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Pandemics and crises demand decisive leadership

President Mokgweetsi Masisi may have just dealt the first blow to his credibility and possibly his legacy. How he handles the COVID-19 crisis will set the tone for his administration’s crisis management capabilities.

After his administration-imposed travel restrictions on all official government travels, the President defied his own administration’s move to contain the spread of the coronavirus and travelled to Namibia for President Hage Geingob’s inauguration.

The COVID-19 outbreak has turned out to be an extremely politicised crisis of grave scale. The justification behind the ‘emergency trip’ to Namibia was insufficient and at most, a grave miscalculation on the part of the presidency.

The argument that the trip was an opportunity to discuss the outbreak with other heads of state ‘face to face’ was counterintuitive. Firstly, the country hard-hit with the greatest number of cases (South Africa) was not in the room.

Considering the regional dynamics and the position South Africa holds in the region, it did not make sense that the three Presidents would be discussing ‘regional solutions’ without the rest of the region in the room.

In addition to that, it does not seem like any of what was discussed in that meeting bore any fruit, as the three countries would’ve put restrictive measures in unison.

In essence, the President took a miscalculated risk that took him away from the frontlines at a time when he should be more hands on and in the eyes of the public, ‘present with authority’.

We remember that at the height of the HIV/AIDS crisis, President Festus Mogae rose to the challenge in what became the defining moment of his presidency. And so, at this point, we cannot help but wonder: What would F.G. Mogae do? Now faced with the outbreak of the COVID-19 (coronavirus) on our doorstep, President Masisi no doubt has a string of potential crises that will most likely fall on his lap in the next month or two.

The global economy was already ripe for a recession even before the coronavirus pandemic struck. Stock markets were overheated; advanced economies were heading for a slowdown, and America’s protectionist policies had disrupted supply chains and ushered in an era of heightened uncertainty. Now, global stock markets are heading for a crash, and a recession has become most inevitable.

The coronavirus has spread rapidly across the globe with more than a hundred thousand reported cases, and more than 10,000

deaths, impacting on almost every aspect of the global economy, trade, stock markets, tourism and normal day to day activities such as school and work.

Schools and universities have suspended classes; businesses have closed down or scaled back to contain the spread of the virus. Neighbouring South Africa is on the brink of possibly reaching a thousand positive cases and worries about the impact on its neighbouring smaller economies like Botswana are ringing louder.

Such periods remind us of the difference leadership, particularly decisive leadership, can make in putting in place containment and preventive strategies to combat any shock to the country’s systems, population and institutions.

The first line of defence should be healthcare. The coronavirus outbreak reminds us that quality healthcare and universal access to it are pertinent and long overdue.

Although Botswana has made healthcare relatively affordable and accessible, the quality of healthcare institutions has collectively declined over the years. The ability to respond timeously is also critical. The healthcare sector is also not equipped with enough human capital and would be overstrained should a massive breakout occur within the country.

This public health emergency waiting to happen will deepen both the economic and geopolitical recession that we are on the brink of and the national leadership must show more interest in quarterbacking a coordinated response.

From the perspective of the economy, the majority of businesses will suffer from a sudden loss and/or decline of business activity. Coronavirus adds to pressure on supply chains, negatively affecting trade, movement of goods and people and finally, accelerating the pressure and unexpected burden on the public fiscus. 

Corporations will be hit from multiple directions, but the downfall of distracted and overwhelmed governments will create opportunities that businesses must exploit fully.

Now more than ever, the President and his Cabinet will need to immediately line up the economic response package that addresses critical sectors. The currency that validates leadership right now is time: President Masisi will need to be more responsive, timely, transparent while remaining accountable and firmly decisive in order to fend off the massive risk that an outbreak presents.

*Bakang Ntshingane is a political economist with interests in politics, trade and foreign policy.

Opinion & Analysis



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