Saturday, May 30, 2020

Lockdown confusion is breeding a lockdown fatigue

Friday morning we got a call from BBC. They wanted to talk to me about reported plans by Botswana Government to reopen up the economy. Were these plans well thought out?The journalist on the other side had told me that he had previously visited Botswana; social distancing, he said, should never be a problem for such a huge country with so few people, he said amid a heartily laughter.Has there been sufficient testing before plans to reopen?

Is Botswana sufficiently convinced that they have dodged the bullet? How has the economy been coping during the lockdown? With diamond sales and tourism literally dead, how does the future look like for the country? And a flurry of other questions.By all accounts it looks like Botswana has dodged the bullet. Very few confirmed cases and just one death. And more pleasing recoveries are on the rise. Increasingly Botswana looks like a country forcefully escaping the vortex pull that coronavirus is exerting on other countries.And looking at such a matrix easing of restrictions is the most sensible thing to do under the circumstances.

There are however other people who remain skeptical and totally unconvinced.They believe that we might be sleepwalking into a deathtrap.They look across the border to the south and they see well set laid out plans by the South African government unravelling into disarray.For Botswana there are serious issues that need to be addressed.Thy are to do with accountability and governance. In Botswana corruption is never too far away. President Masisi has often talked in tongues about it.The jury is however still out on where he stands on it.We shall know his position on it the day it gets traced to his inner circle. From the onset accountability bar had been set exceedingly low for the covid19 task force appointed by president Mokgweetsi Masisi.

The public knows very little on these people who have been given far-reaching and intrusive powers into our lives as citizens. The public is not by any stretch able to exert any influence on the task force. And enjoying the extended cover of State of Emergency, this committee or should we say its coordinator has unaccountable powers comparable only to ancient biblical priests. And as was to be expected from anybody armed with such powers, communication by the presidential covid19 task force has at best been shambolic.There have been vague insinuations that the president was planning to exploit the powers given him by State of Emergency beyond what they were meant for, which is to fight covid-19. Of course, history is awash with examples where those in powers seized an opportunity extended them by a state of emergency for a power grab that remained in play long after the conditions for emergency had long ceased.

There is no evidence of that in Botswana today.A more valid concern should be around a decision to give those powers to the task force without similar obligations on the team to even share their meeting minutes with the public for example. To announce their arrival, the task force said they wanted six months State of Emergency. This was ludicrous to say the least. Up to now the task force has not seen it fit to say what models they were or are still using that informed this extraordinarily long demand on the public. All they say when they appear on national television is to say covid-19 does not have a cure, as if that is something new or by itself a warrant to justify their existence.The lockdown has been going on for over six weeks now. Batswana are happy to go for as long as it takes. They have accepted extraordinary curtailment of their freedoms as a necessary trade off to contain the pandemic.

Sadly, those in positions of authority are taking Batswana for granted.While Batswana have fulfilled their side of the bargain, they have not been met half way by those in power. A nation poorly disposed to protest even during normal times can be terribly hampered to even make a slightest complaint when draconian measures against civil liberties are put in place under State of Emergency. On account of the lockdown, many Batswana are today dying of hunger inside their homes.These are the people who run the country’s informal sector.

Yet inside parliament this week, many cabinet ministers saw nothing wrong making light of this grave situation. People are getting more and more cranky. Part of the problem is that leaders in power often think of absolute power in everything they do – from fighting a disease to running a government to being honest and transparent with their people. Accountability seldom crosses anybody’s mind.As the country starts a process to reopen this week, there is not much effort on the ground to signal caution.

Possible reinfection is never far away. A new wave of a rebound causing resort to a lockdown has happened in numerous countries. We should pray we never reach those levels because the currently muted protestations will become a fully blown blame game with severe political ramifications.

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Sunday Standard May 24 – 30

Digital copy of Sunday Standard issue of May 24 - 30, 2020.