By: Julius Kullie Kanubah
There has one demand in Liberia of late: President George Weah needs to address the nation in the wake of the steady rise in the Coronavirus cases. Since 16 March when the first case of coronavirus was confirmed by president Weah, Liberia has recorded at least 14 infections, with, sadly, three deaths.
The good news, on the other hand, is that three persons have recovered from the virus, even though less is known about what the recoveries mean.
For example, has the virus been completely wiped out from the bodies of the recovered persons, or is it a case of asymptomatic after symptomatic? Are the recovered persons immuned from the virus? What are the variations in recovery time among the recovered persons and do age, gender, income, pre-existing health status matter? Many questions are still left unanswered.
With coronavirus declared as a national public health emergency in Liberia by health authorities, a rash of measures has since been instituted, although the effects of the measures are not yet clearly known.
However, the impacts have been significant as regard near-freezing of some crucial daily life activities. Livelihoods are being impacted, in particular, the struggling poor continue to struggle.
Talks of a ‘lockdown’, ‘curfew’, suspension of market activities in crowded commercial districts of the Liberian capital, Monrovia, and its suburbs, as well as ideas of ‘government economic intervention’ and mobilization of ‘collective efforts’ through sustained community engagement have all been advanced.
Unlike other countries where the most senior bosses of all bosses are at the forefront of mobilising and inspiring or even dis-inspiring the fight against coronavirus, president Weah has largely been his usual self: mute.
Since announcing the arrival of coronavirus – as imported by Nathaniel Blama – a recalcitrant government official, Weah has not publicly commented on the virus.
He has delegated the crucial tasks to the relevant authorities, as would normally be expected, although this should not be so in the case of a global pandemic and national emergency. Consequently, in the face of uncertainties, panic, fears and anxieties, some Liberians demand that Weah must speak to the nation.
The idea is that, in speaking to the nation, Weah, as the president will inspire hope and will direct and drive the country and its people in the coronavirus fight.
Amid the demand, Weah, as he has always done since the onset of his presidency, has agreed to supply the nation with an address. What is, perhaps, interesting is that even before the address, important hints have been provided as contained in the announcement by the Ministry of Information, Cultural Affairs and Tourism. Accordingly, Weah will address two issues:
1) the status of the country’s fight against Coronavirus disease; and
2) highlight the different efforts of our national response strategy.
If these are the thematic issues Weah will address, then, it suffices to ask: is there a need for an address to the nation by the president?
Many will argue affirmatively of the necessity of a presidential address. That is correct. However, a presidential address that centres on what is already known would be less effective and is ill-advised.
A presidential address that aims to just make or hear the leader speak to the nation must not be the sole priority.
The address must, instead, contain the strongest of interventionist measures by the state to redefining its relations with the citizens, both economically, socially, politically, and ecologically. We might think, for instance, what role can the state now and in the future play in socio-economic interventions as regard the marginalised and disempowered mass citizenry? Is it time to rethink neoliberal capitalist control over Liberia?
If there is one thing to learn from the Coronavirus by developing countries as Liberia, it is a redefinition of the state and its role.
The notion that people’s livelihooods should be left at the mercy of capitalist market forces or the invisible hands of Adam Smith does not work in isolation in practice. The state as in core capitalist economies as the US, UK, Germany, etc., is intervening in times of crisis, at a massive scale than ever.
Peripheral capitalist economies as Liberia have always been in perpetual crises, but yet, the neoliberal aid donors would tell our states to retreat in wealth creation and generation. Everything is about restructuring the markets for market competition and relying on donors for aid.
Let us not be surprised, then, if Weah tells us about the donor aid interventions against Coronavirus than a redefinition of the relations between the state and citizens and the state and donors. Let us wait though to see if Weah’s address will be a make or break.