A new normal: Balancing between rat race and mediocrity post covid-19

In December 2019 the world was awakened by a rising dragon: norm would recalibrate.

At the end of January 2020, the World Health Organisation declared Covid-19, the disease caused by the novel corona virus, a global pandemic. Now in the middle of the second quarter of a much touted commencement of a new decade countries across the world, big small and in-between, have an unusual problem to deal with. Leadership, local and global, is writing an exam.

How are our leaders faring?

In the U.K Boris Johnson’s out-of-hospital back-in-control instructions on Britain’s path to recovery was seen as largely confusing, with a clarity worse than the mockery of Matt Lucas’ satire. In the U.S Donald T’ s, perhaps as usual, seems off to a tangent even his allies are centrifuging to bring back into orbit. And like us in Ghana the American opposition, without conceding attempts to score political points in the face of an impending presidential election, is doing much it can to tag a “poor covid-19 management approach” to the avowed second-term trump dreamer.

Here at home, the multi-spiked graph of the Ghana Health Service (GHS) has provided the nuance ever craved by incumbent administrations in fluid situations such as posed by the novel disease: while the GHS insists on an attained peaked, relevant professionals of varying diversity have presented formidable challenges. What the layman observes is that the case counts are increasing by the government’s own figures. Now we are at beyond the five-thousand mark and a chunk of the new cases are from horizontal contact tracing and randomised testing. Meanwhile we are still to hear any further progress with the much touted Random Diagnostic Test (RDT) kit purported to have been invented by Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST).

Elsewhere in Africa, the opacity is significant: Nigeria says the deaths in Kano were mysterious andTanzania’s civil society in not confident of the figures churned out by the increasingly rare government updates. The U.S Embassy in Dar es Salam has warned of an exponential spread but Magufuli is still defensive.

Sweden never shut down, “killed” many of its aged without taking a hoot to learn from Italy’s experience and are now counting their mistakes while hoping for a herd immunity this month. Germany re-starts the Bundesliga, as Europe hands over the undesired lead to South America: Brazil is an emerging global epicentre as tests falters and Jair Bolsonaro loses popularity, even though Russia has crossed 242k recorded cases. Philippines and Indonesia are worst hit in their region. Everywhere in the world, Leadership is taking a test.Will women leaders produce better results? Are younger leaders better?

Is COVID-19 a deathblow to attaining the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)?

Before this time, the United Nations had declared 2020-2030 as a decade of action for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). In September 2019, at a high-level political forum on the SDGs the UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres rallied the world to move into high speed on three levels: “global action to secure greater leadership, more resources and smarter solutions to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals; local action embedding the needed transitions in the policies, budgets, institutions and regulatory frameworks of governments cities and local authorities and people action, including by youth, civil society, the media, the private sector, unions, academia and other stakeholders to generate an unstoppable movement pushing for the required transformation”. Unstoppable movement.

Two of the Goals, Reducing Inequality and Climate Action, underpin many of the others. They glue together the five pillars of the global agenda: people, planet, peace, prosperity and partnership. Inequality is eroding much of the gains in economic growth in a manner that undermines efforts made towards achieving, for example Goal 1 on poverty. That is to say, while economic growth may be increasing there is no corresponding translation into reduction in poverty because the top few are having a disproportionately greater share of the economic gains. Inequality is widening and poverty is increasing even though growth is improving. This is both on the global scale and the national outlook.

The latest results from the Ghana Living Standards Survey (GLSS, round7) conducted and published by the Ghana Statistical Service (GSS) indicate that although there is general growth poverty prevails because of inequality between the rich and the poor. Both Gini and Palmer measurements confirm this. The report warns that “the failure to achieve substantial reduction in the poverty headcount since 2012/13 suggests that without a change in policy direction, the first Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) of eradicating extreme poverty by 2030 may not be attained.”The 2019 SDGs global report showed that “in many countries, an increasing share of income goes to the top 1 per cent, while the bottom 40 per cent still received less than 25 percent of overall income”. We should commit to equitable equality.

