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19 OR 22?

Do you ever feel like you are missing something? You know that feeling when things do not add up, something feels off and you simply don’t have the answers? This is probably how doctors felt before they discovered the link between washing hands and spreading germs.

Today you have probably internalised the message that the best way to prevent the spread of a virus is to wash your hands. While that’s now common-sense it  wasn’t until the mid-19th century that doctors began to wash their hands before examining patients—and even then, only in certain cases.

Up until this time there was no germ theory – the idea that certain diseases and infections are caused by micro-organisms invisible to the naked eye.  Doctors were unknowingly going about their duties sometimes from the operating theatre to patients in other wards without hand washing, thereby spreading disease which ultimately caused many deaths.   So much for ‘First do no harm’!

When this pandemic started I was glued to the TV and other report feeds for information to feed my insatiable hunger for news – worldometers/coronavirus, SKY news, CNN, newspapers anything to monitor the apocalypse day after day, in some instances hour by hour.

Being based in France at the height of its crisis I took to the balcony each night at 8 to rattle pots and pans and applaud to acknowledge healthcare workers’ efforts and show solidarity in such difficult times. I lorded the visionary leadership of Macron, Ramaphosa, Masisi and even thought at one instant that this might be the making of Boris Johnson – there is nothing like a crisis to make your mark. ‘Cometh the moment,  cometh the man’ and all that.

It is but natural for the us citizens to expect our leaders, whether business, political, or social to rise to the occasion of a crisis and “do something”  so that we can rest assured we are in “safe hands”. But after a while there are questions, in this instance more than answers and a niggling thought ‘what if we are getting it wrong?’.

Like the doctors who didn’t realise the importance of clean hands there is much we still don’t know about Covid-19 such as how many people have been infected globally?, where precisely it came from?, the role children play in spreading it, will there be a seasonal effect?, why symptoms are more severe in some people?, is immunity possible?, will there be a second wave?…certainly more questions than answers.

Another thing we don’t know is how deadly it really is. What do we know however is that as I write this there are 423,846 reported deaths globally. The median age of people killed by the coronavirus is roughly 80 to 82 (median represents the halfway point – half of all people are older and half younger).

For example, as of end May in Italy, one of the worst affected countries, of the 32k killed by the virus about 60% of these were over 80 years of age. In England and Wales as of the middle of May, about 75% of the 41,000 deaths were people over 75. We can conclude that most people who die after becoming infected with Coronavirus are old and reportedly had additional, underlying health issues.

Please don’t think that I am any kind of researcher or epidemiologist – I’m just an enthusiastic armchair commentator adding my tuppence worth, but having a metaphorical foot in both continents and watching with interest, I observe the dramatic differences in the impact on the two continents and I wonder why?  Comparatively, Africa is a very young continent.

More than 98% of the population is under the age of 65 where in Europe the population skews older, so that may explain part of it. Early on I opined that maybe it had something to do with the environment, maybe we are just more hardy in Africa and have more resistance to viruses?

It is well documented that most African countries acted quickly to stop the spread but you can’t help question how we have been spared in a continent where there is poorer healthcare, lower levels of sanitation, public health system shortfalls etc. While I think we may attribute some of this to inaccurate reporting, at the end of the day if the infection was higher – at least those that result in death – we would be seeing or feeling it more.

Or can it be that reporting is off in other countries? In the US for example and as reported in ‘Unreported truths about COVID-19 and lockdowns’ many reporting states assume that anyone with a positive coronavirus test has died from the disease, no matter the actual cause of death.

So “if you were in hospice and already been give a few weeks to live and then you were found to have COVID that would go down as a COVID death. The fact that so many coronavirus deaths happen in nursing homes where  people are frail certainly suggests…and when you start looking at the figures this way and that possible 2/3 of the people would have died anyway the figures start to look quite different.

I watched India with great interest thinking of the sheer volume of the population and how many in India, as in African, live in very close quarters where social distancing is logistically impossible. Add in poor sanitation, rugged living conditions and so on and for some reason, Coronovirus has failed to show up with India having one of the lowest number of deaths per population.

