Ghana going. Many self-employed and other people in lockdown areas have lost their livelihood and depend on the magnanimity of government, neighbors, philanthropists, and relatives to survive. But the December 2020 election is still in focus.
On the world scene, China which suffered massively from the virus and recovered is now reporting a resurgence of the coronavirus. The World Health Organization (WHO) has warned that Africa could be the next epicenter of this covid-19 pandemic.
Sam Okudzeto’s wise counsel It s against this unfortunate situation in the country, Africa and the world scene that many Ghanaians find it very stressful, horrible, clumsy and ill-timed the call by a former President of the Ghana Bar Association and one of the 15 appointed members of the Council of State, Lawyer Sam Okudzeto for the Electoral Commission to begin registration in “areas where there is no lockdown”
So what is more important? Human lives or a new voter register?
In the face of a resurgence of the virus in China, are we for the second time ignoring age-old adage, “when you see your friend’s beard on fire, you don’t hesitate to put water besides yours.”
Where are the nation’s counselors?
What is the priority of the nation under these circumstances?
Now let’s read the thoughts from Mr. Sam Okudzeto; “just thinking out loud to say that perhaps the corona virus outbreak is not as dramatic as is happening in many of the western countries …… which means we only have few pockets of the two big municipalities and few regions ……. So it’s a question of the Ministry of Health, the Electoral Commission, Attorney General, all of them trying to put their heads together. In my view since the lockdown is not the whole country, they should start the registration in areas where there is no lockdown and that would have covered a large chunk of the country.”
This statement would have been largely ignored and deemed inconsequential if it had dropped from the lips of a misinformed communication mercenary of a political party, serial caller or a foot soldier. But coming from a member of the Council of State who receives nourishment from the taxpayer money to perform his functions, this leaves much to be desired. Whether these were his own thoughts or a wise counsel from the Council of State to test the waters of the political terrain is another matter.
The Council of State
The Council of State was established by the 1992 Constitution in Chapter 9, Articles 89-92 and members of this 25 member august body are expected to counsel the President in the performance of his functions.
Ten of them are elected representatives from each of the ten regions. The fifteen others are appointed by the President. The six newly created regions are yet to elect their representatives to the Council of State. Perhaps this may happen in the next administration.
Among other functions, the council is expected to make recommendations on any matter being considered or dealt with by the President or Ministers.
Swearing them into office on 27th February 2017, the president advised them to provide him with advice based on the truth, no matter how distasteful it might be.
Does this mean that the Council had counseled the President on the situation in the country? Based on what truth?
And are Ghanaians to believe that Mr. Sam Okudzeto’s counsel to the Electoral Commission, Attorney General and the Ministry of Health on the way out of this current situation is a true reflection of the kind of counseling provided the President?
Ghanaians demand that Sam Okudzeto must withdraw that unpopular counseling without any hesitation and resign from the Council of State because his counseling would not help the situation. It will rather do the nation and the good people of Ghana a lot of harm.