The Covid-19 pandemic’s impact continues to alter lives, livelihoods and futures. The number of confirmed cases and fatalities continues to rise. In Africa, 24 600 cases of Covid-19 have been confirmed from 52 countries as of Wednesday. Out of these 1 193 confirmed died and 6 415 recovered. Zimbabwe now has 28 cases, and four deaths with the epicentres being Bulawayo and Harare. The responses by African governments to Covid-19 have followed five major trends, namely:
Bio-medical bias characterised by national lockdowns, social distancing and hygiene orthodoxy;
The militarised response that employs war language and tactics and is driven largely by securocrats. It complements the biomedical approach, but sees the broad mass as the threat to be contained, controlled and not necessarily the key pillar to winning the fight against Covid-19;
The economistic approach that is based on transplanted econometric logic of stimulus packages, quantitative easing, and tax cuts deferment and holidays. Ironically the PPE (personal protective equipment) import bill might turn out to be higher than what African countries have invested in health, water and sanitation over the last five years respectively; and Hybrid approaches that factor in a combination of the above three approaches and sometimes with a comical kitchen sink approach
These approaches bear self-evident gaps, including the following:
Inappropriateness of the responses to the African social and economic context.
Gender blindness of the response and dearth of gender disaggregated statistics as well as women’s participation, leadership and visibility in national Covid-19 task forces.
Weak focus on informal sector, persons living with disability and persons with pre-existing vulnerabilities other than anecdotal references to support for these sectors.
Eclectic focus on African food systems and food sovereignty during and after Covid-19 season.
Lack of a Covid-19 exit strategy focused on holistic recovery of society, economy and governance.
Weak regional/Pan-African collective response other than the focus on debt moratorium, debt cancellation and debt rescheduling. There is no real focus on private debt and the structure of this as well as household debt.
Lack of a society-driven agenda of Covid-19 responses. African governments are looking outward for their solutions.
Globally, the stringent measures taken to ensure infection prevention and control will have serious consequences for the different economies and societies. Covid-19 has and will impact — amongst others — the following:
Attitudes towards travel, shelter, sanitation and health and in particular how freely people move across and within borders;
Conceptions of health and national security as well as the social and economic determinants of health;
New forms of inequality, “otherisation”, stigmatisation and exclusion;
State and corporate surveillance of citizens;
Rethinking of the formal/informal economy binary;
Food sovereignty and food self-sufficiency;
The role of data, knowledge, technology and access to information in development and governance; and Leadership, its roles, qualities, competencies and skills.
Owning the Covid-19 Mess
Politicians and not scientists or medical doctors lead Zimbabwe’s response. Its use of locally generated data and statistics is weak and its inclusiveness of critical social, political and economic actors weaker. Covid-19 poses a clear and present danger to the prospects of recovery of Zimbabwe’s ailing economy. There is no real attempt to muster a truly collective and inclusive approach to fighting Covid-19 from the Zimbabwean leadership. There can be no real success without popular ownership of the response and full cooperation from the citizenry.
Zimbabwe’s Covid-19 response privileges businesses and ruling-party activists-cum-entrepreneurs in primitive accumulation and public relations extravaganza of disaster capitalism. This deepens the longstanding allegations that the Zimbabwean State is captured by dominant interests (foreign and domestic) and individuals.
The same politically connected individuals and companies are leading the Covid-19 procurement processes. This attempt to launder the image of certain individuals and companies recently accused of masterminding State captures is disingenuous.
Covid-19 is a health crisis with social, economic and security dimensions. The instinctive employment of a militarised bio-medical response is symptomatic of a fundamental disconnect that exists between leadership and the governed in Zimbabwe.
It also points to a disconnect between government and the country’s health sector and academic institutions. It also reflects a disconnect between leadership and reality. Zimbabwe spent — without resort to donor appeals — upward of US$1 million on the health bills of Vice-President Constantino Chiwenga and the late president Robert Mugabe. The financial outlay to fight Covid-19 in cities like Beitbridge, Bulawayo, Mutare and Victoria Falls remains woefully inadequate, especially given the number and cost of tours undertaken to date by members of the national Covid-19 task force.
The passing of legislation to curb the publication of fake news without any meaningful and visible action to ensure transparency and accountability in Covid-19 related procurement deals typifies the above disconnects.
