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Opinions of Sunday, 22 November 2020

Columnist: Dr. Kwasi Adusei-Fosu

The forgotten 'new-normal' in Ghana

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I thought COVID19 was so far from me until a close friend contracted the virus. It was one Saturday morning when I decided to message this friend of mine in England-UK.

The reply was; “Hey Kwasi. I’m sorry. Been in bed. I’ve been down with Covid. Tested positive over a week ago and symptoms began to get worst. Thank God not critical with respiratory problems but a high fever, back pain and earache mainly. Headache throughout, blocked ears and sore eyes but had made some home remedies and trying to stay positive…… resting a lot”.

I was so astounded hearing that she had been infected with COVID19. On the other hand, I was poignant for her because she’s a single mum. My prayer at that moment was that God keep her alive to go through such a hard time.
I made calls and shared the message with my parents and friends in Ghana to let them know the virus is real.

However, it has become a big problem convincing friends and family members that the virus is real. As a scientist and having worked with pathogens such as virus, fungi, bacteria and the likes in the field of Molecular Plant Pathology, I found it interesting and worrying to just watch things happen the way it is now. I have researched pandemic in plants and forest ecosystems but not in humans.

However, with the transferrable knowledge I decided to let others know about my take on the present situation of COVID19 in Ghana focussed on the approach almost everyone is having towards the precaution from COVID19.

Although some citizens in Ghana have exhibited their ignorance to what COVID19 is by claiming it does not exist because they have not seen anyone infected or killed by the virus, fortunately for me, my parents back in Ghana do believe that the virus is real. However, what is hindering my parents and most people in Ghana from being extremely cautious to keep safe in Ghana are the following reasons;

1. Traditions and culture

2. Religion

3. Politics

These three reasons have overcrowded the conscience of most Ghanaians and blinded them from seeing through the “lens of reality” what the “New normal” COVID19 pandemic has created globally. Hence, I am going to tackle these thematic areas that is hindering Ghana’s effort to control COVID19.

I understand that the traditions/culture is a pivotal part of the upbringing for most Ghanaians. I spent over two decades of my life in Ghana before traveling abroad. I understand why families would want to have a marriage ceremony that brings the entire families of both husband and wife together, for family members to know each other, to extend the family tree in terms of networking among others.

In addition, I understand that when a family member “kicks the bucket” the entire extended family has to sit and decide on the funeral and burial rites. For some reasons, in most instances, the children of the deceased do not have so much say with regards to the funeral arrangements especially when there is the existence of “Abusua panyini” in other words “the elder of the entire extended family”. Some families would want to generate monies from funerals especially when the deceased was a well-to-do person who would definitely have lots of people giving funeral tokens during the burial service.

However, there have been instances where the children of the deceased decide, to handle funeral rites by themselves by excluding the “elder of the entire extended family be it paternal or maternal” and that leads to a life-long enmity between the two groups, thus between the children of the deceased and the elders. Generally, excluding Muslims that bury the dead within a short time, majority of Ghanaians prefer to keep dead bodies in the morgue for a significant number of month-year in the name of “we want to have a befitting burial”. This comes with extra charges keeping the dead at the morgue.

Surprisingly there are some families that do not have monies to sponsor the education of brilliant children in the extended family but are able to go for loans to sponsor funerals. Thus, treating funeral as a channel of “investment”?
Most Ghanaians make funeral a complex event/activity in Ghana. My parents would never miss a funeral of a cousin, friend, church member etc. All that they would say is that, these people supported us during ours and we need to give back.

Even, amidst COVID19, families would want to organize big funerals that would bring so many people together for reasons known to only themselves. My way of attending funeral presently, in the presence of the pandemic is this; “Invite me for funeral and this is what I will do: I will send my condolences, and a token without stepping at the funeral grounds, because I know I am not a sitting president to have special health care when I contract the virus“.

Others would say my reasons to decline attending funeral stated here is too harsh because they believe I can go with your face cover/mask on throughout the funeral service. Ahh well, in case you are one of those people reading this article I would say, my response to such an advice will be; “why should I give COVID19 a window-of-hope to slip through and infect me?”. That has been my point for every call I make to my parents in Ghana, but would they listen? Hmmm. I called my sister in UK and she informed me that our parents were on their way for a funeral to support a friend who lost a parent.

I asked whether that friend really cares for the rest coming for the funeral or because they have lost a member everyone has to also attend the funeral and give that “degree of freedom” for Covid19 to infect others? ………………Sadly, such was the case of our Ex-President, JJ Rawlings. He lost the mum who enjoyed life to the fullest clocking over 90 years. The former President according to news via, contracted the COVID19 and died almost 3 weeks after his mum’s burial. My worry now, is the number of people who throng the funeral grounds of the late Ex-President’s mum. For some reasons the rich traditions and culture display during the funeral weren’t hidden.

It showed the rich culture of Voltarians’ which was insightful for some of us who watched via online. But was it worth it, considering the huge crowd that came together at the funeral? Do we all take COVID19 serious? Was the nation even made aware of the fact that the Ex-President was infected with COVID19? To what extent has this caused damage to the whole idea of staying safe in Ghana? We all saw the Ex-President with the face cover on during the funeral of his late mum, but during photo-shooting time with guest who attended the funeral, he took it off.

