Are we reading the signs of the COVID-19 times?

Tapiwa Gomo

A LOT of things are changing across the world since the COVID-19 pandemic started six months ago. It may not be easy to notice them as the rest of the world remains engulfed in the fight against the virus. Of course, some are just too blind to read the new signs of the times.

In Zimbabwe, the political dust is vitiating our vision. Emotional investment in politics is draining logic and rationality. The main opposition party is imploding, so everyone is worried. The ruling party is aloof as ever, so everyone is angry.

Almost everyone is too politically immersed, blinkered and locked. The obsession with trivial political battles —some archaic, irrelevant and egoistic —is unparalleled. The sense of national interest was lost at independence.

If the nation was not stupefied by trivial politics, perhaps by now we would have focused attention on important matters. We would have realised that the future of nations after this pandemic will be decided by how countries read and adjust to the signs of COVID-19 times. We will be in a dog eat dog situation sooner than later.

For archaic leadership such as ours, these signs have no material significance to them given their inability to wake up to the realities of COVID-19.

The reality is that beyond the health issue, COVID-19 is a major poverty, developmental and economic issue. The Finance ministry should be more worried than his health counterpart. It is called progressive thinking.

Our analysts and academics have a duty of helping our leadership to understand these signs of the times and interpret them in light of their medium to long-term implications both locally and internationally. They must decipher the signs of today and interpret their meanings.

Sometimes it is not always about persistently reminding leadership how useless they are.

Sometimes it is about refocusing an aloof leadership to what is likely to threaten their throne and awaken them to the realisation that threats such as COVID-19, know no big walls, military mighty or boundaries. The only way to protect themselves from such is by developing the nation. The effects of poverty are now contagious than before.

One of the clear signs — a lesson drawn from the COVID-19 experience — is that looting and externalising national resources comes to nil when the pandemic ground the world to a halt. We have seen restrictions placing a wedge between the looters and their loot.

This is a wake-up call to leaders who decide to steal that they now have to keep their wealth in country. That way, the same resources can help inject liquidity into the economy and can quickly be used to address urgent needs such as refurbishing hospitals.

The other sign, more dangerous than the plunder by our leadership, is the rapid re-emergence of protectionism, nationalism and racism as well as xenophobia in other countries. The message coming out of these developments is simple: every nationality is now on its own and governments are now prioritising their own people and interests.

Resources and opportunities after the COVID-19 pandemic will be limited and governments, mainly those wise enough to read the signs of the times, are adopting protectionist policies, while their citizens are pushed by circumstances to be either racist or xenophobic in protecting limited opportunities.

Protectionism is a policy when a country shields its domestic industry from foreign competition by imposing taxes and other restrictions.

In a context where economies are tumbling, protectionism is seen as the politically right move to take to shield local businesses and workers from foreign competitors. In previous instalments, I have cautioned our lack of action or reaction on how neighbouring countries are adjusting to this new reality. Again, these issues have ways of backfiring.

South Africa announced on May 7 that it is looking to formalise a new employment policy which will restrict the number of foreign nationals working in specific sectors of the economy, mainly restaurants which are staffed by foreigners, largely Zimbabweans.

On May 20, the government of Botswana issued a gazette announcing measures on specific sectors to be wholly owned by locals. Most of those outlined in the gazette such as the construction and the informal service sectors are dominated by foreigners, mainly Zimbabweans.

For a wise leader reading these signs of the times, this simply means by the beginning of June, there is going to be a massive loss of jobs and economic opportunities for Zimbabweans in these two countries.

Most likely those affected will be pushed back home by either destitution or new waves of xenophobia. This will also result in a huge drop in remittances — a source of vital lifeline for many families, reduce the availability of hard currency and further weakening the exchange rate.

These plus drought and a poor economy will put Zimbabwe back on the regional and global agenda amid an unfolding catastrophe.

That’s not all. International aid, both in cash or kind, will drastically drop as donor countries are prioritising addressing the domestic impact of the pandemic or diverting resources to COVID-19-related programmes.

The donations from China to Africa are most likely leftovers from their COVID-19 response. The future looks dry and lonely. We can only survive it if we read and adjust to the signs of the COVID-19 times now.

Tapiwa Gomo is a development consultant based in Pretoria, South Africa. He writes here in his personal capacity.


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