The coronavirus is bad news. Economies are in shambles, thousands of lives lost or bedridden, barely surviving and now dependent on life-support.
Life, as we knew it, has been upended and suspended. We live in a world in peril—facing an invisible and, for now, invincible enemy who has put a knife to all things that we held dear.
For Malawians, while counting our blessings, that the virus has, for now, not devastated us, in terms of death toll and confirmed cases, as worst hit countries, we are, still, already reeling from economic hardships. And even the death of one person is tragic.
But as businesses slow down, amid a raft of measures to prevent the spread of the virus—experts call it flattening the curve—the majority of Malawians, both in the formal and informal sector, eat from hand-to-mouth, literally and otherwise, now face a nightmare as markets and factories shut down.
While in advanced economies governments are giving the unemployed packages to help survive, that’s unthinkable here. While companies are receiving bailouts to keep employees on the payroll, here, our government cannot guarantee that even in this crisis, every health centre has drugs as you read this.
Billions have been released from Treasury to fight the pandemic. Ordinarily that’s good news. But here, that means half the money going into people’s pockets; most of the funds spent on sitting allowances or meaningless expenditures such as hotel bills (note how ministers are addressing us from hotels, not Capital Hill or any other government office).
In this country, going by our livid experience, even as the world turns to health workers to fight this invisible enemy, we can predict that our frontline workers will get little out of the kitty. We, know, too, that the now famous ventilators, which by all means we have in inadequate numbers, will not be procured as required.
From our livid experience, we can predict, though, that deals such as buying sanitisers will be prioritised and outsourced to the politically-connected who will procure them on bloated costs.
It’s a pessimism, yes! But it’s a pessimism with a basis.
There are just too many previous examples for us to ever just believe that our government will suddenly act any differently. The whole government system, as Paul Mphwiyo told us, is a criminal enterprise.
So, while coronavirus is bad news for the rest of us, it is good news for the business people, the allowance churning officials, but even better news for the ruling party.
Indeed, this is manna from heaven for the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). A timely distraction from the fresh elections ordered by the Constitutional Court (ConCourt) which, truth be told, looked like an uphill task for party.
The party’s morale was at its lowest ebb after the ConCourt blow—the nullification of the presidential election that the party thought had guaranteed it another five years in power—and formation of the formidable opposition alliance which looked, until the virus came to the rescue, poised to win the fresh elections.
Those elections may still come within the 150 days, as ordered by the court, or not—dependent on how the same courts answer the most formidable question of the day—whether to risk further spread of the virus and proceed with the election process; or put public health considerations over need to ensure constitutional order.
If the courts, allow deviation from the February 3 ruling, it means DPP will continue ruling indefinitely, albeit, with questionable constitutional legitimacy.
Surely, though, the DPP will use whatever grace period it has acquired, or will acquire, to boast its base.
The outbreak could be an opportunity to show Malawians that President Peter Mutharika still has some traits of leadership in him and the DPP can provide effective responsive and responsible government when it’s needed.
That idea, though, does not seat well with DPP’s chequered history; history of abuse of power and incompetence, or Mutharika’s laid back, detached style.
Yet on Tuesday, Malawians went to bed in disbelief after the President delivered a sterling address that won applause across the political divide. A day later, he delivered, according to many who watched, typical rambling rants that left most, once again shaking their heads, this time, wondering why the heck they had stayed so late to listen to him.
But in all fairness, history will not judge Mutharika by manner of his speeches—an obvious flaw, but how, presented with the worst public health threat of his presidency, or any presidency, here or anywhere on earth and history, he ensured the public is protected, ensured public funds are channelled prudently and our democracy remains viable.