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A response to Matambo’s budget

In this week's piece I wish to share with my readership the views I expressed in parliament on the budget. 

Mr Speaker I wish to begin by registering a complaint and citing a major weakness in our democracy. When the head of state speaks in parliament, his speech is broadcast live on BTV and Radio Botswana.

When the budget speech is presented, the same applies but surprisingly when the leader of opposition presents an alternative program, he is not accorded the same privilege. This is a clear sign that ours is indeed a dictatorship that continues as a democracy.

May be before you gloat about your image next time, be reminded that there are vibrant and functional democracies out there. In fact, I can't help but wonder, if you are so confident about your democratic credentials, if you confident about your ideas and performance in parliament, why don't you broadcast parliament live and allow Batswana the right to access to information- so they make informed choices.

I also want to make this important point that you honourable minister successfully paints a gloomy picture of our economic situation and then abandon us there. You do not provide or chat the path out of this gloom. I would have expected you to offer the nation an aggressive recovery plan of how you intend to help the economy through the difficult times. I will return to this point. Let me first deal with an important point of the budget as a policy tool.

There is a misconception that the budget is simply about allocations of funds. Thomas Dye defines policy "as everything a government does or does not do" and therefore a budget speech as a spending plan should reflect government priorities for the following year. Budget as a Policy Tool would mean that the budget is a statement of the policy priorities for a particular year.

So at a macro level, for example we need to know how much is earmarked for the notorious ESP. For example with regard to education, the minister has been allocating more money to education but instead of improving, the results have been forever plummeting. In my constituency, we concerned with the results of Segoditshane, Boikhutso, Notwane Primary Schools. In this same vein, allow me to congratulate camp primary school for their sterling performance despite difficult conditions such old and dilapidated houses for teachers.

Minister I want to argue that Because of a missed opportunity to use the budget as a policy tool, we have confusion in our education policy direction.

As a result of this, there is what I would call a systematic attempt to destroy the pride of Batswana- the University of Botswana through a drastic reduction in sponsorship of the arts. Global educational thinking is moving towards multidisciplinary, to produce well rounded graduates, who would aid our developmental efforts and take them to the next level.

The confusion in policy manifests also in the form of mixed priorities – for example the BDF expenditure on weaponry.

As Hon Molao was speaking I couldn't help but wonder how did we get here. To a situation where the people who make it into position of power struggle to make head or tail of very basic concepts.

You spoke of 2014 bringing babies to parliament and I was tempted then, not now, then, to say that it might be better to have babies in Parley cause there is room for growth n improvement. I think you would agree with me that it would be more tragic to have babies tramped in adult bodies because that would mean doom and gloom. You quoted one MP from the opposition saying we need a small and professional army. That is the point. Getting to know exactly what our army needs. Our army needs helicopters not fighter jets.

Our disciplined forces need us to address the welfare of our men in uniform at the police, BDF and prisons. 

Answering my question in this house last year, The responsible minister told this house that a consultancy looking into the salaries of the police, BDF and prisons will have completed the job by end of February last year and he expected the officers to begin enjoying the new structures in April last year. We moving to another April, another round of salary negotiations is ongoing and these men and women are left behind.

I am always brought to tears when I remember the Dilapidated and inhabitable houses in prisons at village camp and at the former police college. I am reminded of an officer with 5 years of service, five years of wearing our uniform proudly at SSG camp in Maruapula staying in a tent for those five years. How will buying fighter jets help these men and women in uniform.

How will it improve their morale.

I want to also posit that there is Lack of a clear developmental philosophy that informs the thinking in this budget. You do not show honourable minister that you are indeed in touch with global thinking on development. The proposal on Local Economic Development (LED) is welcome.

But the proposal raises a lot of questions. Why is the government talking about LED only now? Your commitment as a government is suspect. Your government is centralizing instead of decentralization. 

We know why the government is centralising rather than decentralising development management. It is consolidating state capture.

Centralisation has nothing to do with government efficiency and effectiveness and everything to do with government tenders. When ministers and civil servants are free to do business with government, state capture intensifies. Prove us wrong. Take LED seriously and move expeditiously on decentralisation. In fact, let his honour the Vice President tell us that as the man in charge of poverty, employment creation and economic diversification, he shall personally ensure that government moves fast and purposefully on LED.



