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Monday, September 28, 2020

It should not be business or politics as usual in the course of Covid-19 pandemic

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Suruwa B. Wawa Jaiteh

It is hard to imagine life after Covid-19. But like all pandemics, this too shall pass, and most things will go back to the way they were. When it does, people will flock back to their usual routines, start attending the regular prayers at mosques and churches, attend family and friendly meetings, and spend tine with friends without having to practice social distancing, just like they used to do.

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But while things will go back to the way they were, hopefully not all things will do.
We will emerge from this crisis having learned new lessons, hopefully, one of which will be that, even the most challenging of times can be overcome when we, as a society of one-extended family, work together.

Let us not forget how the different sectors of society sprang into action in the early phase of this pandemic. How honest health workers, as opposed to the dishonest committee members who allocated themselves millions of dalasis, risked their lives, how local government units mobilised quickly on the ground to respond to their constituents and how academics rushed to development radio programmes (teaching) for schools, and how civil society and other institutional support groups developed and distributed audio-visual aids to better understand the virus and its impact on our life. Or how we, despite staying in our homes or working from homes, cobbled together our collective voices loud enough to be heard.

We should also not forget how volunteerism shone bright in the face of this adversity and uncertainty. How ordinary citizens, small, medium and big business owners banded together and dedicated themselves to helping our frontliners in their communities and in the hospitals. Or how the business community, religious groups, and civil society combined their efforts to step-up to try to fill the gaps.

A shining example of this, of course, is the fundraising organised by the Chamber of Commerce that generated millions of dalasis and the D12 million donated by Africell.
Initiatives like this and the proposed food bank by Ousainu Darboe highlight the multiplier effect that can come out of multi-sectoral partnership with the ministries of Local Government, Agriculture, visacas, micro-finance institutions, and so forth. This is development through appropriate governance. This is “a proposal we should nurture as we prepare to let people go back to full time work and to re-start our economy in the post pandemic period.”

The Ten Commandments tell us that “Thou shall not covet thy neighbour’s wife”. But, during the course of the Covid-19 pandemic, we can add an Eleventh Commandment which tells us that “Thou shall readily standby and support thy neighbour in distress”.
Indeed, as we hopefully move towards the end of the quarantine period and begin our journey towards a post-Covid-19 future, businesses will begin to start up again. A welcomed development, as this means thousands of Gambians can go back to work and get back to making a living.

However, after the damper the crisis and the regulations have put on the economy, I don’t think we can expect things to go back to business as usual. So while the IMF and World Bank are helping the country recover from the lost economic momentum due to the pandemic, the business community and the resource-poor farmers will need the support of strong government policy to bring back economic growth and opportunity to the country.
Our greatest challenge now is to outline a “strategy” that will study and identify the policies needed to help the country’s economy adjust to the “new normal”. It would be wishful thinking that the new policies to be identified will materialise immediately. No! But, given the bureaucratic red tape and inefficiency, that will clog our response, I wouldn’t hold my breath.

It may interest readers to know that we are, as a country still in our first phase of intervention: a clinical and medical response to rising Covid-19 cases, and has yet to enter Phase 2 and Phase 3 – social and economic recovery, respectively.

While these may be the case we should not wait before it is too late to identify and implement these “new normal” economic policies. As the restrictions are lifted, businesses will slowly start up again and will need clarity on the proposed policies to make effective business decisions. May Allah forbid that we come out of this health crisis only to be greeted by an economic one.

However, we should NOT create a situation where we regard the most competent and able as mere bystanders in the crafting of policies that will shape our country’s economic future. We have shown and we should continue to show the whole world, that we can come together as a society to credibly voice our concerns and effect meaningful change.

The proposed food bank is a way of putting our unfortunate brothers and sisters before us by pooling our resources to help them. It is a marvelous proposal. You may call it “cereal banking” that I and my colleagues in Jenoi-Mansa Konko worked on in the 1980s during the Freedom From Hunger Campaign/Action for Development and/or Food Security Days. This can be turned around after the pandemic to become a “development vehicle” that will create self-sustaining rural communities to properly address constraining factors and issues to generating increased production and productivity growth. These are the prerequisites to sustained national development. Appropriate regulations and governance structures could be designed for proper administration and management.

We should keep our vigilance and passion with us, as nationalists in the spirit of oneness to control this pandemic and rebuild our economy. We must not forget to continue to provide the required professionalism that will create, monitor and evaluate the policy environment wherein the synergies between the resource-poor farmer and public sector partnership can be harnessed to overcome the hardest of challenges. We must also not forget to keep our public officials competent and honest, demanding effectiveness and efficiency, but transparency and accountability as well.

With the guidance of our young and hardworking Minister of Health and his trusted colleagues, we will soon conquer the challenge and get to the post-Covid-19 “new normal”. We need to put this in mind that, when we get there, it won’t be business as usual; we should make sure it isn’t politics as usual either. May Allah (SWT) guide us.
Suruwa B Wawa Jaiteh is a former Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Health and also a researcher at the West Africa Rice Development Association (now Africa Rice Institute).

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