If you watch recent videos in Ghana concerning COVID-19: from distribution of food, demonstrations, rituals by some chief priests, beach parties, people fetching water from a borehole and how people use public transport, among other things, it seems this social distancing rule is not working. The “normal” behaviour of the lower class is sending chills up the spines of the upper and middle class. The upper and middle class, who make up the minority are calling for total lockdown and strict measures to enforce the lockdown. The lower class may be likened to the four leprous men in Second Kings 7:3-20. If they step out, they (will contract the virus and) die. If they stay at home, hunger will kill them… whichever way, they will die anyway, so they choose the death that seems easier; step out. If they stay at home, their children will keep crying for food and they cannot stand it, so staying at home is not even an option. Food is fundamental, death is inevitable. When they realise they cannot escape death, they choose a much easier way to die, especially when children are involved. They are prepared to die trying than do nothing about the situation at all.
The important lesson we can learn from this is that, next time, when you are climbing up the ladder, pull that poor guy along… else he will keep you locked down till you also force yourself out and that is when you are likely to get infected by the virus. You may be careful, but you can never be very careful. As you protect yourself and the family, did it ever occur to you to extend a helping hand to those who live around you? Let us say, your house is not gated and a hawker who is COVID 19 positive but still active because symptoms are not showing yet comes to your house, presses the doorbell, you open the door and tell her you’re not buying whatever she is selling and she leaves. You step out of the house and your children who are alone at home decide to go and play with the doorbell… May sound disgusting but these are some of the ways through which we may get affected.
The middle and upper classes did enough shopping to stay at home for two weeks or more so that they can observe the lockdown and social distancing protocols, you did not even think about that poor neighbour of yours, a bag of rice, maybe would have been enough to keep her off the streets for a while. Then you watch the news and see that your neighbour has flouted all the rules and the spread is increasing day by day. You forgot the guy next door has no food and will have to survive.
The lower class, from our neglect have died many times before COVID-19. Those young women have been sleeping at the bus station at Kejetia (that is their home too) for years and you think they are afraid of a virus. They cross the high way when a vehicle moving at 120 km/h is 100 metres away from them, they chase moving vehicles in traffic, if they can take all these risks and some more, what is a virus (which they cannot see) to them? They sit on buckets from Accra to my hometown Wa (for about twelve to fourteen hours or more) in an over-loaded Kia truck and you think they are afraid of a virus.
A lot of people in middle and upper classes cannot even travel from Kumasi to Accra via buses from VIP or STC, even sitting in a plane for 30 to 40 minutes is stressful for them, and you think lower class people who hustle daily and live from hand to mouth can observe stay home and social DISTANCING protocols? The irony of the matter is the virus was brought into the country by the middle and upper class, a significant majority of the lower class do not even have a passport, they have never been to the airport, but we all are pointing fingers at them today because we feel they are spreading the virus. It is worrying to hear accounts of people using their private vehicles to transport others in and out of locked down areas. Will we still blame the lower class that rely mainly on trotro to move from one place to another? Absolutely not, the middle and upper classes own and use private vehicles more.
A lot of education has been carried out already to sensitise people on the virus, especially on how to stay safe. Government, some NGOs and individuals have also carried out donations to people as their contribution to help them stay at home. I do not have evidence to say that politics is at play here, but maybe the wrong people are receiving the donations and items. A lot of people who really need these donations do not even have smart phones, but videos of people complaining about the food government is distributing are circulating on social media and it is sad that we do not even appreciate the efforts that people are making to support us in these hard times. We did not have a lot of social policies to support people in lower class, majority of them lack basic needs; food and shelter especially, yet we sit unconcerned.
Now, we are trying everything to manage what is extremely difficult in a country like Ghana. Imagine what is happening in Nima now, how you manage such a communicable disease in Nima where houses are almost sitting on each other and you have to pass through a neighbour’s house to get into yours. You may say, well it is happening in Nima, you are living at East Legon so it’s no big deal, and besides you don’t buy from a hawker, but then the hawker touches money and gives it to someone as change, the person goes to shop at the mall and uses the money to pay the cashiers. You go to the mall to shop too and that same money that was handled by the hawker is given to you as change, you put it in your wallet, put the wallet in your pockets and go home. At home, you wash your hands and your children have already carried the grocery bags, you forget you touched them after touching money, then they start eating the ice-cream that you bought for them…there and then, the virus goes into their mouth. You and I know how it will end; in tears definitely. Meanwhile you have been staying at home and observing social distancing protocols.
We need to advocate for social systems and implement more pro-poor policies as soon as possible. Individuals should try and assist their neighbors more, some people have neighbors who need assistance but they bypass them to go and do donations at places where the media will feature and put them in the limelight. You don’t have to be in government to do this, you don’t have to be very rich to do this, you don’t need to have more than necessary to reach out to others. You could even share the meal you cooked for your family with those around you, if you cannot feed all of them, you can tell them to give it to their children. You can also make sure to verify information before you share so as not to cause fear and panic. Do not look too far away to contribute the little you have to help the fight against COVID-19. Stay at home if you can, wash your hands with soap under running water and observe all the other protocols.
This blog is dedicated to Ing George Ashiagbor, aka Nene, a lecturer at the department of Natural Resources, KNUST. He inspired and assisted me to put this piece together. Nene said “There is saying that when the rich refuse to share their riches with the poor, the poor will share their poverty with the rich”.CHEERS!
Photo Credit: The pictures (except that of Nene) in this post are from Eric Anadem (spenceranadem.wordpress.com)