Writer: Nana Kwasi Gyan-Apenteng
Accra, Ghana//-Going “back to Bataan” was one of the phrases that stuck in my mind from childhood and I am sure people of a certain age will have no difficulty deciphering its meaning in our context.
For the benefit of the younger generation, let me explain that it was the title of a Second World War movie, magnificent in black-and white; the type in which the Americans always won.
However, for us, the phrase was used to denote going back to an original base, especially where progress is reversed. So, for example, when a football team lost its lead, we would say that it had gone back to Bataan.
This expression came to mind when I saw the number of Covid 19 cases jump up several times within the last ten days. My prayer was: Good Lord, please no back to Bataan!
The coronavirus appears to be teasing humankind, stalking and chasing us in an apparent merry go round around the globe. Its ability to change and develop new variants is playing havoc with the best laid plans of science and politics.
This time last year, the first wave of the virus had firmly established itself in this country, and though we got off comparatively lightly, its path of destruction and death was recognised by all; there was fear in the air.
In response, our government was swift to act by banning large gatherings such as churches, weddings and entertainments across the country. The government’s early deployment of test and trace method was successful and the President used the huge authority of his voice to establish communication between leader and led on a scale not seen since the First Republic.
The style and substance of the “Fellow Ghanaian” speeches telegraphed the seriousness of the situation to the population and although we never reached anywhere near total compliance with the protocols, the sheer numbers of Veronica buckets bucked the trend of our customary indiscipline sufficient enough to win international praise.
The second wave of the disease was the most disconcerting for Ghanaians due to the rapidity with which we lost many well known people. For a while, the shock and enhanced government communication had some impact. Religious worship, even when it was allowed was well controlled and other gatherings stayed within the prescribed limits. But Ghana being Ghana, such discipline did not stay for long.
Amazingly, it was not the ordinary people who undermined the regulations but the great and the good of the land. For example, at the height of the second wave, some traditional areas enstooled chiefs, funerals of prominent people were held with all caution thrown to the wind. The police did not even turn a blind eye; they participated and protected the culprits.
Thankfully, eventually, the number of new cases fell as the number of recoveries rose, which gave rise to all kinds of theories of Ghanaian exceptionalism – being God’s special creation; the weather, our outdoors culture and any other reason we could find to prove that we were impervious to Covid 19.
In the last few months, perhaps since April and coinciding with the first vaccinations, the majority of Ghanaians have behaved as if Covid was only a temporary phenomenon which has gone past us.
Apart from places of religious worship which have stuck to the protocols religiously and the big supermarkets and shops in the cities, the NO MASK NO ENTRY signs are just worn out decorations adorning the frontage of their establishments.
In fact, many shops and offices have abandoned face masks even for their employees so how can they insist that customers wear theirs? Veronica buckets have either disappeared or simply stand dry; even the big shops have stopped taking people’s temperature, especially if you are a known and regular customer. The government itself has signalled a certain level of lethargy in its own advocacy of the protocols and Fellow Ghanaian speeches have all but dried up.
In the circumstances, the new variant of the virus appears to have found willing allies in Ghana as we can see from the spike in the number of infections and deaths in recent days. In other words, we have set ourselves on the road back to Baatan!
It is not a nice thing to say that we are our own worst enemies, especially as we do have some legitimate enemies, even if we don’t know who they are. But in this case, we are truly our own enemies.
We all know that our authorities are bad at enforcing regulations. A nation that cannot enforce traffic regulations cannot be trusted to enforce much of anything; traffic offenses are committed in public and often do not require any forensic effort to establish the evidence. And yet, in Ghana, people break traffic and driving rules for fun. But on this occasion, and for the sake of even our unborn generations, we beg the government to ensure that we don’t get back to Baatan on Covid 19.
Given the precarious state of our health establishment, Covid 19 poses an existential threat bigger than anything we have faced in our nation’s history. Luckily, it lies within our capacity to ensure that the progress we have made so far is not reversed. The state must wake itself up and wake us up too. We dare not go back to Baatan on this one.
Writer: Nana Kwasi Gyan-Apenteng