These are perilous times we are living. Our humanity and our human conditions are becoming perilous. We lead now in all perilous ventures. 

We should all be careful and keep to informed instructions. Coronavirus is real. It killed more than one person per hour in New York at the weekend. Reports say between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. on Friday, 14 people in New York City died from the virus.

The Gambian public is deeply cynical about government, politics, and the nation’s elected leaders in a way that has become quite familiar. We, therefore, mistrust the governments we set up, and the governments themselves are just like us – too trusting of everyone else except their people, and mostly clueless about the potential of catastrophes and how to respond to them in order to save people from human-made disaster and natural disaster?

For us, Gambians do not task our best minds to do research and provide homegrown solutions because we expect others will come to our aid whenever calamity strikes. They helped us during the Ethiopian famine, didn’t they?

In the current coronavirus crisis, for instance, other countries are perfectly capable of coming to entice their best brains to go to their research labs and cook up the necessary medicines and vaccines. 

In contrast, we shall be content with facilitating our best and the brightest to access funding for trials of vaccines developed by others.

The same way we facilitated our best brains to become distributors of condoms during the HIV/AIDs crisis. In all these, we exhibit the best traits of followers, not leaders, and we seem to be happy about it. 

The greatest lesson we should take from the coronavirus crisis is that only the most paranoid survive.

Since the confirmation of a case of coronavirus in the Gambia slightly more than a week ago, Gambians have reacted extraordinarily. We had continued with life as usual, until lately when airspace, land border schools, places of worship, bars, social places had to be closed down by the government. 

Without real, determined enforcement, it is likely some bars and public places, as well as churches and mosques, will remain “closed outside” and “open inside.”

A senior Gambia government official (name withheld), he was supposed to attend an official function in Europe, got cancelled for fear of coronavirus. He decided to go by hook or crook, to travel to Europe for the meetings. The Gambian civil and public servants cannot earn per diem at international rates if they remain in the country, they cannot?

When he returned to the country, and instead of self-quarantining, he decided to meet his boss, his office, his staff. He attended a few public functions, including one where national leaders were in attendance.

Add to this the fact that we have been very slow in closing our boundaries. Even now, we can still board a plane from one of the epicentres of the coronavirus and come to the Gambia, where we shall give him a form to fill and request him to go and self-quarantine.

Coronavirus pandemic is worse than war. We monitor reports about New York City, the US coronavirus epicentre. When we read one which applies to any of our careless cities here: “The latest figures reflect only the tip of an iceberg. Keep in mind that estimates suggest each infected person transmits the virus to another two to three people, who, in turn, can transmit to others, and we begin to grasp the magnitude of the problem.”

That summary of the New York situation is from Theodora Hatziioannou, an associate professor in virology at Rockefeller University in Manhattan. The auguries are very bad, but the American government is standing up to them.”

Coronavirus pandemic is terrifying. Imagine just a million people testing positive in the Gambia. Which hospital would take them? Moreover, things may get that pretty bad. If they do, where shall we escape to for protection? To whom shall we run for help? 

The point is we have no sense of danger, no fear, no paranoia. We are Africans. Although a coronavirus has hit the West, they experienced pandemics they might fare better than Africans, all things being equal. We are saying all things being equal because our hot climate might save us. Put the stress on “Might.”

We expect the Western world to fair better because they are paranoid enough. Some of us spent a total of 15 years in both Europe and the US, and we can tell that fear is in the genes of every Westerner. The Western world’s fear is rooted in its collective memory of catastrophes, including pandemics, wars, and imagined wars, particularly the Cold War.

The Bubonic plague, the Black death, the Spanish flu, Influenza, the 30-year war, the First and Second World Wars, and other epidemics and pandemics, etc., are all sheared with a hot iron in the minds of every Westerner. 

It helps, of course, that they made the wars, and calculatedly used germ welfare on others. When we plan to use a chemical or germ on other people, it follows that we must study and fully understand the nature of the harm that weapon is capable of inflicting, not just on the enemy, but on ourselves as well.

Africans have not developed a weapon beyond a simple bow and arrow and poisoned arrows. We have no mental conception of weapons of mass destruction. We are clueless. The West, on the other hand, not only understands the capability of these weapons but has also been preparing their people on how to survive them. 

A World war is raging with a viral, unseen, lethal enemy. Everyone, including so-called superpowers, is lying prostrate, desperate, helpless. Our public authorities are, so far, doing well, taking charge as they should. 

Nevertheless, where is our president, the commander-in-chief? He does not talk to us. He is too distant in all matters of state. Mamudu does not want to say he is arrogant and self-important – and incapable. If others did not have a president, we would have said, well. That is the way a president behaves. Trump is there, updating his people daily on this coronavirus pandemic.

Gambia’s problem is too much. America is not the Gambia Trump’s grandfather, Frederick Trump, was killed in a pandemic – a viral ailment exactly as virulent as this reigning scourge. So, the US president is loud and is breathing heavily daily to the microphone is because he has a personal score to settle with all viruses. President Adama Barrow has no such history. So, let him be.

History has revealed that Donald Trump’s granddad was killed by the Spanish Flu of 1918. The Daily Beast described how he became one of the first casualties of that pandemic. The man ‘was taking an afternoon stroll with his young son when he suddenly announced that he felt too ill to continue and needed to retire to his bed. One day later, Frederick died at home.’ That was in May 1918.” Just like that? Yes. A lit lamp in a rainstorm.

Furthermore, we know what? Despite the early fatalities, the world, just as now, did not believe it had an emergency on its hands until it was too late. The population of the world, as of that time, was a little above 1.5 billion. Out of that figure, an estimated 500 million people – or one-third of the world’s population – were infected by the virus. 

Again, out of the figure, over 50 million died — 675,000 died in the US. 

The devastation is global, a historic calamity. Casket makers were tired of making money. Furthermore, we would think we would learn from the tragic tardiness of that past.

So far of the dead from The Gambia only one foreigner, a Bangladeshi man has died from the virus and one confirmed positive case. 

By Alagi Yorro Jallow 

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