The world has recognised and embraced the growing and strategic role of cities in economic development. This is an inevitable outcome of globalisation. National borders are becoming more and more irrelevant to the flow of goods and services and farsighted governments around the world are giving cities more space to make polices for their development. Part of the reason we want decentralisation is to accord a sophisticated city such as Gaborone freedom from limiting decisions made at the MLGRD.



Gaborone is fast growing city. The people of Gaborone have the capacity to run a successful and vibrant local economy, if we can allow them to. It has a potentially strong tax base, if fiscal authorities could be creative. If you allowed us we would be able to deal with problems such as bad dusty internal roads, no streets lights, and unemployment that is spiralling out control.

The ESP and economic transformation

Before I speak about ESP, I would like to introduce a concept, actually a propaganda technique often credited to Adolfo hitter termed "a big lie". Hitler believed in the use of a lie so colossal that it would be almost impossible for it not to be believed.

He opined that telling this lie repeatedly and frequently would make it believable. 

Ours is a society in which economic literacy is low even amongst those with tertiary qualifications. We expect leaders to be concerned enough about this to seek to do something about it, not to ruthlessly exploit it for political gain. Yet this is precisely what is happening with the ESP.



The Vice President, some ministers, the Secretary General of the ruling party and party propagandists have to date used every medium they could access to sell the untruth that the ESP is a bold plan to transform the economy.

As it came out in bits and pieces, first through the SONA, then the brochure, and now the budget, it has become apparent that as the LOO has observed, this is irresponsible, cruel and fraudulent, especially to the extent that unsuspecting people have been urged to register companies in large numbers to chase the phantom of broad-based opportunity that the ESP has turned out to be.

There is nothing bold about this intervention, not the idea, not the amounts involved and certainly not the potential. The only thing bold and audacious about it is the dishonesty and deviousness behind it. We have been told that it is a bold plan to transform the economy.

The budget figures tell a different story. There is no fiscal expansion here, no ramping up of demand and therefore no stimulus.

The budget for the ESP is only P2 billion. It is naïve, even if we were to accept the wholly irrational position that money is what the economy needs the most to build momentum towards transformation, to imagine that P2 billion would suffice. This is not sufficient to deliver benefits to the many. It will of course line the pockets of a couple of tenderpreneurs and grease the palms of a couple of corrupt public servants and politicians. More so that it looks like a plan to circumvent normal public procurement processes.



The ESP basically has no design. It is backlog eradication. It is the EDD. His Honour the Vice President said on the floor of parliament in November 2015 that the ESP was brilliantly conceived and brilliantly delivered by the President. With all due respect, your Honour, you are being very unkind to the President. There is no programme design in the ESP. It is as poorly conceived and designed as the monumental disaster that the Poverty Eradication Framework has become.

It should be cause for concern that the person responsible for the ESP is none other than his honour the Vice President.

This is the same man who has led the disinformation on the ESP, perhaps because he does not understand it, has failed dismally on another important initiative, poverty eradication. He has to date failed to deliver a Poverty Eradication Policy he promised the 2009-2014 parliament more than once. He has also failed by the way, to deliver the Freedom of Information Act he promised to deliver within months whilst torpedoing a Private Member’s bill by Honourable Dumelang Saleshando. Can we trust him with an equally weighty assignment such as job creation? I don’t. The disinformation he has started on says we should not. Either he does not understand what is expected of him or he treats this as the vote catching and wealth transfer gimmick it is.



Local Economic Development Decentralisation
 The proposal on Local Economic Development (LED) is welcome. But the proposal raises a lot of questions. Why is the government talking about LED only now? Its commitment is suspect.

LED has been on the table for about four years now, confined to a department within the Ministry of Local Government, the Botswana Association of Local Authorities and a few enterprising local authorities. The rest of government, including the MFDP, has not shown any real interest in this initiative, which may explain why it has stalled.

The MFDP should henceforth ensure that as a coordinating ministry, it engages the MLGRD and helps it mobilise the rest of government to ensure that government moves beyond talking on LED.

We also doubt the Government’s commitment to LED because, as the LOO has correctly observed, the government is not interested in decentralisation.

