Another difficult year comes to an end. If humans had their way, they would prefer uninterrupted life of good fortunes, joy and happiness, peace and tranquillity. Life should be enjoyed here on Earth and in Heaven! Hence, ‘Everybody wants to go to Heaven, but nobody wants to die,’ as noted by the late Jamaican reggae star Peter Tosh in his evergreen song, ‘Equal Rights.’
Indeed, many cannot understand why ‘bad things happen to good people.’ But the reality of life is that human existence is incomprehensibly characterized by a mixture of good, bad and the ugly, love and hatred, happiness and crises. It is a delicate tapestry of desires, successes and failures, thrills and chills, unmet expectations and disappointments. Similarly, peace is not the absence of war, conflict or crisis, but the ability to manage them.
The explanation for the contrasts in human life may lie in philosophy, such as in the Parable of the Weeds: The Wheat and the Tares narrated in the Scripture (Matthew 13:24–43). A man sowed good seed (wheat) during the day; but while he slept, his enemy came and sowed weed among the wheat. The man’s servants wanted to pull up the weeds but were warned by their master that in so doing they would root out the wheat as well. They were instead enjoined to let both grow together until the harvest. Matthew later identified the weeds with ‘the children of the evil one,’ and the wheat, ‘the children of the Kingdom.’ Many of us in obeying the natural instinct would behave like the servants. But thank God for His thoughts are different; and His ways are not our ways!
As the World continues to grapple with the devastation of the Coronavirus pandemic in this unusual Festive Season at the end of a difficult year, I wanted us to internalise the lessons of perseverance in dealing with human adversities or afflictions with the knowledge and conviction that there is always light at the end of the tunnel. There is victory after the battle, and that a Crown comes with the Cross.
Just like in 1918 (with the Spanish Flu) and several other years noted for high fatalities from health pandemics, 2020 occupies a dubious space in the catalogue of human miseries. But this was particularly due to the failure of leadership, inability to learn from experiences and the danger of putting politics above science. And what about the epidemic of conspiracy theories that continues to stand in the way of rational thinking, and people-centred decision-making and effective governance?
Towards the end of 2019 through early 2020, the World went into a spin of denial from China followed by ignorance and confusion in other parts of the globe regarding the emergence of what later became known as the novel Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19). So much has been said and written about how the secretive Socialist People’s Republic, an emerging economic power with the world’s largest population of some 1.4 billion people either mismanaged or concealed vital information, which many felt could have assisted the rest of the world’s more than 6 billion people in proactively battling a disease that erupted from Wuhan, the capital of the Chinese central Hubei Province last December.
While scientists and medical institutions, including the World Health Organization (WHO) were still processing the skeletal information on how to beat the deadly new virus or determine its cause/s, politics had seized the space for meaningful conversation and action.
Amid the global communication crisis and mixed messaging/messages, the virus escaped from China and in a matter of weeks had touched all parts of the globe.
By 20th December 2020 according the World Health Organization (WHO) situation Dashboard, the Coronavirus had killed almost 1.7 million people from the more than 75 million cases reported from late January in more than 200 countries and territories worldwide.
Efforts undertaken by countries to control or stamp out the pneumonia-like illness have ranged from panic, to transactional, politically-motivated and election-driven, official denial, conspiratorial theories, leaving little room for science-based possible solutions. Some of the drastic anti-virus measures have included national lockdowns and widespread halts of international travel, among others, resulting in mass layoffs, economic recession and huge financial losses.
A study by the Oxford University has shown that more than 140 governments placed blanket bans on incoming travellers, closed schools, restricted gatherings and public events.
Meanwhile, the epicentre of the pandemic has continued to shift, from the origin China, to Europe and the US, and then to developing countries, especially Brazil.
Health experts have warned that the worst may not be over, but the apocalyptic disaster predicted for Africa and most developing countries has yet to materialize if at all. According to the WHO figures, the Americas lead the COVID-19 infection chart with more than 32.4 million reported cases, followed by Europe 23.7 million, South-East Asia 11.6 million, Eastern Mediterranean 4.6 million, followed by Africa with 1.7 million, and then Western Pacific with one million.
