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Tough but eye-opening lessons in 2020 about our political elite

Opinion & Analysis
Develop me Tapiwa Gomo The year 2020 will be gone in the next ten days but its impact will linger for many years to come. A pandemic — coronavirus (COVID-19) — which started in China in December 2019 engulfed the world and like a wildfire, it has caused sickness, deaths and social and economic disruptions. […]

Develop me Tapiwa Gomo The year 2020 will be gone in the next ten days but its impact will linger for many years to come. A pandemic — coronavirus (COVID-19) — which started in China in December 2019 engulfed the world and like a wildfire, it has caused sickness, deaths and social and economic disruptions. For the first time in a century the world faced a real existential threat. The last such kind of a pandemic — the Spanish flu — was between 1918 and 1920, infecting approximately 500 million people — about a third of the world’s population at the time — in four successive waves.

Even as the curtain comes down on 2020, there are still more new cases, often described as second or third waves.  More than 75 million cases have been reported including nearly 1,68 million deaths since the pandemic started. Social, economic and political dynamics of life have been affected and adjusted and some will remain so thus establishing a new normal. Business and employment have been severely affected reversing the gains made in the past decades. Human contact — an essential human behaviour — has also been affected and at some point human beings caged themselves indoors much to the amazement of wildlife  constrained in fenced parks.

The story of 2020 remains sad and heavy on our shoulders as we enter 2021. However, the year 2020 taught us a myriad of lessons about our political elite. One of the greatest lessons, mainly for our country, is that deprioritising one’s country through corruption can backfire massively resulting in fatal consequences even for those in high offices. The takeaway is that the government and the private sector now need to work together to revive and strengthen the public health sector, not only for the high offices but for all citizens from which the private sector draws its labour.

There are some countries such as Sweden and South Korea which did not impose nationwide lockdowns. They argued for putting more emphasis on risk communication and appropriate social behaviour. They based their argument on stronger public health systems which are capable of handling demand should the virus spread overwhelmingly.

For the reasons, in-country industries and businesses were cushioned and, therefore, not massively disrupted. This move protected the economy, jobs and the income needed to sustain government affairs, mainly the public health sector. It is a simple lesson that the political, social and economic aspects of our lives are largely interconnected and, therefore, future planning must take that into account. It is not enough to focus on political survival without addressing the economy and social amenities.

There was no better barometer for judging the character of our leadership in regard to people’s welfare in the face of a marauding pandemic than COVID-19. The year 2020 was a season for compassion, mourning and condoling. It was one of our saddest years where adversity was supposed to unite us. But that was not the case in our country.

A nationwide lockdown was haphazardly imposed on 30 March when the country had fewer cases, perhaps just to “fit in” with the rest of the world without reading from the local context. Did the lockdown need to be nationwide given that only Harare and Bulawayo cities had reported cases? Whatever remained of the economy took a tumble. The pandemic and poor insight and foresight by the leadership further exposed the fragile economy and the government’s inability to respond appropriately to the needs of various sectors.

Financial resources were poured in to respond to the pandemic but corrupt “hyenas” went into over-drive to loot funds meant to save lives. There was no better reason to call for political change when the political elite prioritise themselves over the lives of their citizens even when the house was on fire. It was a really sad scenario to witness and to learn that when the situation goes awry, even when resources are available, citizens are on their own. The corrupt cartels are not willing to let a dine slide a pill into the mouth of an ailing and almost dying citizen. Our society has bred such levels of heartlessness.

As if that is not enough, the “usual corruption” did not stop because of COVID-19. When others shut down their airports, ours remained open enabling entry of potential cases but also smuggling of looted minerals. The index case is reported to have entered via the Robert Gabriel Mugabe International Airport. Reports suggest that airport authorities detected that the index case was exhibiting symptoms, but was allowed entry after threatening to call higher offices. This is how rotten our country has become that power is used to undermine its own laws and rules at the expense of the public.

Similarly, there is still a case in the courts of an attempt to smuggle six kilogrammes of diamonds out of the country and again with allegations that the accused name-dropped political elites to escape arrest. In a normal society, this would not be happening, worse still the use or abuse of high profile names at a time the people are counting on their leadership to enforce the lockdown rules. It is a big letdown.

Some have argued that the foiled case of diamond smuggling is a tip of the iceberg in relation to how the country’s riches are being pillaged with the aid of the political elite and yet the country is unable to sustain its essential public sectors such as health, education, food and sanitation. Nothing is as painful as being starved by a greedy parent who thinks whatever is in the house is for him and his friends — everyone else can die of hunger. While this is not a new lesson, it highlights the argument that sanctions have a minimum impact on the economy and the political elites have demonstrated — during the country’s darkest hour — their lack of interest in addressing challenges faced by the people. They failed to be with the people during the hour of need.

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