You cannot pursue LED effectively through local authorities that have no power to make decisions that matter. Central government still appoints their CEOs and operational personnel, determines their strategies and in fact influences every sphere of their operation. In fact, over the last few years, the government has been centralising functions and decision making (water and health are cases in point) with serious adverse effects on the delivery of services.

We know why the government is centralising rather than decentralising development management. It is consolidating state capture. Centralisation has nothing to do with government efficiency and effectiveness and everything to do with government tenders.

When ministers and civil servants are free to do business with government, state capture intensifies. Prove us wrong. Take LED seriously and move expeditiously on decentralisation. In fact, let his honour the Vice President tell us that as the man in charge of poverty, employment creation and economic diversification, he shall personally ensure that government moves fast and purposefully on LED.

The world has recognised and embraced the growing and strategic role of cities in economic development.

This is an inevitable outcome of globalisation. National borders are becoming more and more irrelevant to the flow of goods and services and farsighted governments around the world are giving cities more space to make polices for their development. Part of the reason we want decentralisation is to accord a sophisticated city such as Gaborone freedom from limiting decisions made at the MLGRD.

Gaborone is fast growing city. The people of Gaborone have the capacity to run a successful and vibrant local economy, if we can allow them to.

It has a potentially strong tax base, if fiscal authorities could be creative. If you allowed us we can address challenges such as Bad, dusty internal roads, streets lights that seldom lay work and unemployment that is spiraling out of control.

Youth unemployment
Of all our failings, if there is one we can ill-afford, it is to fail our youth. To fail them is to fail the country.

The cost of a poor education system and failure to engage young educated people today will reflect decades from now in our decline down competitiveness rankings and a downward spiral that will be difficult to reverse. The band aid being proposed now in the form of special initiatives with no prospects long term sustainability and delivering results will shortly be proved inadequate.

There are no short cuts. We must commit to:

a) Economic transformation as a matter of agency: We in the UDC will roll up our sleeves and challenge experts in and outside the UDC to help us develop one but we will be even happier to join the government in finding a pathway out of the current trajectory of slow and jobless growth.

b) Regulatory reform: The LOO has spoken at length about this. It is a matter we must keep emphasising and we urge business, civil society and the youth to join us so that our voice becomes louder and more difficult to ignore as we call for burdensome regulation to fall. This is not rocket science. Stop vetting investors. Stop DIS from harassing investors. Make business regulation generally more efficient and less cumbersome.

Do away with the archaic work and resident permit procedures that stand in the way of FDI, business growth and employment creation. Work towards faster contract enforcement mechanisms. 

These measures and investment in high speed internet access, will spur growth and create jobs. 
c) Empower the youth and create opportunity: Unemployment is not simply a problem of lack of skills. I would argue that it is in fact more a problem of lack of opportunity. Employers will, for the most part be able train educated youths they employ to suit their specific needs. That does not mean that public policy should not deal with skills. It should. But we have a problem in this country.

Much of the training that we avail today is useless because regulators are allowing ill-equipped profit seekers to profit from the misery of our youths and unemployed people. Let us look more closely at the rapidly growing population of entities providing training and satisfy ourselves that they are meeting our requirements. 


In conclusion I wish to speak to workers of this country.

Like the prophet of old has said you have nothing more to lose than the chains in your hands. Beware of the wolf in sheep skin in your midst. Beware of unions and union leaders who have hijacked the workers struggle yet they are tools in the hands of the enemy to offset your march to victory. Remember unity is key. Let me also speak to friends on the other side of the aisle. We are mismanaging labour relations. Tensions breeds inefficiency. The current stalemate at the bargaining council is a case in point. It cannot be right to treat our workers like this.

You still have a chance to be on the right side of history. When there was talk of an event where you queued up to receive ESP projects I thought of tshepo tshola"s song "waiting for my name to be called" I hope it isn't true because it would be sad if Government resources were shared like gangsters would share the loot after a successful night out not after a good in the office.

To you minister Matambo a future historian will have to record that it was under your tutelage that our economy was ransacked and mismanaged.