Rush for Economic Growth without equitable opportunities is a worthless Rat Race

What Covid-19 is teaching us is that the interconnectedness of the global community is too deep to leave any people behind. A weakness in one area can easily be transported to weaken a whole new, different and bigger area. Whether from a wet market, a laboratory of a military base, what goes around comes around. The chase for power to control is a terrible demon. No human being should seek to control another; that’s inhuman. Who gets all the wealth or who gets most of it first can plunge all of us into an abyss that sets public health against economic survival creating the dilemma we in Ghana have answered with a buzz phrase “all die be die”. Big economies are grinding to a halt, the reason for which both careful and reckless reopening measures are on the table of Cabinet meetings.

The Chinese economy shrunk by 6.8 per cent Q1-2020, the worst since 1992; France sunk 8 per cent, UK contracted by 2 per cent, seen like this the last time in 2008 during the financial crisis. It is expected to worsen in the second quarter when that of the U.S. is predicted by some to contract by 20-30 per cent. The economy of every country has slowed down. The speed with which we were making the poor poorer and the rich richer has slowed; and yet we are in a hurry to go back to it. Why?

Need we continue in this ominous direction?When one robs a poor man and turns to be a philanthropist, his help is a blot. When one who is lazy blames his poverty on the shrewd and affluent, then poverty is pushing him to folly; not perceiving that “shrewdity” can also make him affluent. But if it is unhealthy antecedence that has robbed Peter to pay Paul, Paul shows true humanity if he equates generously to Peter without seeking to maintain the servitude. While Peter shows free appreciation to his magnanimity not with the least sense of entitlement.

The shrinking of the global economy is significantly underpinned by cuts in the energy sector. The good news about that is the impact on global warming and climate change. A recent report by the International Energy Agency (IEA) indicates lower energy emissions due to grounded airlines and other forms of transport among others, will decrease harmful greenhouse emissions which cause global warming by close to 8 per cent this year. It is our best annual performance ever. This is what we need to maintain for a decade if we are to achieve a 1.5 degrees Celsius limit and avoid the worst impacts of global warming. But here we are “rushing” back to our old ways. We need a new normal, in this too. IEA is advising countries to direct their economic stimulus packages on enhancing clean energy. Are the guilty-but-proud countries listening?

Now we have a real chance to eschew Mediocrity

Looking within our country Ghana, the informality of our economy and poor law enforcement are fundamental strongholds perpetuating the economic mediocrity that has bedevilled us since the days of our promising political independence. The Corona era offers us a window of opportunity to dig out the roots of these core poisons. Over 80 per cent of our economy is informal. This informal economy is mere organised chaos. But we are blinded by its so-called organisation we seem to cannot see well the deep harm the chaos has caused us. It has literally killed our self-esteem, is killing our dignity as a hardworking people and it is depriving the global economy a chance to improve macro Human Development Index (HDI). In many ways, an informal economy is merely an economy running without compliance to regulation. We don’t seem ready to do the hard structural work required to achieve real and sustained stability of essential macroeconomic indices. We have concocted a dilemma bassed on a so-called chicken-and-egg mind-set that robs us of the practical political will to restructure an inherited colonial economic design fabricated to perpetuate a master-servant economic paradigm. We have allowed our political freedom to run off to a psychopathic tangent that interprets law and its enforcement as curtailment of civil rights and freedoms. Freedom without law enforcement is immoral because it eventually leads to bondage. This is what is underpinning our present and perpetuated economic bondage and mediocrity.

 What do we do?

“Corona” has taught us that we can give frequent essential information onnational status and updates of efforts to address issues that are of imminent threat to our survival. So let us construct a new normal of providing regular and attractive public education on all our laws and encourage the citizenry to be sensitive to these laws. When we said the government cannot do your PPE responsibilities for you and if you don’t do them because it threatens the survival of all of us we will definitely sanction you, all of us are pulling ourselves together to comply; and government is actually apprehending recalcitrant defaulters. This is what law enforcement should always be. We can do it. We only have to do a mental shift that makes poor sanitation, road indiscipline and lateness to work as corrosive as corona. Mobilise media to push this agenda for, as they say, God and Country! This is what efficient leadership must do. Rise to the occasion and raise the bar to a new normal.

