Did Covid-19 emanate from a really “novel” coronavirus or a fiendishly hatched up pathogen? If it is a manufactured virological weapon, in whose direction should the finger of indictment point? In a 5-part mini-series, BENSON C SAILI pronounces on the world’s most bothersome pandemic since the Spanish Flu of a century back.
On April 14, 2020, Donald Trump, the dismally shambolic US President, announced that he had instructed a relevant arm of his government to pull the plug on its share of WHO funding.
It is curious that the Don sounded off exactly 30 days after China had accused the US of purposely (or was it inadvertently?) propagating Covid-19 in the world’s second largest economy which is on course to surpass the US in only a matter of years.
In a March 13, 2020 tweet, Zhao Lijian, a spokesperson of China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, had charged that the US was responsible for introducing the coronavirus in the Hubei Province city of Wuhan. Zhao did not furnish nail-on-the-head particulars as to why he so supposed, but the dot-connection by many a pundit pointed to the US military personnel, who were alleged to have seeded the virus on China territory when they flew there to take part in the 2019 military games in Wuhan in October that year.
The reasons Trump advanced for withholding financial assistance to the WHO basically were that by openly endorsing China’s initial stance to play down the pervasiveness of the coronavirus spread in China, the WHO was complicit in “covering up and mismanaging the spread of the virus”.
It was ironic that Trump of all people should somersault and take issue with the WHO on the matter when he himself had stopped just short of declaring the coronavirus a non-event which would peter out sooner than later and had even heaped plaudits on President Xi Jinping for a job well-done. “Great discipline is taking place in China, as President Xi strongly leads what will be a very successful operation,” Trump had gushed in one of his fixation tweets early in the year.
Clearly, it was not the WHO’s softly-softly tune on China that particularly rubbed the Don the wrong way. It was the organisation’s eyebrow-raising coziness with the reportedly second-richest man on Earth, Bill Gates.
Seemingly, Trump was incensed that only the day after Bill Gates pledged $50 million to the COVID-19 Therapeutics Accelerator – a concerted effort on the part of 12 US-based pharmaceuticals to come up with a vaccine against Covid-19 – the WHO declared the disease a pandemic, when to date it had resisted spirited urging by the “philanthropist” billionaire that it does so.
Gates, we will demonstrate in due course, has a vested interest in a possible vaccine (which had tacitly been long in the works) against the now globalwide pandemic as it is certain to send his bottom line rocketing into the stratosphere.
DID IT JUMP OR WAS SIMPLY PUSHED?
Somebody said all truth passes through three phases. First, it is ridiculed left, right, and centre by practically everybody else. Second, it is violently opposed, with its propagator eliminated in the most extreme of cases. Third, and ironically at that, it is accepted as self-evident, as if all along it was in fact a foregone conclusion!
Ever heard of a guy called Galileo Galilei? He was a 16/17th century Italian astronomer, physicist and engineer. He was indicted and tried before the Roman Inquisition for openly, impassionedly, and repetitively affirming the Copernican theory of hundred years prior that it was Earth that revolved around the sun and not vice versa as was the brainwash belief then.
For disseminating this “heresy”, Galileo was, in a meting out of capital punishment dressed as suicide, handed a mug containing a poison called hemlock – the origin of the term “Poisoned Chalice” – in 1642, at age 77.
It took 350 years for the Vatican to at long last own up to its “error” and officially vindicate Galileo in a statement by Pope John Paul II in November 1992. In one of history’s great emblems of conflict between reason and dogma, science and faith, an otherwise great savant of science was unjustly, albeit unhurriedly, put to death for embracing what we today take for granted as unimpeachable truth.
With the advent of the dreaded “novel coronavirus”, many a percipient folk among the ranks of mankind who bravely choose to pierce the veil and isolate fact from fiction are, in a near-reprisal of Galileo’s fate, certain to burn at the stake – figuratively speaking since we live in a comparatively more restrained and less extreme age in which reckless savagery is more subtle than overt.