Say NO to the ever expanding Botswana Democratic Party patronage network. Say NO to the Khama oligarchy and chose Botswana and Batswana. Stop making a butchery of your conscience. Be like the biblical Shadreck, Abednico and Meshack who chose to go into the furnace of fire instead of worshiping the golden image of king Nebuchadnezzar. May God help you and may he bless our country abundantly. I rest my case

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The Corona Coronation (Part 10)

9th July 2020

Ever heard of a 666-type beast known as Fort Detrick?

Located in the US state of Maryland, about 80 km removed from Washington DC, Fort Detrick houses the US army’s top virus research laboratory. It has been identified as “home to the US Army Medical Research and Materiel Command, with its bio-defense agency, the US Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases, and  also hosts the National Cancer Institute-Frederick and the National Interagency Confederation for Biological Research and National Interagency Biodefense Campus”.

The 490-hectare campus researches the world’s deadliest pathogens, including Anthrax (in 1944, the Roosevelt administration ordered 1 million anthrax bombs from Fort Detrick), Ebola, smallpox, and … you guessed right: coronaviruses.  The facility, which carries out paid research projects for government agencies (including the CIA), universities and drug companies most of whom owned by the highly sinister military-industrial complex, employs 900 people.

Between 1945 and 1969, the sprawling complex (which has since become the US’s ”bio-defence centre” to put it mildly) was the hub of the US biological weapons programme. It was at Fort Detrick that Project MK Ultra, a top-secret CIA quest to subject   the human mind to routine robotic manipulation, a monstrosity the CIA openly owned up to in a congressional inquisition in 1975, was carried out.  In the consequent experiments, the guinea pigs comprised not only of people of the forgotten corner of America – inmates, prostitutes and the homeless but also prisoners of war and even regular US servicemen.

These unwitting participants underwent up to a 20-year-long ordeal of barbarous experiments involving psychoactive drugs (such as LSD), forced electroshocks, physical and sexual abuses, as well as a myriad of other torments. The experiments not only violated international law, but also the CIA’s own charter which forbids domestic activities. Over 180 doctors and researchers took part in these horrendous experiments and this in a country which touts itself as the most civilised on the globe!

Was the coronavirus actually manufactured at Fort Detrick (like HIV as I shall demonstrate at the appropriate time) and simply tactfully patented to other equally cacodemonic places such as the Wuhan Institute of Virology in China?

THE FORT DETRICK SCIENTISTS’ PROPHECY WAS WELL-INFORMED

 

About two years before the term novel coronavirus became a familiar feature in day-to-day banter, two scientist cryptically served advance warning of its imminence. They were Allison Totura and Sina Bavari, both researchers at Fort Detrick.

The two scientists talked of “novel highly pathogenic coronaviruses that may emerge from animal reservoir hosts”, adding, “These coronaviruses may have the potential to cause devastating pandemics due to unique features in virus biology including rapid viral replication, broad host range, cross-species transmission, person-to-person transmission, and lack of herd immunity in human populations  Associated with novel respiratory syndromes, they move from person-to-person via close contact and can result in high morbidity and mortality caused by the progression to acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS).”

All the above constitute some of the documented attributes and characteristics of the virus presently on the loose – the propagator of Covid-19. A recent clinical review of Covid-19 in The Economist seemed to bear out this prognostication when it said, “It is ARDS that sees people rushed to intensive-care units and put on ventilators”. As if sounding forth a veritable prophecy, the two scientists besought governments to start working on counter-measures there and then that could be “effective against such a virus”.

Well, it was not by sheer happenstance that Tortura and Bavari turned out to have been so incredibly and ominously prescient. They had it on good authority, having witnessed at ringside what the virus was capable of in the context of their own laboratory.  The gory scenario they painted for us came not from secondary sources but from the proverbial horse’s mouth folks.

CDC’S RECKLESS ADMISSION

In March this year, Robert Redfield, the US  Director for the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC),  told the House of Representatives’ Oversight Committee that it had transpired that some members of the American populace  who were certified as having died of influenza  turned out to have harboured the novel coronavirus per posthumous analysis of their tissue.

Redfield was not pressed to elaborate but the message was loud and clear – Covid-19 had been doing the rounds in the US much earlier than it was generally supposed and that the extent to which it was mistaken for flu was by far much more commonplace than was openly admitted. An outspoken Chinese diplomat, Zhao Lijian, seized on this rather casual revelation and insisted that the US disclose further information, exercise transparency on coronavirus cases and provide an explanation to the public.