Surprisingly, but more as a consequence of questionable decisions and the character and leadership style of the occupant of the White House, the US, a World super power, which prides itself as one of the oldest developed democracies has fared rather abysmally in the management/mismanagement of the coronavirus pandemic. With an estimated population of 330 million, instead of leading in effective health care delivery system, American has been caught napping, recording more infections and deaths per capita – 17.6 million and more than 316,300, respectively.
Apart from the dismal performance in the handling of the disease, the land of equal rights and great opportunities became a battle ground for prolonged street protests for and against efforts to deal with coronavirus and against police brutalities and racial inequalities spearheaded by the Black Lives Matter campaign with a huge question mark on the country’s democratic credentials.
President Donald J. Trump, a business and celebrity showman who had surprised even himself and proved bookmakers wrong by defeating Pro-establishment Mrs Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential vote, again turned history on its end by not only refusing to concede an obvious defeat by former Vice President, Joe Bidden, but has recklessly engaged in embarrassingly un-American legal moves to overturn the results of the December 3 presidential poll. The jury is still out on Trump and his legacy, but ‘Trumpism’ has come to represent a global bad practice in democratic governance particularly going by America’s high standards.
Even so, there are positive fall-outs from the catastrophic Trump presidency, including the renewed focus on racism, police brutality, social injustices and attempts towards greater inclusivity going by the new government being assembled by President-elect Joe Biden. Also, the perennial allegations of vote suppression in States like Georgia and Pennsylvania, where Blacks and minority voters had suffered disenfranchisement are receiving attention. Doubtless, American democracy has suffered a huge dent, but despite Trump-engineered turbulence, there is every indication that the American political system will survive the anti-democratic assaults, beginning with the inauguration of Joe Biden as the country’s 46th president on 21st January 2021.
There are also positives from the coronavirus global pandemic, which impacts are still unravelling. These include the amazing response from health workers, especially the scientists and frontline/first responders in the face of political obstacles and the heroism by many in spite of their own challenges. Virologists say it normally takes about four years to develop a vaccine against a virus like COVID-19. But as a demonstration of the triumph of science over politics, at least three anti-coronavirus vaccines by Pfizer and Biontech, Moderna and Oxford University are now available, within one year of the emergence of the disease. There might not be any convincing reason why similar efforts have not been deployed to develop a vaccine against malaria which kills more people than all other diseases and major world conflicts combined, especially in developing countries. However, the spirited fight against coronavirus has shown that the world can act decisively when there is cooperation, political will and determination.
No doubt, COVID-19 pandemic has negatively impacted the world to the extent of defining how humans live, work and play. The world may never be the same post-coronavirus era. But there are also rooms for innovation and creativity with abiding lessons from the protocols of the ‘new normal’ – mask wearing, physical distancing, hand-washing and sanitizing, e-learning, e-medicine, e-worshipping, and working from home with more on-line than in-person meetings.
The fall-outs from the last presidential election and the street protests for racial equality and social justice should compel a reassessment of America’s democratic status, just like the COVID-19 should be a wake-up call for positive changes to the flawed global political and socio-economic governance systems. The underbellies of global inadequacies have been exposed and must be fixed.
Conspiracy theories will not cease and there will still be issues about equitable distribution, safety, efficacy and possible harmful side effects of the anti-coronavirus vaccines. But the fact that the drugs have been produced in record time, coupled with the values of humanity from the heroic efforts of health workers, some risking their own lives to save others and the outpouring of support for the Black Lives Matter movement across races in major world capitals represent some modest gains from perseverance even amidst chaos and confusion. It shows that working together as individuals, groups or as nations, humans can overcome adversities and achieve progress for a better world.
Merry Christmas, Happy Holiday and Happy New Year, 2021 to one and all!
By Paul Ejime