Opinions Sun, 12 Apr 2020

Ghana’s pandemic lockdown – Encounter with the situation on the ground

I became saddened this morning when I had to take my wife to the market to buy food stuff for our family. Something I have not done for over a very long time. As a law maker, the experience was revealing as it was emotionally traumatizing.

My decision to drive her to the market was as a result of the the Lockdown and restricted movement in certain parts of the country.

On our way to the Market, we were stopped by security personnel who demanded to know where we were going, so I spoke and explained that our food stuff and supplies at home were almost gone and we needed to replenish our stock. One of the security officers simply said and I quote him verbatim, “we are under strict instructions not to allow anyone to pass through the check point”, he even added that all markets have been closed so we should return.

Noting the seriousness on their faces, I smile and show them my ID card and they realized that I was exempted from the President’s directives. They then opened the metal barricades and allowed me to pass.

When I left them, I felt very sad, not because they nearly returned me, but I began to contemplate the lockdown and its impact on the general populace. I thought about millions of Ghanaians who may not be privileged that to be allowed to drive to the market with my wife this morning to buy food. How would I have handled the situation if I were a teacher and have had my supplies exhausted, I quizzed myself. How will the masses get their basic necessities such as food in particular.

I have monitored the airwaves over the past week and listened to people’s stories about being turned away from going to get some food stuff to take care of themselves. Little did I know that I could become a victim of the same predicament but for my “Exception” immunity at this crucial time.

Another class of people who came to my mind was the vulnerable in our society, people who are doing menial jobs and are paid on daily basis before they are able to survive. I am aware the Government has estimated to feed 400,000 people in these locked down areas. My concern however has been about the kind of assessment that led to the 400,000 figure. Certainly, there are more people below the poverty line who need as a matter of urgency, government intervention in order to mitigate the effect of this lockdown of Accra and Kumasi.

Back to my earlier predicament, and again, I asked myself the same question I asked a few friends after the president announced the lockdown. That is, have we truly done enough systematic thinking as a nation before these restrictions were imposed? Or we were carried away by pressure from individuals and groups just to impose these restrictions?

It is common knowledge that our markets are mostly far from our residential areas especially in Accra and Kumasi where the lockdown is biting. Food is an essential commodity of life and any plan to restrict people’s movement without adequate provision in terms of access to food can lead to unintended consequences.

Government has absorbed some utility bills and we must be grateful, but what about those who only work, as we say in Ghana, on “hand-to-mouth” basis.piece rate or daily basis and due to the Lockdown

While I commend government for showing concern, I think it is not too late for the government to make alternative arrangements with the help of our security and the ministry of Food and Agriculture to reach out to these locked down areas. This can be done as quickly as possible to avert any bizarre and negative outcome that may throw our fight against the COVID-19 out of control.

The situation facing us now is synonymous with a battle. Our strategies to contain the battle must, therefore, be comprehensive enough so that we are not taken by suprize. People must be alive to fight this battle. Our collective purpose of fighting the pandemic through a lockdown may be defeated if people can’t have access to food in particular. We can’t afford to begin losing people as a result of starvation while the main fight is against coronavirus.

All is not lost at all! The Agric ministry and our security agencies can establish makeshift food markets within the communities now and control how social distancing is strictly adhered to. In this way we may use a single stone to kill more birds in this time of war against the deadly pandemic.
Columnist: Emmanuel Bedzrah