But that was not all the beef Zhao had with the US. He further charged that the coronavirus was possibly transplanted to China by the US: whether inadvertently or by deliberate design he did not say.  Zhao pointed to the Military World Games of October 2019, in which US army representatives took part, as the context in which the coronavirus irrupted into China. Did the allegation ring hollow or there was a ring of truth to it?

THE BENASSIE FACTOR

The Military World Games, an Olympic-style spectrum of competitive action, are held every four years. The 2019 episode took place in Wuhan, China. The 7th such, the games ran from October 18 to October 27.  The US contingent comprised of 17 teams of over 280 athletes, plus an innumerable other staff members. Altogether, over 9000 athletes from 110 countries were on hand to showcase their athletic mettle in more than 27 sports. All NATO countries were present, with Africa on its part represented by 30 countries who included Botswana, Egypt, Kenya, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.

Besides the singular number of participants, the event notched up a whole array of firsts. One report spelt them out thus: “The first time the games were staged outside of military bases, the first time the games were all held in the same city, the first time an Athletes’ Village was constructed, the first time TV and VR systems were powered by 5G telecom technology, and the first use of all-round volunteer services for each delegation.”

Now, here is the clincher: the location of the guest house for the US team was located in the immediate neighbourhood of the Wuhan Seafood Market, the place the Chinese authorities to this day contend was the diffusion point of the coronavirus. But there is more: according to some reports, the person who allegedly but unwittingly transmitted the virus to the people milling about the market – Patient Zero of Covid-19 – was one Maatie Benassie.

Benassie, 52, is a security officer of Sergeant First Class rank at the Fort Belvoir military base in Virginia and took part in the 50-mile cycling road race in the same competitions. In the final lap, she was accidentally knocked down by a fellow contestant and sustained a fractured rib and a concussion though she soldiered on and completed the race with the agonising adversity.  Inevitably, she saw a bit of time in a local health facility.   According to information dug up by George Webb, an investigative journalist based in Washington DC,     Benassie would later test positive for Covid-19 at the Fort Belvoir Community Hospital.

Incidentally, Benassie apparently passed on the virus to other US soldiers at the games, who were hospitalised right there in China before they were airlifted back to the US. The US government straightaway prohibited the publicising of details on the matter under the time-honoured excuse of “national security interests”, which raised eyebrows as a matter-of-course. As if that was not fishy enough, the US out of the blue tightened Chinese visas to the US at the conclusion of the games.

The rest, as they say, is history: two months later, Covid-19 had taken hold on China territory.  “From that date onwards,” said one report, “one to five new cases were reported each day. By December 15, the total number of infections stood at 27 — the first double-digit daily rise was reported on December 17 — and by December 20, the total number of confirmed cases had reached 60.”

TWO CURIOUS RESEARCH HALTINGS

Is it a coincidence that all the US soldiers who fell ill at the Wuhan games did their preparatory training at the Fort Belvoir military base, only a 15-minutes’  drive from Fort Detrick?

That Fort Detrick is a plain-sight perpetrator of pathogenic evils is evidenced by a number of highly suspicious happenings concerning it. Remember the 2001 anthrax mailing attacks on government and media houses which killed five people right on US territory? The two principal suspects who puzzlingly were never charged, worked as microbiologists at Fort Detrick. Of the two, Bruce Ivins, who was the more culpable, died in 2008 of “suicide”. For “suicide”, read “elimination”, probably because he was in the process of spilling the beans and therefore cast the US government in a stigmatically diabolical light. Indeed, the following year, all research projects at Fort Detrick were suspended on grounds that the institute was “storing pathogens not listed   in its database”. The real truth was likely much more reprehensible.

In 2014, there was a mini local pandemic in the US which killed thousands of people and which the mainstream media were not gutsy enough to report. It arose following the weaponisation at Fort Detrick of the H7N9 virus, prompting the Obama administration to at once declare a moratorium on the research and withdraw funding.

