For a world that has experienced much interconnectedness in travel and in the cultural and social synthesis of the virtual space, a pandemic comes like an unwanted visitor with no warnings, disrupting economic systems and downplaying advanced healthcare systems.
The coronavirus, just like the pestilence in Albert Camus’ The Plague, a 1947 novel set in the Algerian city of Oran, has proven to be devastating. Not only is the global economy at the risk of a collapse, but grief has become the marking of daily life in countries across the world.
For some people in reclusive African states, the pandemic is nonexistent or a maleficent wind that is blowing elsewhere, since in many poor parts of Africa, common people are shielded away from the gory quarantine pictures of the virus’s attack on humanity. In Africa, these are the most people at risk of infection, people whose ignorance of the virus’ deadliness is further concretized by internet and social media rumors. One of such dangerous ideas about the nature of the virus, according to a lively banter between two women in some rural community in South-western Nigeria, supposes that the virus is not as infectious as the Ebola viral rage that swept through West Africa from 2014 to 2016.
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Just like elsewhere, Africa’s economies are at the precipice of the catastrophic effects of the protracted lockdown that has become the most reasonable health policy of states across the world to apprehend the accelerating infection rates. The graphic pictures of dying people, apocalyptic medical wards with stressed out doctors or of multiple coffins and mass grave sites have become pictures flitting across the TV screens of people all over the world, filling them with apprehension and the fear of a global dystopian nightmare.
The pandemic is exposing many faults in the social and economic arrangements across African societies. In Africa, income inequality has never appeared larger than life, and starvation has never become a greater threat in peacetime. African governments do not seem to recognize that societal order is approaching collapse, especially in a country like Nigeria, where the economy is facing uncertainty and a severe contraction from crashing oil prices. Violent crimes are looming in the preceding days of the lockdown as a news platform reported that somewhere in Nigeria, armed men attacked a police checkpoint and made away with assault rifles.
From the present situation, there are signs that African state powers are going to witness their greatest tests in the coming weeks. The question is not even about how long COVID-19 infection rates would keep the lockdown a policy of necessity, but how hard African governments are planning for the times to come and what ingenuous plans they would come up with to ensure that the people who they claim to govern would not starve in their homes.
The government is still not being forthright with the masses at a time when plundering tax payers’ money and looting COVID-19 relief funds is about the most insensate thing to do. In Lagos, the lockdown is experiencing some defiance and anger driven by the basic human instinct of self-preservation. Daily workers who have not been factored into a poorly planned lockdown are at the risk of starving with their families in an economy where lockdown is a luxury afforded only by the rich and wealthy.
The times are harder on Africa’s poor who would find themselves the victims of a system that has been preying on them for a long time. It is without doubt that a post-COVID-19 era would redefine the world’s economy. The question is also about how hard Africa is thinking about her future at such a time. These times have come to remind us that everyday life must yield to change, sometimes this change must come violently, and it should be about lessons, lessons on the readiness to tackle global challenges, and to see humanity beyond nationality and color.
There has never been a better time for African governments to show that they are not far removed from the problems of the masses, as the masses make up the building block of the local economy. There has never been a time when African people demand a greater sense of responsibility from their leaders.