Thursday, June 4, 2020

America, China and Britain have abdicated leadership against coronavirus; Botswana should look elsewhere for inspiration

Every day the scale of challenge is growing.  Every dawn brings with it more menace and awe.The future looks bleak. Little kids who should be playing at school are today facing an uncertain future.In a few days hence streets will be empty; roads deserted except for armed men and women in uniform.“This is not how a democracy works,” we should teach our kids.Where only a few weeks back many here thought Corona was a foreign disease, a few confirmed cases and one death are now keeping many awake.

Batswana are now able to relate. That means a lot.As a country we should by now be busy scouting for heroes who to emulate.Neither America nor our colonial master, the United Kingdom are good templates.Our two traditional allies have so badly ruled themselves out.Their fight against coronavirus has been nothing short of a fiasco.Both America and the United Kingdom took too long to act. And by the time they did, it was too late.That delay is easily measured in the number of lives lost to the pandemic.When it comes to coronavirus, both UK and America are pariah state.

In both countries there was an underlying narrative that it was all hoax.In Britain government started by attempting to create a “herd immunity” – meaning as many people getting infected and dying before resistance.It would have sounded hilarious were it not for real lives at stake.Now Corona is decimating America. And UK looks helpless.The Prime minister of Britain, Boris Johnson has been infected – and runs a modern country by a conference call. He has become a joke.For Botswana, as is indeed for the world, the stakes have never been higher.Both America and the United Kingdom have failed to introduce the much necessary and mandatory stay-at-home at the appropriate times.In fact, in the United States there are still states that are yet to issues stay-at-home orders.Spain too has been going downhill but of recent the recovery of patients has been growing.Unfortunately, China too is not a good teacher in this instance.

And there is simply no how they can claim a moral high ground.China was the first country in the world to be hit by coronavirus.Authorities there responded by concealing the virus, until it started to attack the doctors.Trust deficit haunts the Communist Party leadership in that country – as it has always done.To this day it is impossible for anybody to independently ascertain the figures released by the Chinese authorities.This is a sad reality with which China’s latter-day emperor, Xi Jinping has to grapple with.For Botswana the best lead can be learnt from South Korea, an equally open democracy – but astonishingly more efficient in everything that they do.Of course, speed of implementation is not all that the public is going to be looking for.

But looking from experience there is every virtue to be gained from competence.There is the ever-present problem among politicians to sugarcoat and embellish reality.So far, our government’s biggest mistake has been to include too many sectors in its essential services.

Agriculture or farming has made it to the list. This smacks of populism on the part of cabinet.In a country like Botswana, where everybody considers themselves a farmer – including probably all in cabinet and a majority of the public service.If all these people are allowed to travel to their farms and smallholdings, the lockdown efforts will all be in vain. It is impossible to believe that government did not see the pitfalls.We need to learn lessons from elsewhere, and especially from countries that experienced the pandemic ahead of us and fought it successfully.There is no need to invent a wheel when there are so many mirrors hanging on the wall with which we can simply see our images as a nation.We need to keep our eyes on the ball as a nation.

So far presentations by cabinet ministers have been a pleasant surprise and indeed a marvel to watch for some of us.They have stayed focused, kept their eyes on their ball and generally remained honest.No doubt this is a difficult time for many of them, but as New York Governor Andrew Cuomo recently shouted to Donald Trump and his White House officials, “this is not the time to learn on the job.”

But the aura of competence displayed by Thapelo Matsheka, Peggy Serame, Eric Molale, and of course the man in the eye of the storm Lemogang Kwape have inspired confidence.The spark of excellence in this group of cabinet ministers has not been entirely a surprise.Their grasp of public policy detail is somewhat to be expected.Molale has been a Permanent Secretary to President. Serame is a former permanent secretary – a career technocrat who has lost her way into politics. Matsheka – exuberant and ever streetwise is a former CEO and a retired university professor of economics.We will need their energy and optimism going forward.Apparently, Botswana has less than 100 ventilators.If that is true, then the country is headed for a huge shortage.The country still has to send specimen to South Africa for who compliance.

That is not good enough.President Mokgweetsi Masisi has a bigger task at hand; to coordinate his cabinet but also like Winston Spencer Churchill in the time of war to act like a prophet by rallying his nation.Obviously Churchill is not a light act to follow, but victory always awaits those who try.The constitution recognizes him as the Commander in Chief.He has used his powers to unleash all his men and women into the streets.More than all of us, Masisi is ever conscious of doubts that exist among all of us.He must call on his security forces – the police and the army to be firm but restrained. No need to beat people. That could be counterproductive.This is not the time for exuberance. Of course information from experts can often be complicated and even contradictory including for the more discerning.

But please folks, let’s do what experts say. Let there be no defiance. This is not an attack on anybody’s passions.Wash your hands, keep your distance and trust experts.As Trump would say, don’t make the cure more expensive than the disease.

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