The Trump administration, however, which has a pathological fixation on undoing practically all the good Obama did, reinstated the research under new rigorous guidelines in 2017. But since old habits die hard, the new guidelines were flouted at will, leading to another shutdown of the whole research gamut at the institute in August 2019.  This, nonetheless, was not wholesale as other areas of research, such as experiments to make bird flu more transmissible and which had begun in 2012, proceeded apace. As one commentator pointedly wondered aloud, was it really necessary to study how to make H5N1, which causes a type of bird flu with an eye-popping mortality rate, more transmissible?

Consistent with its character, the CDC was not prepared to furnish particulars upon issuing the cease and desist order, citing “national security reasons”. Could the real reason have been the manufacture of the novel coronavirus courtesy of a tip-off by the more scrupulous scientists?

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Masisi faces ultimate test of his presidency

9th July 2020

President Mokgweetsi Masisi may have breathed a huge sigh of relief when he emerged victorious in last year’s 2019 general elections, but the ultimate test of his presidency has only just begun.

From COVID-19 pandemic effects; disenchanted unemployed youth, deteriorating diplomatic relations with neighbouring South Africa as well as emerging instability within the ruling party — Masisi has a lot to resolve in the next few years.

Last week we started an unwanted cold war with Botswana’s main trade partner, South Africa, in what we consider an ill-conceived move. Never, in the history of this country has Botswana shown South Africa a cold shoulder – particularly since the fall of the apartheid regime.

It is without a doubt that our country’s survival depends on having good relations with South Africa. As the Chairperson of African National Congress (ANC), Gwede Mantashe once said, a good relationship between Botswana and South Africa is not optional but necessary.

No matter how aggrieved we feel, we should never engage in a diplomatic war — with due respect to other neighbours— with South Africa. We will never gain anything from starting a diplomatic war with South Africa.

In fact, doing so will imperil our economy, given that majority of businesses in the retail sector and services sector are South African companies.

Former cabinet minister and Phakalane Estates proprietor, David Magang once opined that Botswana’s poor manufacturing sector and importation of more than 80 percent of the foodstuffs from South Africa, effectively renders Botswana a neo-colony of the former.

Magang’s statement may look demeaning, but that is the truth, and all sorts of examples can be produced to support that. Perhaps it is time to realise that as a nation, we are not independent enough to behave the way we do. And for God’s sake, we are a landlocked country!

Recently, the effects of COVID-19 have exposed the fragility of our economy; the devastating pleas of the unemployed and the uncertainty of the future. Botswana’s two mainstay source of income; diamonds and tourism have been hit hard. Going forward, there is a need to chart a new pathway, and surely it is not an easy task.

The ground is becoming fertile for uprisings that are not desirable in any country. That the government has not responded positively to the rising unemployment challenge is the truth, and very soon as a nation we will wake up to this reality.

The magnitude of the problem is so serious that citizens are running out of patience. The government on the other hand has not done much to instil confidence by assuring the populace that there is a plan.

The general feeling is that, not much will change, hence some sections of the society, will try to use other means to ensure that their demands are taken into consideration. Botswana might have enjoyed peace and stability in the past, but there is guarantee that, under the current circumstances, the status quo will be maintained.

It is evident that, increasingly, indigenous citizens are becoming resentful of naturalised and other foreign nationals. Many believe naturalised citizens, especially those of Indian origin, are the major beneficiaries in the economy, while the rest of the society is side-lined.

The resentfulness is likely to intensify going forward. We needed not to be heading in this direction. We needed not to be racist in our approach but when the pleas of the large section of the society are ignored, this is bound to happen.

It is should be the intention of every government that seeks to strive on non-racialism to ensure that there is shared prosperity. Share prosperity is the only way to make people of different races in one society to embrace each other, however, we have failed in this respect.

Masisi’s task goes beyond just delivering jobs and building a nation that we all desire, but he also has an immediate task of achieving stability within his own party. The matter is so serious that, there are threats of defection by a number of MPs, and if he does not arrest this, his government may collapse before completing the five year mandate.

The problems extend to the party itself, where Masisi found himself at war with his Secretary General, Mpho Balopi. The war is not just the fight for Central Committee position, but forms part of the succession plan.

