Days before the partial lockdown was declared in Ghana, I have been quite restless over the weeks, a nation in distress, panic and pensive mood. My organization had just sent a red-flag message to us to go home, being a proactive organization, it will be in the best interest of management to let all staff work from home as we see danger looms.
Accra became choked all of a sudden and I felt Christmas in an atmosphere of uncertainty, such magnitude of heads both young and old only appears prior to a major festive season with a mad rush for anything in the market that is what the Ghanaian spirit is known for, indeed we are not in ordinary times.
The elites and the middle class in Ghana had already mobilized their voices on all social media platforms calling for a lockdown. The radio and television stations as usual brought in the force of the microphone to mount pressure on the government to lockdown the country. The debate was that simple and straight forward, global trends is in favour of a total lockdown as the most effective alternative left to fight a pandemic killing thousands of people.
Our elders will say: “if you see your neighbor’s house burning you better prepare for yours”. More staggering truth is a collapsing health system behind our chicken coop which is already weak and can’t be relied on in such trying times.
Some had debated the President had been slow in locking down our air, sea and land space. The pundits were expecting a lockdown a month or weeks before the president mounted his authoritative dais and had already blamed the leader and questioned his competence and leadership assertiveness.
Corona Virus was in town, this supreme creation of mankind started its journey somewhere in November 2019 from a competing global giant China. Some theorists propound that this virus was created to distort a World’s System largely controlled by the ideals of Capitalism and to shake the foundation of the concepts of globalization. COVID19 started to spread like wildfire and exhibited a potential threat of eroding lives within days.
The World Health Organization, WHO declared COVID19 a Public Health Emergency of International Concern on 30 January 2020 with some criticizing the Organization for their late response towards the pandemic. Are they to be blamed? Haven’t they adequately signalled and raised the red-flag to all sovereign States to prepare for the worse and to show solidarity as the pandemic surges?
Our elders say, the stick of truth may be overstretched but truth will eventually prevail. We cannot overlook the fact that Africa was asleep and had always been sleeping. A wise man once admonished me that: “When the roots of a tree begin to decay, it spreads death to the branches”, indeed that had been our situation, when those who feed us with their loans and goodies were experiencing the devastating situation of COVID19 we forgot that in no time this will spread to us. We had the believe that God loved us the most and as such His compassion wouldn’t allow this virus to plague us.
The ideologists of black power espoused how metallic the African blood and genetic systems were to be affected or induced by this man-made virus from the Western World.
There came the philosophers of the sun who believed the gods of the “sun and heat” will fight this virus and battle for us. Afterall, we have world proclaimed Bishops, Prophets and Pastors who can predict which Presidential Candidate wins an election and can as well, see through their prophetic diadems to declare the number of celebrities or politicians to die.
At the other side of the story is the voice of the voiceless, those who by virtue of birth have been neglected on the streets, the homeless, the hawkers, the disabled and the head potters, the young hardworking lass we call “Kayaye”; I see through their eyes and heart and I sense their agony, the feeling of uncertainty and insecurity. Were they cursed at birth? Or they are just victims of bad governance, corruption, greedy political and economic system? When the middle class and the elites were crying for a lockdown they forgot them, they egotistically, forgot the fact that more than 60% of our population are poor and cannot afford a dignified life, a situation borne out of a country that has over the years failed to put in place a social protection support system for its own citizens crinkled by circumstances of socialization and cultural failure. The street is their home and a place of solace, that is where they make their living, so if you say a country should be under a lockdown it beacons on leadership to find lasting solutions on how they can be protected and treated with some dignity, sharing food to them on the streets and giving them cash-outs shouldn’t be the only approach, there must be a social protection strategy during and after the COVID19 pandemic.
At this point, may I put on my Development Communication spectacle to analyze the communication and information strategy of those at the frontline battling this pandemic. I can only presume we have a strategy in place and based on that premise better placed to ask if this strategy is working.
In this lockdown we have seen how people have ignored the directives of the President, some to the extent of going to the beach to have epic ecstasy. We have seen how people are defying social distancing to the point of conducting marriage and funeral ceremonies, we still see in times like this vehicle moving around and our markets choked and full to the brim.
I was not surprised as I drove in town last week to buy some glossaries, at the point of being served one of the attendants said she was surprised why people were scared about the coronavirus, according to her the virus is only attracted to the rich in society and not to the poor. This misinformation and lack of education persist irrespective of government claims of doing a lot of education on the ground.
In my observation, though the Ministry of Information is doing well in their information flow, it suffices to point out that communication goes beyond information dissemination through mass media and press conferences. There must be a shift from the usual methods of information flow to a more comprehensive strategy under the concept of communication for development. This concept of communication is a systematic, planned and evidence based strategic process aimed at promoting positive and measurable behavior and social change.
This strategy uses Behavioral Change Communication to culminate Information, Education and Communication outcomes.
Knowing that majority of Ghanaians are in rural communities, it is imperative for the government to activate community engagements, social mobilization to reach out to our folks in the rural communities. It is also imperative to reach out to the opinion leaders such as traditional rulers and public figures in the various communities to take charge of educating their people on the pandemic. This approach will help to decentralized communication and the messages into the language of the people for effective education.
Above all, adopting a participatory approach of communication and community dialogue where all stakeholders are given key roles to play in the messaging and communication process will ensure trust of ownership in the message and can culminate behavioral and social change a key factor needed in fighting the COVID19.
As we all muse over this pandemic and this trying moment, I encourage all of us to keep practicing the preventive measures and the directives given in fighting this virus. Keep washing your hands with soap under running water.
Let us keep showing compassion to the poor and exhibit solidarity to win this fight against the deadly Coronavirus.