UP alumni share experience of lockdown in four African countries

Posted on July 16, 2020

For the best part of 2020, the novel coronavirus has wreaked havoc across the world. As everyone attempts to adjust to a new normal, one of the ways has been by sharing our experiences.

In this context the Alumni Relations Office at the University of Pretoria launched a series of Global Alumni Virtual Chats featuring alumni from different countries. The chats are part of the LeadUP Thought Leadership series and are streamed live on LinkedIn.

The first discussion took place in May 2020, and caught up with alumni based in New York, London, Shangdu and Melbourne. The recent second instalment featured alumni based on the African continent – in Botswana, Kenya, Namibia, and Nigeria – who shared their thoughts on what life has been like for them and their families under lockdown. UP alumna and award-winning MetroFM radio presenter Nthabeleng Matela moderated the conversation.

The panel was made up of Chinedu Nwagu, a Development Consultant from Nigeria, Dr Rosemary Emongor, an Agricultural Economist from Kenya, Newton Runyowa, a Laboratory Specialist from Botswana, and Yvonne Dausab, who is Namibia’s Minister of Justice.

One of the first things highlighted by the panel was that, as in South Africa, the lockdown has taken the form of curfews, and even complete lockdowns in parts of the country deemed to be hot spots.

Dr Emongor highlighted that in Kenya, limitations were placed on the number of passengers each public transportation vehicle could carry.

“We’ve had a partial lockdown in Nairobi, where I live, Mombasa and some other towns. These were areas deemed to be hot spots. Our transport services were still functional, but social distancing measures were put in place. For instance, if a vehicle is meant to carry 14 passengers, it could now only carry seven passengers. Operators of those vehicles ended up transferring that financial loss onto the commuters by increasing the cost of transport,” she explained.

In the case of Botswana, Runyowa, who lives in Gaborone, said they had been under a hard lockdown for about four to six weeks that, like South Africa, was managed in a phased approach. The country’s economic activities have resumed, with strict compliance to health safety precautions being enforced.

“Things like hand washing, social distancing, wearing face masks, temperature monitoring and contact tracing are still happening throughout the country. Cross-border and air travel have not yet resumed. With the country relying on tourism, I hope the country will be open to these soon,” he said.

On a more personal note, Nwagu said that while gaining a couple of kilos due to the lockdown, one of the more enjoyable things for him was the opportunity to spend time with his loved ones.

“Nationally, the issue of gender-based violence, which has been one of the negative effects of lockdown, has become more of an issue in [Nigeria]. On a positive note, for those with families, the lockdown presented the opportunity to bond with our loved ones. We were able to see each other for longer periods than we would usually enjoy,” he said.

When quizzed about what the government of Namibia has learnt from watching South Africa grapple with COVID-19, Minister Dausab said that open communication was one of their biggest lessons.

“One of the things Namibia has done right, and I see that in South Africa as well, is that there is a COVID-19 update and communications centre. That platform has allowed people from all walks of life the opportunity to share their experiences, but also to criticise, if necessary, the systems they’ve had issues with. We had a case in court which we lost, where the employers association had taken government to court for a guideline which encouraged the creation of a platform for social dialogue, instead of retrenchments.

We had very clear laws about how we wanted to manage the crisis, and we communicated the intention of those laws to members of the public. As a result, members of the public were able to engage with the context of those laws. There are some things I think we could have done differently, but it’s a learning curve. None of us have managed a crisis like this before. It certainly helped that we allowed civil society and other experts to be a part of our decision-making process,” Minister Dausab said.

To watch the full conversation visit: https://www.linkedin.com/video/live/urn:li:ugcPost:6686644768442748928/

- Author Masego Panyane
Published by Xolani Mathibela

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