The global digital connectivity has been such that the now infamous July 28 video about a COVID-19 cure which was retweeted by United States president, Donald Trump, has been widely shared in Botswana. While the Director of Health Services, Dr. Malaki Tshipiyagae, has previously countered claims of a COVID-19 cure by an African president, he still hasn’t done the same with Trump’s.
The video in question features a maskless Cameroonian woman who lives in Texas, Dr. Stella Immanuel, saying that hydroxychloroquine cures COVID-19 and that there is no need for people to wear face masks. Trump, who has stated that he takes the drug as a pre-exposure prophylaxis and considers mask-wearing to be a sign of weakness, retweeted the video. Hours later, it was being widely shared in Botswana and is still being shared on WhatsApp. While Immanuel’s claims have been and are still being debunked in the US by health officials and the mainstream media, the same thing is not happening in Botswana.
Oddly, Tshipiyagae reacted to a claim by Madagascan president, Andry Rajoelina, that a tonic infusion made from an indigenous plant called Artemisia Afra (Lengana in Setswana) can also cure COVID-19. In response to that claim, Tshipiyagae sarcastically stated that while coffee is tasty, it is not a cure for the disease. Around the same time, Trump also stated that doses of disinfectant injected into the body instantly “knock out the virus.” There was no rebuttal from Tshipiyagae’s office.
While it is doing an otherwise good job of educating people about the virus and how it spreads, the government is missing something that should be very obvious: that in a digitally-connected world, information about COVID-19 comes from all over the world. The Emergency Powers (COVID-19) (Amendment) (No.4) Regulations 2020 criminalise the publication of false COVID-19 information but some of that information originates from abroad through a borderless digital realm and ends up being shared on Botswana iPhones – like the hydroxychloroquine-cure video. The more sophisticated news consumers conduct further research to verify the authenticity of the information they get but less sophisticated ones don’t go that extra mile. The latter state of affairs undoes what the government is doing through its public education programmes on COVID-19.
On the whole, COVID-19 has coincided with a period of hugely deficient political leadership across the globe. In Brazil, a macho president contracted the disease because he didn’t wear a face mask; in the US, public health officials have to fact-check Trump every day and a former presidential candidate who refused to wear a mask died of COVID-19 on Thursday; in the Philippines, a loose-cannon president has advised members of the public to disinfect masks with petrol; in Burundi, a religious-zealot ignored WHO’s advice and reportedly died of COVID-19; in Tanzania, another religious-zealot president says prayer cures the disease; and in Botswana, MPs have fought with public health officials when required to comply with COVID-19 health measures.