Our entire response to COVID-19 is about flattening the curve, because if too many people become critically ill, the health system will be overwhelmed – even in Botswana it was something that President Masisi alluded to when he announced the state of emergency; but as  a UN World Food Program representative in South Africa said “I don’t know what ‘flattening the curve’ really means in this part of the world, because there is not necessarily the same level of health care services or infrastructure to even overwhelm”, and anyway how can you flatten what is not there?

We have had only one death in Botswana, yet we have taken draconian measures, putting our economy under great strain and threat, not to mention the inconvenience of life at the moment – queuing, masking, registering, distancing…you know how it goes. So here are the questions.

Did we have to?  Was the risk too great not to do anything? What happens if it comes back or do we think we are comparing apples and oranges with 1st World and 3rd World?  Is it in fact something completely different?  Or are we missing the most important question of all…WHAT ARE WE MISSING?  Is it yet so simple that we’re missing it because we’re looking too hard?  That’s it’s just another seasonal bug, we’ll all become partially immune and when it comes back it will be as innocuous as catching a cold?  Or is it like the eponymous ‘Catch 22’ which the novel’s hero, Yossarian,  stated was ‘the best catch of all’, because of course it never stayed the same?

Come to think of it, that’s exactly what the scientists are saying about Covid so looking for an answer to this one might not be the solution to the next one.  So for now, all I have is ‘Que sera, sera’  – what will be, will be.   That’s an answer but probably not to the right question!

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Moses vs Ramesses

28th July 2020

Moses returns to Egypt to reclaim the Pharaonic throne

When Moses was deposed as Pharaoh Akhenaten of Egypt in 1352 BC, General Atiku, he was not officially banished from Egypt: he was obliged to flee Egypt as he was not hundred percent sure of his safety.

Ideally, the place he should have headed to was Harran, in modern-day Turkey. Harran was apt in that not only was it the place of his ancestry but it was the major domicile of the Hykso-Hebrews. There, the Hykso-Hebrews abounded more than in any other place on the globe, including Canaan.

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Turn CEDA into a Commercial Bank

28th July 2020

The announcement by President Mokgweetsi Masisi that CEDA now was in position to loan sizeable and therefore worthwhile sums the nation as a matter of course greeted with enormous glee.

As much as I too was euphoric at the news, I could not at the same time help a feeling of censorious pique which dates back to the time I was CEDA chairman from 2006 to 2008.

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Parley July meeting: an executive affair

28th July 2020

Monday the 27th Parliament will resume its July meeting. What is specifically on the agenda of Parliament in this coming meeting? A lot! There will be government and Private Bills, policy proposals, questions, themes and motions.

The meeting is also likely to be punctuated by statements from ministers on a variety of issues. Some statements may come as preemptive strikes to prevent the opposition from either making speeches on the subjects ahead of the government or to simply forestall questions on same.  The House is expected to be active for five weeks nonstop. It is obviously a very short time considering the agenda.

Before its adjournment sine die in March, Parliament was supposed to discuss the National Development Plan 11 Midterm Review. This is what will become a priority of the government in its order of Business or scheduling. The government is expected to table an addendum to the already tabled review document.

The reason is simple, COVID-19 has not only gobbled funds from the fiscus, but has also resulted in a sharp decline in government revenue. The mainstay of the economy is mining, particularly diamonds revenue. These germs are mainly luxury commodities which are prone to international market changes.

Diamonds and other precious goods are seldom needed in large quantities during turbulent times such as these. Those countries that depend on them, such as Botswana, are always at high risk of external shocks. Southern African Customs Union revenue is also likely to decline because of slump in trade.

Tax collection has gone down due to many obvious reasons. Tourism has been shattered. Non-mining sector has also been negatively affected. Therefore, the estimated revenue has declined, necessitating a serious review of the development plan.

Which Bills are likely to be debated in this coming meeting? Two Botswana Defence Force Amendment Bills have been Gazetted; one is Private and the other a government proposal.

The private Bill is proposing to rectify the injustice of not fully paying soldiers who are on indictments or suspensions. The government Bill is a minor amendment relating to the BDF Court Marshall Judge Advocate General position.

Other government Bills include Income Tax Amendment, BURS Amendment, Citizenship Amendment, Legal Practitioners Bill, Environment Assessment Amendment, Financial Reporting Amendment, Accountants Amendment, Citizen Economic Empowerment Bill and a controversial one on Floor Crossing.