Not only him have I seen taking mask off during photo shooting times at funerals. My parents once sent me a picture when they attended the funeral of one of my uncles in Kumasi and they also had their mask off. I asked my parents and they told me we only took it off to take the picture? I asked them if the picture is worth their life and they never took it light on me….that was another “clash of the titans” because in Ghana, the older person is always right during a discussion even when they are wrong. Can we for once, pause with tradition/culture for marriage, funeral gatherings during this pandemic, and do something simple to avoid the spread of COVID19 in Ghana?

At the start of the pandemic, Churches were closed for some time in Ghana and it became a big problem for some pastors to cope financially. Even abroad where I live currently, the pastors began talking more about giving tithe and offering during such a challenging moment without thinking that perhaps the tithe and offering is going down because members of the church have lost their jobs? I guess only few pastors had this thought. Shortly after COVID19 pandemic count started going down in Ghana, churches were told to open and accommodate 100 people at a time observing the 6ft physical distance. I called my dad and warned him not to make any attempt to step there and that God is omnipresent as we all know. So, I cajoled him to stay home and worship God with the rest of the family. He understood me for the first time (i.e. the feeling was like the azonto dance…) with matters regarding COVID19 and told me he has not been going because the church even goes beyond the number of hours the government had instructed churches to meet.

He said he once addressed this to the elders of the church, and it did not go down well with them. There were days they would give him program to do at church and he would find a respectful rejection answer. For the first time during the pandemic I had a peaceful talk with my parents because we were all on the same page…”.

I did have conversations with friends trying to let them understand that we do not find peace in the church building but in our relationship with God in your heart, mind, and most importantly your home. It is true we fellowship in church buildings which feels great because you meet friends giving hugs and words of encouragement. But all Christians need to know that we are in the new normal. However, the double standards by the leaders of the country be it those in opposition and incumbent have made all these COVID19 precautions statements “go down the drain”.

The political environment of Ghana is simply amazing. It is the kind of political climate where a political party would invest more into winning an election than investing into building the country. Ever since the pandemic, it always feels like there is nothing called COVID19 in Ghana. It is as if Ghana is the planet Mercury, where COVID19 is absent. Stop wondering why I am comparing Ghana to Mercury; Mercury because it is the smallest planet and I do not think Ghana is that big although we have had more regions recently. Or you thought the country expanded that is why we had more regions introduced? No! it is the same old size.

Let me not digress so much from the COVID19 discussion. Back to how politics is impacting Ghana’s fight against COVID19, it is a shame that I have never heard any of the political parties organize rallies cautioning party loyalist on the need to have face covers. I wish I could hear open statements like this at rallies; “Please, everyone should be aware of the existence of COVID19. If you do not have a face cover on, please leave the rally premises”. I know it sounds silly right? But have you thought of the political parties announcing to members to have face covers on for rallies and that police will be present to arrest anyone without face covers prior to organizing rallies? I know it would be difficult so then we move to the next option. Guess what this option is.

What if all political parties sign a memo of understanding that they would all organize virtual rallies for this year’s election? I guess this sounds better than the first. Unfortunately, I do not think that the two big political parties in Ghana would do so. I watched the news recently and the crowd at Suame-Kumasi for both NPP and NDC rallies was amazing. You could clearly see on the television that political leaders never had face covers on. But they are our leaders, right? So how do they expect others to put on face covers?

The were patches of people in the crowd with face covers on. I have seen several of such videos circulating on social media platforms where crowds of people were running after presidential candidates and I wonder if these people understand what the COVID19 pandemic is. Perhaps they think it is worth been on a ventilator than putting on a simple face cover.
In summary, our presidential candidates have failed every Ghanaian for ignoring to put the safety of its citizens first.

They at times forget that without the citizens there is nobody to rule. Currently in Ghana cinemas have been closed, high health and safety standards/protocols upon which churches should run, schools shut down amidst COVID19, yet political parties organize rallies and campaigns? Now the new approach for political parties is what they call ‘peace walks for election 2020’ where they get crowds coming together for political parties to walk around with presidential candidates on streets. Sadly, they get people to attend such so called “peace walks”.

The political leaders and presidential candidates have nullified efforts everyone does to keep the country safe. So, what is the point and bases of all these protocols to keep the country safe from COVID19 if others are allowed to organize rallies, peace walks, etc in Ghana?

Recently, the only event that paused political parties organizing political rallies, peace walks and public gatherings (campaigns) was the demise of the Ex-President, JJ Rawlings. It was interesting to hear political parties suspend all campaign and rally activities for a week but failed to reason, that amidst the pandemic, they could all rely on virtual campaign and keep the COVID19 safety protocols. A political I do not want to mention ended up even organizing vigil for the demised Ex-President JJ Rawlings which to me was a way to do a mini-rally and plead for sympathy votes from Ghanaians. But aah well, it is part of the political games in Ghana. But my question is this, “Are we serious as a country with the way we are handling the pandemic?”

We live in the “New Normal” now and time is up our extended families, pastors, and political leaders take COVID19 serious and stop “swimming” in the “pool” of tradition/culture, religion and politics to make plethora of excuses that nullify every effort we all make to keep the country safe from COVID19.
Ghana is only healthy, when we the citizens are all healthy. Keep safe and remember COVID19 is real.

Author: Dr. Kwasi Adusei-Fosu

Molecular Plant Pathologist