The globe is at a critical juncture of a deadly novel pandemic which appears to have taken virtually everyone by surprise. Global leaders, multinational corporations, state institutions, local level organisations, public and private agencies, traditional rulers and religious organizations among others, have all suffered the negative consequences of this virus. In the worst-hit regions of the world, hospitals are overwhelmed and devastated with the sick and dying, while the poor and vulnerable everywhere are facing severe food shortages and starvation.
The threatening nature of this challenge demands pragmatic and active leadership at all levels of the state hierarchy. Within the few months of this catastrophic global health incidence, close to 4 million lives, in over 213 countries and territories have fallen prey to this havoc, with 234,075 lives lost. This largely explains the rationale behind the United Nation’s description of the illness as the “most challenging crisis” since World War II. The start of this global health challenge has spiked some growing levels of commentary on policy interventions and leadership commitments required by countries to adequately respond to this novel coronavirus.
For Africa, pragmatic leadership, proactive use of science, data and comprehensive stakeholder engagement is critical. At the same time, elected and opposition politicians are expected to eschew political games and propagandist tendencies at all stages of the policy process if the continent will be able to maintain low cases. The approach taken by Ghana can offer key insights into how African nations can tackle Covid-19 as required.
Africa and Covid-19
After diagnosing the first African case in early February in Egypt, the continent remains the least hit by this global pandemic. As of 6th May 2020, Africa’s cases stand at 49,155 with 1,911 deaths. Will Africa be able to hold on to this low incidence rate?
As a novel challenge, a novel solution is required through a deliberate action by all leaders at all levels with comprehensive citizenry support by adhering to personal hygiene, lockdown and social distancing protocols. Unfortunately, there have been multiple reports of the hesitant and unwilling demeanour of most citizens towards observing lockdowns and social distancing schemes instituted by respective governments on the continent.
Of course, this harks back to the socio-cultural architecture, existing economic frame for enhancing livelihoods and the family systems of most African countries. In some instances, the closure of national borders has not meant anything for citizens who live and ply their trade on the irregular borders with verifiable evidence of impunity and complete disregard for government orders. However, this may not be a justifiable excuse for African governments not employing existing state capacity in ensuring strict adherence to these necessary restrictions. The idea is that leadership remains the course with all other things becoming the effects of such leadership interventions. In much the same way, leadership can be ‘value-neutral’ and has to be used instead in the affirmative at all stages of the remedial process.
Ghana’s policy intervention and leadership commitment: lessons for other countries
Undoubtedly, Covid-19 is testing world leaders in various ways. The ability to step up interventions is predicated on pragmatic leadership approach. Whether millions live or die, is dependent on the decisions the world’s leaders take in the coming days and weeks. As opined by John C Maxwell a leader is “the one who knows the way, goes the way and shows the way”. Ghana’s leadership and policy initiatives so far have won the admiration of both global leaders and citizens as confirmed cases stand at 2,719 as of 6th May 2020. Increases in laboratory centres and resources for testing, enhanced contact tracing, routine surveillance and mandatory quarantine for travellers into the country are critical interventions scaled-up by the government so far.
Governments across Africa can learn a great deal from Ghana. The Ghanaian government has taken several steps which could be mimicked across the continent:
- The institutionalization of National Trust Fund and a comprehensive COVID-19 Alleviation package.
- Pragmatic crisis communication scheme led by the President and high-level government appointees
- Increased testing, compulsory use of nose masks, mandatory quarantine and comprehensive stakeholder engagements at all levels
- Enhanced local production of requisite PPEs to reduce importation of these items from foreign countries.
- Comprehensive distribution of essential consumables for vulnerable communities without delay.
- 50 % waiver for domestic and industrial water usage
- 3 months electricity bill waiver for both domestic and industrial usage.
- Free transportation for health workers, tax rebate and 50% additional allowance for health workers, a free insurance package for frontline health personnel etc.
- Provision of tax holidays health workers and credit facilities for SMEs and vulnerable households.
- Massive investment into critical sectors such as health, education and Agriculture.
Interventions such as these may need to be used, Irrespective of political or country-specific differences. Indeed, leadership commitment and enhanced policy initiatives are the only defining factor in this critical juncture of a global pandemic such as this. More critically, leaders are expected to lead as ‘dealer in HOPE’ to ignite citizenry trust and commitment.