By Precious Nihorowa
On 14th April, the government through the minister of Health Mr Jappie Mhango, announced that as one way of fighting against the spreading of the Corona Virus disease, the country would be under lockdown for 21 days effective from 18th April to 9th May. The announcement included a possibility of extension of the lockdown in case of need. The announcement brought mixed reactions among Malawians in all sectors of the society with a good number of people feeling that Malawi was not ready for a lockdown under the set circumstances as there was no indication of cushioning packages for the less fortunate and poor families. Such a reaction culminated in the nationwide demonstrations that were done on Friday, 18th of April. On the same day, the Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC) obtained a court injunction against the lockdown. On top of granting the seven-day injunction, the court also ordered an inter-party hearing between different stakeholders to come up with proper conditions for the lockdown.
My take is that the government was right in its own way in bringing the idea of the lockdown in as much as such the move was meant to curb further spread of the deadly virus. With the sorry state our health system, it is evident that if we are not careful as a country, the virus can overwhelm us. And so, at this point, prevention is far much better than cure. However, HRDC too was right in obtaining the injunction especially based on the fact that the government did not put in place or announce any measures that would cushion the Malawians who would not be able to put food on the table during the lockdown. It is not clear as to how the government expected such people to survive. With Malawi being listed as one of the poorest countries on the global scale, there is a high possibility that as we run away from the dangers of COVID-19 through the lockdown, the pangs of hunger would be more detrimental to the majority of the people. I like the way the court has granted the injunction. It has not simply granted it to stop the lockdown but has called for an interparty hearing where stakeholders can put their heads together and decide on how best to implement the lockdown for the benefit of all.
I see that what we lack as a nation is humility and unity of purpose. Government leaders would do the country a favor if it cultivates a spirit of consulting other stakeholders across the political divide to come up with good solutions for all. Recently, the State Vice President made some recommendations that could be helpful in the fight but were all ignored. Furthermore, we all know that there is a presidential election to be conducted soon. Political leaders are busy suspecting one another that there is a lot of politics being involved in tackling the pandemic. On one hand, the opposition is suspecting the government for using the pandemic to delay or stop the elections. On the other hand, however, the government is suspecting that the opposition is conniving with the courts and human rights bodies to sabotage government initiatives towards the pandemic. And so, the two parties fail to agree. There is a danger that if this lack of unity and humility continues, the country is heading towards disaster. The World Health Organization boss, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, recently made a statement to all countries urging them to stop politicizing the pandemic. He warned against using the pandemic to score political points and described such a tendency as playing with fire. My hope is that the interparty hearing which the court has initiated will help our political leaders to swallow their pride, humble themselves and forge the unity that the country needs at this point. Otherwise, in the words of Martin Luther King Jr, “we must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.”
The author is a Malawian currently studying Theology at the Catholic University of East Africa in Kenya. He holds a BA in Philosophy.