The popular hypothesis is that the coronavirus at issue jumped the species barrier from bats to humans by way of pangolins, in the manner HIV is said to have resided in apes before it made the apocalyptic leap into mankind’s bloodstream through “primitive” Africans with an insatiable, if not barbaric, craving for Simian flesh. I beg to differ at the risk of being labelled a propagandistic conspiracy theorist, a tag that is all too familiar in my case anyway.
WUHAN OR WAR-HAN?
Every time there is a catastrophe of sorts in some part of the word, or any such hard-to-fathom development for that matter, my inbox is deluged with pleas that I help unpack whatever conundrum it is.
I was subjected to the same barrage not very long after Covid-19 erupted in China. In heeding this call – thank you fans and friends: I value the enormous and unwavering faith you repose in me – I decided not to make haste but to bide my time given that all sorts of theories were being bandied about as to the probable cause or origin of what was soon to be a globalwide pandemic.
Covid-19 is a disease, so we’re told, that arises from Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus-2 (SARS-CoV-2). Coronaviruses belong to a family of viruses that ordinarily thrive in animals.
I first learnt about coronaviruses in 2002, when SARS-CoV-1 broke out in China, as though it was the preordained cradle of such Frankenstein viruses. It was the first time I heard of Foshan, a city in China’s Guangdong Province where the disease first surfaced.
And it was sometime in 2019 that I first heard of Wuhan, the birthplace, reportedly, of Covid-19, and the largest city in central China. But did Covid-19 really spring from within Wuhan or it was incubated elsewhere and then somehow transplanted to China? Or was it the result of some strategic gambit on the part of the Chinese government itself that went awry, with Xi Jinping ending up with plenty of egg on his round, mirthless face in the eyes of a relentless army of Western cynics and critics? Was it a biological war waged on China by the implacably vile, vicious, and vindictive Uncle Sam?
GENESIS IN A WET MARKET?
If reports by the forefront voices of the international media are anything to go by, the Covid-19 outbreak timeline in a nutshell unfolded as follows: Between December 12 and 29 last year, a never-seen-before flu-like illness presented in about 27 residents of Wuhan, a conurbation of three principal population centres of just under 12 million collectively.
On December 31, China informed the WHO on the existence of the outwardly inscrutable disease. The following day, the Chinese authorities ordered the closure of Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market, a live animal and seafood market – also known as “wet markets” in that water is every now and again sloshed on produce to keep it cool and fresh – where the diseases was allegedly spawned.
On January 11, China announced its first Covid-19 fatality. The victim was a 61-year-old man who had actually succumbed to respiratory complications arising from pneumonia on January 9. The pneumonia is said to have been triggered by Covid-19, which the man supposedly contracted during one of his trips to Huanan, where, so we are given to understand, he was in the habit of stocking up with proteinaceous foodstuffs.
One report had this to say about such markets, which are a commonplace feature of Asia: “At the crack of dawn every day, ‘wet markets’ in China and across Asia come to life, with stall owners touting their wares such as fresh meat, fish, fruits and vegetables, herbs and spices in an open-air setting …
“The now-infamous Wuhan South China seafood market, suspected to be a primary source for spreading Covid-19 in late 2019, had a wild animal section where live and slaughtered species were for sale, including snakes, beavers, badgers, civet cats, foxes, peacocks and porcupines among other animals …
“Older shoppers generally prefer buying freshly slaughtered meat for daily consumption, believing it produces flavour in dishes and soup that is superior to frozen meat. Slabs of beef and pork hang from the butchers’ stalls while various cuts piled on the counters amid lights with a reddish glare and the occasional buzzing of flies.”
Meanwhile, the Chinese government had on January 7 designated the virus as an altogether different strain of the comparatively mild coronaviruses of yesteryears, the reason they employed the term “novel” in its basic description. On January 23, China decreed a lockdown of Wuhan which lingered for 76 days. China thus set the tone for copycat lockdowns in several countries across the globe including Botswana, which was one of only a handful of countries that went for a nationwide stay-at-home restriction.
