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Opinions of Monday, 27 April 2020

Columnist: Michael Sumaila Nlasia

Michael Sumaila asks: Has COVID-19 answered the leadership question in Ghana?

Michael Sumaila Nlasia Michael Sumaila Nlasia

With many countries reeling from the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, leadership is proving to be a model of recovery and to lift the countries from the lockdown to transformation. Effective crisis leadership is all about the people: lessening the impact of chaos on those you lead by paying attention to resource allocation, communication, clarity of vision, and caring relationships. In the midst of chaos, leaders cannot allow themselves to get overwhelmed or become immobilized by political persuasions. More so, they go beyond merely responding to crisis to being proactive and positive change agents.

Essentially, at this particular time of COVID-19, leadership has come in handy in Ghana. We started with two reported cases. At 142 cases, the President declared a partial lockdown. While 1042 cases were recorded within a month, the President lifted the partial lockdown. Although the decision came as a relieve to majority of the populace from distress, but on what purported scientific basis or data was this decision taken when it is obvious we are not out of the woods?

Lockdown is mostly lifted when countries do not record new cases for a minimum of 1 week, but in Ghana, it was lifted when we recorded close to 1000 cases over a period of a month. Now we have more than 500 cases reported within a week. Sincerely speaking, from hindsight, it appears we do not have any strategy to combat COVID-19. And in effect, it is suffices to also say that the lifting of the partial lockdown was a sacrifice to the altar of political correctness, not public health and safety.

It was apparently a politically-motivated decision intended to squeeze ample time for the Electoral Commission (EC) to compile a new voters register for the 2020 general elections - especially when the General Secretary of the ruling New Patriotic Party (NPP) has stated that a new voters register will start in May.

Furthermore, the partial lockdown was lifted without official consultation with ECOWAS, WHO and Ghana Medical Association (GMA). This is unfortunate to say the least. I am not a prophet of doom but I will not be surprised that a lockdown will return. Let me stress again that the President said he is being guided by science and data but the reality looks contradictory.

The promotion of self-quarantine of a global pandemic points to our lack of seriousness. The lack of verifiable Isolation Centers and the fact that there is no transparency in the dealings with reported cases creates doubt in minds. It would seem as though either the President has given up as a leader so that we try to survive by ourselves or there is a hidden agenda to push up the confirmed cases for Deep State Politics.

Cerebrospinal Meningitis (CSM)

In Ghana, apart from COVID-19, cerebrospinal meningitis (CSM) is an infectious disease affected by climate change in its generic form. It has been part of the five northern regions for many decades. It is a periodic epidemic that becomes pronounced between February and May. The heavy rains in late April and May gradually will normally bring the infection to a natural closure for a year. This year, 40 death cases of CSM have been reported while COVID-19 death cases stands at 11. But, unfortunately, there seem to be no deliberate attempt by government to fight the CSM epidemic.

The President has on eight occasions addressed the nation on the state of affairs of the coronavirus pandemic. So would it have been wrong for the President to have also at least addressed the nation on the CSM cases endemic in the Upper West Region? CSM is predictable and can be effectively managed with early education and vaccination. Vaccines used to be the remedy but the recent information is that a new strain of virus was identified but appropriate national response did not meet regional expectations.

Leadership response to the crisis

At this crucial time of COVID-19, infrastructure has proven to be very handy to our healthcare system to fight the pandemic. Yesterday, in the address to the nation, the President promised that government is going to build 88 new hospital to improve our healthcare system in general. While we commend the President for his efforts in sustain lives in this crisis, he should, however, not forget that we have spent $1.2 billion to build hospitals that are not in use. At least, if this promise is something to go buy, he should heed to the call to make the completed hospitals fully functional and complete those yet uncompleted.

The paradox of the situation is this: somebody saw the need to invest in the country’s health facilities when there were no crisis, another one only decided to invest in the health facilities during crisis. Now who among the two is competent and visionary?

To end here, there is an old adage that, “crisis does not build character, it reveals it.” A leader’s response to crisis is more than speech-making, although the messages to the people play a key role in obtaining their trust and co-operation. Things are changing on daily basis in this COVID-19 pandemic and businesses, organizations, the economy and society are set to transform in the aftermath of the pandemic; but, the reality is that we are yet to see a transformation in the leadership of the country from the contradiction that had emerged. However, as citizens, our utmost responsibility is to be safe to keep others safe.


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