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The Corona Coronation (Part 9)

29th June 2020
Michael Mellaham

If we are to go by what I can term as conventional wisdom, the coronavirus arose in China’s Hubei province in the city of Wuhan. According to the WHO, the Chinese government filed the country’s first confirmed Covid-19 case with the international health regulator on December 8, 2019, with the first case outside of China’s boarders reported in Thailand on January 13, 2020.

We now know, however, courtesy of a paper in The Lancet that was authored by doctors from Wuhan’s Jinhintan Hospital, that the first such case was logged on December 1. We have also come to learn that in point of fact, the first patient, the so-called Patient Zero, may have presented with the as yet unfathomed Covid-9 symptoms in a public health facility on November 17. This is according to a report in the South China Morning Post, which claims to have seen classified medical government reports.

The Post report says nine cases of Covid-19 sufferers, aged between 39 and 79, were attended to during the month of November alone and that a total of 266 people officially had the disease by December 31st. Clearly, the disease had been sedately circulating for some time before it exploded towards the end of the year considering that a great number of people do not present symptoms at all.

Yet the fact the disease was first announced in China and even laboratory-spawned in that country does not necessarily mean China was its veritable place of origin. It almost certainly had multiple origins and may have occurred much earlier in other places on the globe.

AMERICA’S FLU ILLNESS TSUNAMI

Unbeknownst to much of the world, Covid-19 struck in Europe and the USA about the same time it did so in China, if not much earlier, it has now emerged. This is not tabloid hogwash or simply idle gossip folks: it was reported by the highly estimable news outlets such as NBC News and The New York Times. Even Newsweek, which along with Time magazine constitute America’s leading two weekly political magazines, was adamant that the coronavirus outbreak must have occurred as early as September 2019 and that Wuhan was possibly not its birthplace as such. For some reason (or is it for partisan reasons?), the globally renowned broadcast media networks like CNN, BBC, and Sky News have chosen to self-gag on the matter.

If there’s one disease which is so notoriously recurrent and even death-dealing in the US, it is influenza – commonly referred to as the flu or common cold. Here in Africa, flu is no much of a big deal: it is so mild I personally do not know – nor have ever heard of – a single one person who died of flu. In the US, flu is some menace. For instance, in the 2017-18 season, over 61,000 deaths were linked to flu, and in the 2018-19 season, 34,200 succumbed to the disease. Every year, 10 percent of the US population, or 32 million people, contract flu, though only about 100,000 end up being hospitalised anyway.

In the US, the flu season ordinarily runs from October to May, straddling three of the country’s four-season set, namely fall (September to November), winter (December to February), and spring (March to May). The disease is particularly widespread in 16 states. Last year, the winter flu season began atypically early and with a big bang that had never been seen in 15 years according to a December 6, 2019 report by Associated Press (AP), a wire news agency. By the beginning of December or thereabouts, 1.7 million flu illnesses, 16,000 hospitalisations, and 900 flu-related deaths had taken place.

The Centre for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) put the number of people already dead from flu-related illnesses as of mid-March 2019 at between 29,000 and 59,000. This was in addition to the misery of hundreds of thousands of flu-related hospitalisations and millions of medical visits for flu symptoms that have raged in the course of the season. Some hospitals in New Orleans have reported the busiest patient traffic ever at their emergency departments.

Health authorities in Louisiana, which was the first to be impinged, said flu-like illnesses began to rocket in the month of October. Said the AP report: “There are different types of flu viruses, and the one causing illnesses in most parts of the country is a surprise.” Dave Osthus, a flu statistician at the Los Alamos National Laboratory, was quoted as saying, “This could be a precursor to something pretty bad. But we don’t know what that is.”
Well, maybe we can venture an answer to the conundrum: the flu situation was exacerbated by the coronavirus.

THE CASE OF A NEW JERSEY MAYOR

The story of Michael Mellaham, the mayor of the New Jersey city of Belleville, has been widely reported in the Western world, albeit in the comparatively fringe media houses primarily lest the finger of indictment shift from China to the US. Sometime in November last year, Mellaham came down with an ailment that presented with Covid-19-like symptoms such as aches, high fevers, chills, and a sore throat, the latter of which went on for a full month.
Right at the onset of his diseased condition, Mellaham went to see his doctor, who told him not to worry as it was little more than flu and would peter out in a matter of days. The illness lingered for much longer though he at long last fought it off. It was the sickest he had ever been in his adult life.