Motivate public accountability

At the beginning of the corona roar, resource mobilisation quickly came to the fore and the bar of accountability was immediately referenced: “All those in the line of expenditure of corona cash should keep a gaze on the day of accountability, it will surely come”. There is mention of a hundred million US dollars, a covid-fund, an IMF facility, a spectrum of subsidies to rescue business, a food distribution endeavour and all. Are we widely awake on judicious application of these funds? If we are not, then we are the diggers and looters of our own grave. But if we are, as we should, that means we can do same for other accountability requirements on the public purse. We should, with alacrity worthy of a serious people, facilitate the implementation of the Right to Information (RTI) Act in a manner that manifests the transparency asserted by governments when in power. It is the duty of present government to drive this, as it would a tiny virus of huge public health concern.

The corona case has taught us that we can build 94 standard hospitals in one year.  If we were waiting for corona to teach us that, with all the smart leaders of global repute we have, it has happened. If we insist smart governments know how to raise resources in the face of opposing cynicism, then hoping that future generations are not bequeathed with paralysing debts that would demand another HIPC, we should mobilise citizens and local business people to translate this into an infrastructural renewal in a non-partisan manner to drive economic productivity and social servicesto improve living standards in our dear country.We can do this.

We are also learning that media, traditional and new, can anchor the facilitation of academic education so that we can expand the accessibility and efficiency of learning while finding ways of not losing the rigour and discipline the traditional physical school system provides. All this can be part of the new normal we would like to create post covid-19.

The future of Work

In his recent May day 2020 speech, the President charged the Minister of Employment and Labour Relations (MELR) to present a direction for the future of work. I was in an ILO centenary ceremony with young people, in November last year where the MELR Minister spoke insightfully on the future of work in the digital age. The future of work demands innovative approaches because a one-size-fits- all response will not work. For example, we need innovation in the process of formalising our economy. Advice from so-called developed economies may be useful to an extent but we must take into serious consideration the kind of societies their way of formalisation has brought upon them. We should be wary of approaches that would atomise our society, kill our rich human culture and reinforce subservience to all that is foreign and western. Strong legislation is a must. It is necessary for example that anybody doing any business, including family businesses, must be registered, licensed and regulated, whether in the rural savannah or urban coastal; anywhere! Yet legislation and its enforcement is not sufficient. Because we need to maintain the precious advantages of communal sense, which many “rich” countries are poor in. We have to develop a formality hinged on trust, fellow-feeling and an “I-do-right-for–our-common-good-not-my-private-profit” attitude. Many in the informal economy are doing mere hand-to-mouth, livelihood stuff. This must move faster into economic empowerment. Much is happening in that direction now, but acceleration and non-partisanship is required, as always.

Covid has reminded us that when push comes to shove, agriculture and food security will be the anchor for survival.  But our local poultry farmers and vegetable growers still do not have the confidence of financial service providers. The banks are still turning them down. Why has this been a methuselah problem? We also need to be resolute on GMOs and take the destiny of seed production and crop research into our own hands. We must out-smart competitive thinkers whose goodwill and good faith need vetting. We need slippery wits.

Work from home

Work-from-home is the new kid on the block. it’s always been there. Now it is the consideration of a critical mass. Where this will lead to, no one is yet sure. But a bodiless workplace that maintains efficient productivity is something we can boldly explore and exploit in a new normal. Onething is clear, families would have more time together while we hope a decline rather than surge in domestic violence. Families who have always loved home schooling for their children but never had the courage, time and attention have an opportune season to test their wishes.

As the World Health Organisation (WHO) is warning Corona may never leave us but possibly get embedded as HIV has become, we can also use it to ensure that the new healthy approaches to life and longevity it has occasioned will become our new normal. Blessings.



Emmanuel Kwame Mensah, 13th May 2020

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