THREE MILLION INFECTED, 200,000 KILLED
The disease has since spread to more than 190 countries and killed up to 210,000 of the nearly 3 million people who have contracted it to date. In the US alone, it has claimed 56,000 scalps. Besides the US, the most impacted countries are Italy, Spain, France and the UK in that order, all of which have suffered more than 20,000 fatalities.
The death toll on the continent of Africa now stands at about 1300 only. China, the purported breeding ground of the virus, has logged just under 4700 deaths. Only one country in the whole wide world has professed having “eliminated” the coronavirus menace. This is New Zealand, a country of 5 million people that has to date registered 19 deaths out of a total of about 1500 cases.
The country declared “victory” over Covid-19 on April 28, following a five-week lockdown and during which new cases whittled down to single digits. One hopes a second wave of the dreaded pandemic is not in the offing in the country.
Parliament was this week once again seized with matters that concern them and borders on conflict of interest and abuse of privilege.
The two matters are; review of MPs benefits as well as President Mokgweetsi Masisi’s participation in the bidding for Banyana Farms. For the latter, it should not come as a surprise that President Masisi succeeded in bid.
The President’s business interests have also been in the forefront. While President Masisi is entitled as a citizen to participate in a various businesses in the country or abroad, it is morally deficient for him to participate in a bidding process that is handled by the government he leads. By the virtue of his presidency, Masisi is the head of government and head of State.
Not long ago, former President Festus Mogae suggested that elected officials should consider using blind trust to manage their business interests once they are elected to public office. Though blind trusts are expensive, they are the best way of ensuring confidence in those that serve in public office.
A blind trust is a trust established by the owner (or trustor) giving another party (the trustee) full control of the trust. Blind trusts are often established in situations where individuals want to avoid conflicts of interest between their employment and investments.
The trustee has full discretion over the assets and investments while being charged with managing the assets and any income generated in the trust.
The trustor can terminate the trust, but otherwise exercises no control over the actions taken within the trust and receives no reports from the trustees while the blind trust is in force.
Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) Secretary General, Mpho Balopi, has defended President Masisi’s participation in business and in the Banyana Farms bidding. His contention is that, the practise even obtained during the administration of previous presidents.
The President is the most influential figure in the country. His role is representative and he enjoys a plethora of privileges. He is not an ordinary citizen. The President should therefore be mindful of this fact.
We should as a nation continue to thrive for improvement of our laws with the viewing of enhancing good governance. We should accept perpetuation of certain practices on the bases that they are a norm. MPs are custodians of good governance and they should measure up to the demands of their responsibility.
Parliament should not be spared for its role in countenancing these developments. Parliament is charged with the mandate of making laws and providing oversight, but for them to make laws that are meant solely for their benefits as MPs is unethical and from a governance point of view, wrong.
There have been debates in parliament, some dating from past years, about the benefits of MPs including pension benefits. It is of course self-serving for MPs to be deliberating on their compensation and other benefits.
In the past, we have also contended that MPs are not the right people to discuss their own compensation and there has to be Special Committee set for the purpose. This is a practice in advanced democracies.
By suggesting this, we are not suggesting that MP benefits are in anyway lucrative, but we are saying, an independent body may figure out the best way of handling such issues, and even offer MPs better benefits.
In the United Kingdom for example; since 2009 following a scandal relating to abuse of office, set-up Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA)
IPSA is responsible for: setting the level of and paying MPs’ annual salaries; paying the salaries of MPs’ staff; drawing up, reviewing, and administering an MP’s allowance scheme; providing MPs with publicly available and information relating to taxation issues; and determining the procedures for investigations and complaints relating to MPs.
Owing to what has happened in the Parliament of Botswana recently, we now need to have a way of limiting what MPs can do especially when it comes to laws that concern them. We cannot be too trusting as a nation.
MPs can abuse office for their own agendas. There is need to act swiftly to deal with the inherent conflict of interest that arise as a result of our legislative setup. A voice of reason should emerge from Parliament to address this unpleasant situation. This cannot be business as usual.
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?
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.