The Coronavirus and Leadership

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By Lekpele M. Nyamalon

Before the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the Coronavirus (COVID-19) a Global health pandemic, the world was already sneezing.

From Wuhan to Milan, and the streets of Europe to the United States and the pocket cases in parts of Africa, COVID-19 has unveiled itself as indiscriminately savage.  With globalization and seamless borders, patient zero can slip from the epicenter of a plague and merge with a crowd of people, almost effortlessly.  That means, no one nation can claim indispensability.

Albeit, the global leadership approach to the virus has been almost chaotic.

U.S President Donald Trump was heavily criticized for his apparent laissez-faire approach in the early days of the virus. Like a storm, the virus swept the fabric of Wuhan, leaving entire cities and factories empty with transport infrastructure crumbling.

Media reports of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro ignoring coronavirus protocols and attending street events around his country was a poor start in sending a strong global image of the damaging effects of the corona virus and stopping the expansion in its tracks.

The Telegraph reported that “Mr Bolsonaro disobeyed his doctors and left self-isolation to greet protesters in the capital city of Brasilia, shaking hands with the public and using their mobile phones to take pictures.”

His actions were widely criticized and, by his singular action, gave a mixed reaction to the citizens of his country and put the lives of the global population at risk.

According to CNBC, the damaging trend of events dashed the hopes of millions across the globe who were looking for global leadership in the mitigation against the corona virus, especially in its early advancement. The Brazilian President, who reportedly met and dined with President Trump at his Florida Resort, was tested ‘negative’ while Bolsonaro’s press secretary Fabio Wajngarten, who also attended the Mar-a-Lago gathering, reportedly tested positive.

Meanwhile, President Trump was reported as ‘not concerned’, despite his exposure to Bolsonaro and his press secretary. And, his initial reluctance for testing sent all the wrong signals.

The world needed a coordinated, concerted approach in dealing with the mitigation of the COVID-19 to provide hope to the global population. Instead, the initial leadership approach was unsatisfactory.

Villagers are reminded that the best approach to curb a fire outbreak is not to go in your house and shut the doors, but to help your neighbors contain the fire.

Credible leadership across governments, private sectors, faith-based institutions and non-profits are crucial in instilling hope, maintaining confidence and inspiring the globe that this is under control.  Public hysteria has eroded chances of people building faith in systems and has undermined efforts to calm a population into following approved protocols for containing epidemics. Panic is the weakest link in curtailing a global pandemic.

Leadership has to come forth with two open hands: Empathy and Hope. The rest of the world where the epidemic has spread is looking for leadership and a coordinated response strategy. The Global system now has to act with one voice — coherence.

Trump invoked the Defense Production Act on Wednesday, 18 March — a US federal act enacted on September 8, 1950, in response to the start of the Korean War.  According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Act is “the primary source of presidential authorities to expedite and expand the supply of resources from the U.S. industrial base to support military, energy, space, and homeland security programs,” This is a great start and could propel the US to help meet the virus at the frontline.

As an indiscriminate scavenger, the coronavirus has hit at celebrities, officials of governments in developed regions, etc. This means the world over is on a time bomb and global collectiveness is imperative.

While the rest of the world is grappling with the economic, social and cultural devastations of the coronavirus, the Global Leadership system will have to show empathy with the victims by their actions and provide hope with credible leadership.

Africa, for example, has been the lowest hit, but perhaps the most vulnerable in public health disasters of such magnitude. With poor health infrastructures, limited funding and scarce logistics, Africa cannot afford the calamity that could come from a wave of the coronavirus, thus sparking the need for a coordinated Global Response and proactive leadership. While the world sits alert and nurses its wounds, we anticipate empathy and hope from our Global Leaders.

About the author
Lekpele M. Nyamalon is a Poet, Writer and Speaker. He is an OSIWA Poetry Fellow and a Mandela Washington Fellow, can be reached at [email protected].

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