In April this year, Mellaham took a Covid-19 test and he was found not with Covid-19 per se but its antibodies, which crystal-clearly evinced he had the disease at some stage in the recent past. This is what he told China Global Television Network (CGTN) in May: “We’re told that they (people with Covid-19-like symptoms) don’t have the flu. They just have bronchitis. They just have a bad cough or it’s a bad cold. I think that we just weren’t expecting Covid-19 then, so therefore the doctors didn’t know what to call it or what to expect.”

Of the credibility of the test he took, known as IgM (Immunoglobulin M Test), the first antibody a body makes when it fights a new infection, Mellaham said, “The IgM is the more recent antibody, which would have shown that that antibody is more recent in my system, that my body more recently fought the coronavirus.”

The first publicly admitted case of coronavirus-triggered morbidity in the US was announced in January this year and involved a Californian who had recently returned from Wuhan, but as Mellaham pointedly put it, “that doesn’t mean it wasn’t here (on US soil) before that”.

SUDDENLY “MANY PIXELS”

On May 7, 2020, The New York Times reported of two men aged 57 and 69 who died in their homes in Santa Clara, California, on February 6 and 17 respectively, and this was 23 days before the US announced its first Covid-19 fatality in Kirkland, Washington, on February 29. Their demise was attributed to flu post-mortem but it later emerged that they had been victims of the novel coronavirus. Since they had never travelled outside their community for years, they must have contracted the disease within the locality.

The Santa Clara county’s chief medical office Sarah Cody said the deaths of the two was probably the tip of the iceberg of unknown size. Dr Jeffrey Smith, the Santa Clara county executive, he too a medical doctor, opined that the coronavirus must have been spreading in California unrecognised for a long time now.

Indeed, if we take stock of the fact that passengers on board the Grand Princess cruise ship, which departed California on February 11, developed Covid-19 whilst on board, the odds certainly are that Covid-19 hit much earlier in the US than it hit the headlines. As Cody pointedly put it, “We had so few pixels you could hardly pick out the image. Suddenly, we have so many pixels all of sudden that we now realise we didn’t know what we were looking for.”

THE FRENCH CONNECTION

In Europe, a radiology research team at the Albert Schweitzer Hospital in Colma, France, has traced the first Covid-19 case in that country to November 16, 2019 according to reports by NBC News and The New York Times. The researchers came to this finding after examining 2500 chest X-rays taken from November 1, 2019 to April 30 this year.

French authorities declared the first Covid-19 case on January 24 having detected it in three nationals who had recently been to China, though it has now transpired that whilst one finger was point to China, four were point back at France itself.

It came to light last month that a sample taken from a French patient with pneumonia on December 27 subsequently tested positive for the coronavirus. “There’s no doubt for us it was already there in December,” Dr Yves Cohen, head of intensive care at the Avicenne and Jean Verdier hospitals in the northern suburbs of Paris, told The New York Times on May 4 this year. “It is quite possible that there were isolated cases that led to transmission chains that died down.”

Weighing in on the matter too, Michel Schmitt, who led the Albert Schweitzer Hospital research, said, “The testimonies are really rich; they show that people felt that something strange was going on, but they were not in a capacity to raise the alarm.”

THE CAMBRIDGE AND UCL FINDINGS

Meanwhile, two independent research projects by two of Britain’s premier institutions of learning have turned up evidence that Covid-19 was in Europe as early as the third quarter of 2019.  Following a study to understand the historical processes that led to the Covid-19 pandemic, the University of Cambridge found that the coronavirus outbreak appears to have started between September 13 and December 7 in 2019.

The University College London’s Genetics Institute (UCL) analysed genomes from the Covid-19 virus in over 7,500 people and deduced that the pandemic must have started between October 6 and December 11 in 2019.
The UCL team analysed virus genomes, using published sequences from over 7,500 people with Covid-19 across the globe. Their report, titled HYPERLINK “https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1567134820301829” \l “s0045” \t “_blank” Emergence of Genomic Diversity and Recurrent Mutations in SARS-CoV-2, was published in the May 6, 2020 edition of the journal Infection, Genetics and Evolution.

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