The year 2020 has been a difficult one in more aspects than one. Politically, the country went through unprecedented challenges. These challenges affected the running of business, which in turn affected all of us, socially and economically.
To add insult to injury, the country, along with the rest of the world, grappled with the Covid-19 pandemic during the greater part of the year. True, we did not come to a full-blown lockdown situation, like other countries did, but the freedom of movement and of physical association was significantly curtailed.
Schools and colleges were closed in March and only re-opened in September. The prolonged school holiday had its toll on learners, and many commentators have articulated these on different platforms. Suffice to say that we faced novel challenges as a country.
The pandemic was a threat to many businesses. The hospitality industry, for example, suddenly collapsed as the masses went into an involuntary sedentary lifestyle. I remember visiting a friend who was running a resort close to Liwonde National Park. Almost 100 percent of his patrons were from abroad, particularly Europe and America. By the time I visited him it had been over three months since the last patrons had visited. He was, therefore, forced to diversify into bee-keeping.
There have been threats in other sectors as well. Transportation, education, manufacturing, among other sectors, have all been negatively affected.
A few businesses were greeted with some opportunities. My wife and I travelled to Lilongwe in August to attend a wedding. Before the wedding, we met my wife’s friend who was running a tailoring business. She showed us all types of masks she was producing for her clients and we ended up buying some. She was working round the clock to meet the demand for masks, but could hardly cope.
Internet service providers saw an upsurge in traffic as more and more users resorted to virtual ways of doing things. Numerous virtual meetings on a global scale kept the developers of Zoom Meet and similar applications on their feet.
Necessity is the mother of invention. We have seen a number of innovations in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. Locally, our young people have engaged in the assembly of gadgets to help fight the pandemic. Ventilators, quad copters, soap and water dispensers, face shields and other gear have been assembled by our students at the Polytechnic, Malawi University of Science and Technology and other institutions. Internationally, we have seen several vaccines developed in record time.
Yes, the pandemic was a mixed bag in terms of opportunities and threats, but by far threats dominated the landscape. Economies went into recession, in some cases the worst recession for the past 100 or so years. Besides, scores of lives were lost to the pandemic. The year 2020 was one that everybody wants to forget.
We look forward to a more normal year in 2021. I am saying so with abated breath, as we are currently in the thick of a second wave, which we can only hope will soon pass. The figures—both locally and internationally—do not make good reading.
In the developed countries some vaccination programmes are already being rolled out. Should we pin our hopes on vaccination? The answer to this simple question is far from straightforward. Never in my life have I seen a vaccination programme shrouded in so much controversy as is the case now.
Self-appointed commentators say all manner of things against the introduction of vaccines. Conspiracy theories of all shapes and sizes are being propagated to prevent people from taking the vaccines. Sad, to say the least!
All things said, the outlook seems better in 2021. We will see health restored, businesses resuscitated, travel normalised and economies will rebound. This, obviously, will not happen overnight and is more likely than not to span a period longer than one year.
The year 2021 is the year we will see three missions arrive at Mars, one from UAE, the second from China and the third one from USA. The USA one, Perseverance, is scheduled to touch down in Mars’ Jezero Crater on February 18 just over one and a half months from now. An abundance of exciting science will follow the landing of Perseverance. We only need to hold our breaths.
Locally, we seem to be headed for a bumper harvest. The healthy crops I have seen wherever I have been point to this reality. Perhaps our dream to have three meals per day will, indeed, be realised, except for those who are too lazy to do anything for themselves.
Searching with the possibilities that 2021 will bring, it appears we will have a more normal year.