Opaqueness of procurement processes may serve as license for new forms State capture, corruption and conflation. There is, therefore, need for greater scrutiny of procurement, accountability, and governance of humanitarian interventions.
Knowing, responding to our reality
Zimbabwe’s Covid-19 response seems to — wittingly or unwittingly — mimic South Africa, China or the West. This shows the dangers of severe deficit of imagination, creativity and inclusive leadership. Whilst learning from one’s neighbours is commendable, the instinctive copy and paste from different socio-economic contexts without any attempt to domesticate, diversify or even indigenise response framework is troubling.
Zimbabwe’s economy is driven by agriculture (large and small holder), mining and tourism. These sectors are also highly informal (under-served and under-regulated).
Between 80% to 90% of working age Zimbabweans are dependent on daily earnings from vending or micro-enterprises. They cannot stock up food for the duration of the lockdown let alone a few days. More than 63% plus of Zimbabweans live in rural areas where they cannot practice the hand-washing with soap or sanitiser required to prevent Covid-19 because they simply do not have access to portable water or sanitiser. The government response has not focused sufficiently on this critical majority from the perspective of the biomedical response as well as prospects for long-term economic recovery post Covid-19. Within urban areas Covid-19 and the lockdown have had negative impacts by disrupting incomes, livelihoods, social cohesion and security.
Levels of personal and household debt are rising, as are levels of stress and related mental illness. There are also reports that indicate that levels of domestic violence and collective violence at a community level are rising too. There are multiple layers of new crises created by the responses to the Covid-19 crisis.
The majority of Informal sector workers, cross-border traders small-holder farmers, artisanal miners and cottage industries in Zimbabwe do not have pension schemes, health insurance, insurance or any other formal social security other than their daily blood and sweat.
What is needed is for Zimbabwe to transition from models of response to Covid-19 and overall economic growth that export jobs outside of Africa. Invest in local manufacturing of the PPE, beds ventilators and other basic necessities for the Covid-19 response. Identify and incentivize potential manufacturers, designers and innovators as well as build up gold reserves.
Food is the economy and …
There are signs that food shortages, food price hikes and food inflation will lead to social unrest. There are possibilities that given the global lockdowns an opportunity exists for Zimbabwe to feed its Sadc neighbours and beyond. This requires strategic investment in food systems and food production through broad packages of support to smallholder farmers and agro-based industries.
To borrow and adapt a cliché from our recent past, in the post Covid-19 era “food will be the economy and the economy will be food”.
Women’s participation, leadership
Women make up more than 85% of Zimbabwe’s healthcare workers and almost 100% of community caregivers. Yet the government response to Covid-19 is either gender-blind or deals with gender as an after-thought. There are no targeted measures to protect women health workers, community caregivers, and female informal traders.
It goes without saying that Zimbabwe’s Covi-19 responses will fail if it does not centre-stage women. This must start with the inclusion of women in the decision-making of the rapid response, national disaster and emergency bodies or taskforces on Covid-19.
The opportunity of crisis
When the strategy of leadership is unclear and the communication is haphazard or mere running commentary, the dangers facing the nation loom larger than the opportunities in the mind of the citizenry.
The Covid-19 pandemic is not the greatest danger facing Zimbabwe; it is the mind-set of leadership, its vision or lack thereof. Frankly, it is difficult to decipher what the Zimbabwean government’s strategy for defeating Covid-19 is and how such a strategy will ensure that the nation is stronger economically, socially, politically and psychologically post the Covid-19 season.
Covid-19 is unmaking and remaking the reality of our social, economic, environmental and political world. When one considers the uncertainties about the future, the political blunders in the present and the lack of deliberate forward-looking policy thinking, it is fair to say it feels as though Zimbabwe’s only strategy at the moment is hope. But hope alone may not be an adequate strategy as the country walks through “the valley of the shadow of death”.
Psalm 23:4 says: “Yes, though I walk through the deep, sunless valley of the shadow of death, I will fear or dread no evil, for you are with me; your rod [to protect] and Your staff [to guide], they comfort me”
What Zimbabwe requires is leadership, nothing more and nothing less. Such leadership can courageously assemble a multi-disciplinary, cross-party, gender and generational inclusive group of thinkers that will start engaging in the business of thinking about Covid-19 Exit and a post Covid-19 strategy for economic structural transformation.
Kagoro is a lawyer and political analyst. — Twitter: @TamukaKagoro77.