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The Political Weaponization of Covid-19

LESEGO NSWAHU NCHUNGA
A little over a year ago, COVID-19 was declared a global pandemic. Like all other things, it became political.

In our country, its response has been led from the highest office, and not from the office with the technical expertise to lead anything health related. We saw the politicisation of aid offered in response to the pandemic. Invariably, the livelihoods of Batswana were impacted by politics in a way we have not seen for many years. What became apparent is that those we elected to lead our various interests, in Parliament, are not who we thought they are, on either side of the isle. I suppose the natural consequence of a problematic democracy and governance is the political weaponisation of all things, including those which should ideally be equally availed to all, reasonably. A health system that historically had minimal flaws, is now the site for this years’ corruption allegations, in the middle of a pandemic. That is the thing with rotten systems – they corrupt everything they come in contact with, no matter who they harm on the way – as long as those in the highest echelons of political power benefit, all things are fair game. Science is being suppressed for political and financial gain, with state corruption being unleashed on a larger scale than we have seen it.

Of course, the suppression of science is not peculiar to Botswana. Donal Trump’s administration were the most notorious to achieve this distraction of national attention. It ended in the election of a new President in the United States, but not after many had died as a result of Trump’s negligent leadership. In countries where the vaccine is being developed, we saw politicians suggesting that they act for the best interests of the populations, accelerating availability of diagnostics and treatments. The capitalism in the product innovation and bringing them to market was visibly rampant. The membership, research and lack of transparency in deliberations about the vaccine are examples of how this showed up.

A few years ago, leading up to the national elections, we explored politics from a lay person’s perspective, looking at the challenges voters have in selecting what we called the “best patriarch” to represent our needs in Parliament and in country leadership. This exploration was essential because our country politics are not left to political scientists and administration experts, as in other jurisdictions. We are, I suppose, a bit more open minded, and see leadership differently. One of the pieces we explored was political apathy, amongst voters, leading to the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) having to reopen voter registration a number of times, in efforts to encourage many Batswana to register to vote. We did. Many of us did. At the end of the day, Botswana

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Democratic Party were right, they are Botswana’s chosen political party, despite the many years of corruption allegations. The thing is that many opposition supporters centre the President in the criticisms against the corruption. What this does is that it shifts attention away from the real problem and we find ourselves re-selecting the problem, only this time, with a different face. If the recent vaccine saga did not show us that, I am not sure what will. The problem we have is systemic, and demands of us a greater interest in our national political framework.

Recently, news was published to the effect that the number of vaccines received by the Ministry of Health (MoH) were fewer than those ordered and expected. It is as yet unclear where the rest of the vaccines went, or what could have happened to them between the supplier and the delivery of the vaccines. In the same week, there were suggestions that Members of Parliament had had their vaccines administered to them at the residence of a prominent businessman. The comment by the Assistant at MoH was that it is not unusual for very important persons, at a wedding to be served their meal earlier, and at a different location from the masses characterises the administration’s treatment of their constituents. It’s an invitation for us to consider our decisions and choices very carefully and very critically.

Our leaders are showing us that they are neither strategic, nor are they as good at problem solving as we need them to be for the continued leadership of our country. More importantly, they are showing us that they are really where they are for their own benefit and not for ours. COVID-19 no longer being an emergency, the expectation is not that corruption would be inspired by it, but that concrete plans would have been developed for us to recover from it and for the vaccine to be administered to all members of the population. Yet, here, we find ourselves cheated out of at least a justifiable reason for the behaviour of our leaders and the MoH.

COVID-19 has not been without controversy, from whence it comes, to its introduction to the world as a global pandemic. The extent to which our politicians have reacted to it, making it fertile ground to harvest where they have not sown is completely disheartening. The suggestion that this behaviour was not limited to only the ruling party, but was also seen amongst opposition leaders makes it even more disappointing. I wonder still, if our next elections will bear the same fruits as the last ones did. Are we really these people.



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