The virus and President

The global outbreak of coronavirus is one of the biggest threats mankind has ever faced.

Forget the disruptions to economies worldwide and our ways of life, the sheer scale of fatalities is shocking.

The coronavirus is spreading rapidly and there is no immediate known vaccine although many who test positive are still able to recover. Across the world, governments are taking measures to stem its spread. Leaders of governments—presidents, prime ministers and kings—are making clarion calls against the threat, updating and educating citizens on what should be done to prevent further spread.

That is elsewhere, not here. Here, our President is oblivious to the global pandemic. By Friday when I wrote this, he had not even seen the need to even address the nation on the outbreak.

He had formed a Cabinet committee to address the problem then retreated in his bunker to focus on what is really his preoccupation the last eight months: how to maintain his party’s grip on power.

By doing so, President Peter Mutharika has reminded all and sundry that although holding executive office, he long abdicated leadership long time ago.

Time and time again, he demonstrates that he is more interested in the ruling party’s prosperity above all else.

Amid the post-election crisis that has engulfed the country since his re-election was rejected by the opposition and, subsequently, nullified by the Constitutional Court, citing massive irregularities, the President has been consumed by survival politics.

He has failed to unify the country, failed to defend the Constitution and now, failed to even lead during a crisis that elsewhere is uniting political rivals, albeit temporary, to save lives.

Mutharika may not see the urgency in the coronavirus outbreak, perhaps, because no Malawian has been infected or died due to the outbreak. But that’s not a holistic approach.

The country is no immune, in any way, to the outbreak.

Neighbouring countries—Tanzania and Zambia—have both registered cases. South Africa, our main trading partner—a country where Malawians travel to on a daily basis—has registered over 116 cases at the time I was writing this.

So, it’s not fear mongering but stating the obvious, to say that the virus could be here any moment.

Wouldn’t it then make more sense to try to prevent its arrival or prepare for such eventuality than bury our heads in the sand like the President is so fond of doing during crisis?

What makes the need even more urgent in our preparations is that our health system is in a state of despair.

Years of underfunding mean more hospitals continue to register critical drug shortages all the time, hospital wards are heavily congested with some instances seven children sleeping on hospital bed designed for one child.

At Kamuzu Central Hospital in Lilongwe, patients for years now sleep in open air corridors and verandas which have been turned into makeshift wards because our government is so ‘poor’ to finance proper expansion. Or build new hospitals.

Yet, the same poor government can afford to spend a whopping K600 million just to pay foreign lawyers to represent it in an appeal case few believe it can win. Yes, the same Mutharika government can pay K75 million to buy furniture for the office of the Chief Secretary.

Tell me what else could be more evil in a country where millions die in hospitals because they are no drugs and the country has been recently declared the hungriest nation on earth!

Sorry, I digressed.

The point is, coronavirus, if—or when—it reaches us, will find us without a good health system that can cure us. So, the best bet would be to be more robust with our preventive measures.

But here we are, with a President so distracted by politics and detached from reality even in the face of the global pandemic.

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