More interest will be on the anti-defection Bill and perhaps the citizen economic empowerment proposal. Other Private Bills to be tabled include Police and Prisons Amendment and the Media Practitioners Repeal Bill. Parliament will also debate the following policies; Climate Change, Tourism, National Energy and Minerals.

Whilst there is nothing on COVID-19, MPs are likely to ask questions on the pandemic. So many things come to mind as possibilities of issues likely to be raised. MPs are likely to ask the Ministry of Health, Office of the President and the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development about the whole pandemic fighting strategy.

There may be questions on the capacity and reliability of COVID-19 testing. Questions may be asked on positive cases that quickly become negative and or false alarms cases etcetera.

More focus may be on the budget and procurement. Some controversial tenders are likely to be questioned by MPs. It is expected that given the chance, MPs will likely lament the stoppage of food rations distribution by the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development.

MPs will raise other miscellaneous issues on corona virus related policy decisions. These include the terms of engagement of the COVID Task Force and enlisting of the public relations private persons team from outside the government to help.

There may be questions by MPs on the business dealings of the President and his intention to acquire a government ranch, Banyana Farm. Clarity may be vehemently sought on these issues. Corruption related issues may be on the agenda of Private Business. So many issues have been reported; direct appointment of the 100KM NSC water pipe tender and other controversies may crop up.

There may be clarification required from the ministry responsible for international relations on the implications of the engagement of an Advocate working for Afri-Forum white supremacist organisation. The consequent and seeming tension between South Africa and Botswana will probably be on the agenda of MPs.

Recently the country has experienced serious fuel shortages. It is likely that parliament will raise issues on this matter and get the Minister to explain further.

Whilst this issue has been all over the media with clarifications offered by the Minister and the Permanent Secretary, parliament is likely to engage on the matter to get assurances into the record.

Answers will be demanded on the exact cause of the shortage, policy failures to predict the crisis and to avert it as well as the way forward.

Power issues have also irked MPs, particularly the recent tariff increases and recent threats to increase them even. All is definitely not well at Botswana Power Corporation, so MPs are probably going to probe these matters further.  It is clear that there is a lot that Parliament will deal with.

The disheartening fact to note is that most of the Government Business will be expected, by the executive, to pass through parliament rather than be passed by it. There is condescension for free and adequate debate as well as ostensible intolerance of alternative views from the backbench and the opposition by the frontbench.

The ruling party caucus will discuss all these matters and once explained fully by technocrats, the expectation will be for MPs to swiftly rubberstamp executive ideas without raising controversial issues or simply reasoning on the floor.

There will be no time to reason! There is likely to be limited time allocation, in terms of minutes allocated to individual MPs per debate, on all these matters aforementioned. The Speakership, which traditionally is the gatekeeper of the executive, is likely to fully cooperate and not protect the MPs against the executive wrath.

The executive will reason that five weeks is too short and that all business must be dispensed with before time elapses. Whilst the backbench will be unhappy with these decisions, there’s nothing it will do, it is numerically weak in the caucus.

The opposition will face the whole ruling party bench and be defeated in their protest for adequate debate time. That’s just how things work in Botswana parliament. The legislature is a governing tool of the executive; it is used to pass through policies, laws and budgets for the ruling party’s own political ends.

It is not an independent institution which can hold the executive accountable effectively. If Bills or policies are not completed and there’s about week remaining, everything could be squeezed into that one last week. It has happened before; the House can pass many Bills in one sitting, even if it means staying up until late night or wee hours of the morning.

There are private motions which if not withdrawn and replaced with new ones, may not address topical issues that arose as a result of or during COVID-19. These are motions which may seek accountability of the government on corona virus related policies.

One of the likely motions is the motion touted by one of the opposition parties; motion of no confidence on the government. If this motion comes on urgency, it may die on arrival.

The ruling party MPs will be under strict instructions to kill it the moment a question is put on whether the agenda should be changed to allow a debate on it.

The only way it can be debated is if it comes in through the normal process. Even that way there is no guarantee; the ruling party MPs may stay outside to kill the quorum like they do with motions they don’t want debated.

They may also debate it and unleash their ‘attack dogs’ and put their views across before defeating it. Other motions which may be tabled include COVID-19 related motions. Expectations of the general public should be managed; the next meeting may be the usual ruling party show to do as they please.

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