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Opinions of Wednesday, 29 April 2020

Columnist: Rt. Rev. Prof. Osei Safo-Kantanka

Management of COVID-19 in Ghana: Where is the God factor?

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On Sunday night, I jumped for joy when the president announced the lifting of the partial lockdown of the Greater Accra, Tema, Kasoa and Greater Kumasi areas.

I had led a virtual worship service on Kessben Radio & TV in the morning as I have been doing since church and other social gatherings were banned. The theme for my message was the title of this article.

My message was simply based on the fact that since the beginning of the pandemic, our president is probably the only head of state in the world who has asked the church and other religious bodies to fast and pray on a specific day for divine intervention in combating the spread of the pandemic in his/her country. On that day, the Mayor of Kumasi Metropolitan Area, Hon. Osei Assibey, invited me to lead the prayer session on Hello FM. I was surprised that as I drove to the station, I saw that many of the shops were closed. Virtually the whole nation responded to the president’s call for prayer, and the electronic media led the way. Did our president and Ghanaians believe in the power of prayer? The answer is; Yes! Do you therefore think that the God we serve has no power to set aside epidemiological predictions that will cause the incidence of the disease to be different in Ghana and indeed in Africa?

In an article on the Internet, Gabby Okyere-Darko wrote:

“The data shows and the scientists explain that the dynamics of the virus in Ghana and much of Africa, so far, appears different from what we are seeing elsewhere. The mechanisms by which this virus is transmitted is the same everywhere, whether you are in Accra or Madrid—coughing, sneezing handshaking, being in close contact with an infected person, etc. However, there is evidence across the world that the way it spreads, the speed, pattern and impact of that spread may vary from country to country, community to community. Yet those who are convinced that lifting the partial lockdown was wrong may have a point. Only time will tell. But they will be wrong to think that their opinion is supported by science and data and that of the president not. I will proceed to show why.”

Last Sunday morning, I did not base my arguments on the scientific data and I refused to be guided by what is happening in other countries. I based my arguments on faith, which should never be relegated to the background as unimportant. You may argue that ours is not a theocracy but a democracy, but we must accept that the vast majority of our people are not secular in their outlook to life as pertains elsewhere. For us, the God factor is important!

When King Jehoshaphat was confronted with an enemy he could not defeat on his own, he went to God calling for a national day of fasting and prayer. H e was assured, “The Battle is not yours but the Lord’s.” (2 Chr. 20:15) Remember, this is the slogan our president used in his 2016 election campaign which he won very convincingly. On Sunday, I referred to the message King Jehoshaphat gave to his people as they marched to the war; “Listen to me Judah and people of Jerusalem. Have faith in the LORD your God and you will be upheld; have faith in His prophets and you will be successful.” (2 Chr. 20:20)

On Sunday, we prayed that the president would not only look at the scientific data (in this case the prophets) but also look at our faith in God. I asked, “After analyzing the data presented from the scientific community why should our president not also trust God for divine wisdom in the way the country should go? Why do we expect that a president who leads a country where 70% of his people profess to be Christians should only base his decisions on scientific analysis?” I am a scientist myself, and I understand the scientific method, but science alone does not explain everything.

Mrs. Melinda Gates, co-founder of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, a world-renowned philanthropic organisation, has expressed her grave concern about the potential effect of COVID-19 on Africa. She fears that Africa is going to be a graveyard on our streets and that the low number of infections and deaths so far reported from Africa is because we don’t have equipment for testing. Does she know that Ghana is one of the countries with the highest per capita testing for the virus in the world? There must be another factor to it all as Gabby Okyere-Darko indicated, and we believe along with our president that it is because, “In God we trust!”

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has also warned that Africa is likely to be next epicentre of the disease. Just as the Prophet Isaiah told King Ahaz, this threat or dire prediction, “Will not take place, it will not happen” (Isaiah 7:7). We refuse to accept the WHO prediction! In modern charismatic church jargon, we say; “We cancel it in the Name of Jesus!” Amen!

I don’t subscribe to the belief that God is punishing the world because of our sins, but I believe that God is a merciful God and has given us many promises to the effect that, in the face of a disaster when God’s people call on Him, he would hear and answer our prayer

“When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command locusts to devour the land or send a plague among my people, if my people who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wickedness, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” (2 Chr.7:14)

When Abraham interceded for Lot and his family, God saved Lot and his two daughters but destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah by a natural phenomenon—a volcanic eruption. All six members of Lot’s family were going to be saved but his would-be sons-in-law thought he was joking and his wife also refused to obey the instructions that they were given. (Gen. 18&19) That is why it is heartwarming to note that the president keeps on emphasizing the need for us to observe social distancing, hand washing and disinfection and other hygienic practices. Remember the slogan is: “cared for but be careful.”

Africans are not more righteous than people of other lands, but our president has led us to follow the steps of Moses, who challenged God by saying, “If you are not going to go with us, what else will distinguish me and your people from all the other people on the face of the earth? (Ex.33:15-16)

On Sunday, I also prayed that the president would consider that our food security does not lie in imported rice, but in the root and tubers crops—cassava, yam, cocoyam– and plantain and maize. How then can we survive if we missed the planting season which is with us now? And remember, if you lock down Accra and Kumasi, you have essentially locked down the whole country, because our commerce and other economic activities revolve around these two cities. How can farmers obtain farming inputs if they cannot travel to Kumasi? Should we follow the steps of other countries and create a situation where the ordinary people who constitute the masses cannot go out and fend for themselves but must wait for food to be dispensed to them and thus break the social distancing rule. Aren’t we bedevilled with equally challenging health issues such as cerebrospinal meningitis which has so far claimed more lives in Ghana than COVID-19?

We prayed for you Mr. President and I am delighted that the Holy Spirit convinced you that you were on the right path. Some may not agree with you and some may put up all kinds of arguments against your decision, but don’t be discouraged we shall continue to pray for you so that you lead the country along the divine path for the battle is not yours but the Lord’s. I urge our denominational leaders to make it their duty to once in a while visit, encourage and pray with our president. He needs it! And even though we are not meeting in our churches, let the believers continue to pray for God to heal the land.

Mr. President, before I sign off, please when everything is settled, I would like to plead with you to pardon the three church leaders in the Volta Region who defied your orders and went to church to pray.

God bless you, Mr. President. And may He bless our homeland Ghana and make our nation great and strong!

The writer is a Former Kumasi Bishop Of The Methodist Church