15 Oktober 2020 | Leserpost
An open letter to Antonio Guterres, the Secretary-General of the United Nations
Dear Mr. Guterres
Mr. Guterres, I am tired and battle-weary.
Tired of having to fight for a great Namibian company, fight for 1 102 employees. Not merely represent them, no, we are forced to actively fight for them. This fight represents hundreds of thousands of Namibians, people who are suffering because of what we are doing to them.
Your World Health Organisation (WHO), based in Geneva, Switzerland, with their developed world perspective, is destroying lives in my country with their one-size-fits-all approach.
It is clear that the developed world is not only sitting with the vast majority of the wealth on this planet, but because of that, also almost exclusively with the perspective. Our world and our view here in Namibia are pretty much irrelevant.
You might think that I am one of those individuals who think Covid-19 is merely a “light flu”. I am not. We understand that it is real.
In Namibia we wear our masks, we wash our hands. Social distancing is a bit more difficult in overcrowded shacks, but none of this is politicised. We cannot afford to fight over this.
Let me explain where we are in Namibia:
Early on, our government acted fast and strict, putting our country into a complete lockdown. At the time, that was the right thing to do. There were so many unknowns back then and the WHO’s projections for Africa were dire. Over the past few months, still mostly under strict protocols we had multiple breakouts but the doom and gloom in terms of deaths never came. Our hospitals were never overrun. Today (8 October 2020), out of a nation of about 2,5 million people, we have done almost 107 000 tests, had 11 800 confirmed cases, 127 deaths - 99 Covid deaths and 28 Covid-related deaths. The vast majority of deaths were people with comorbidities.
All this came at a direct cost of more than N$800 million (US$50 million) and counting, and the indirect cost of N$ billions.
Why, more than seven months into this, have we seen no change in strategy, despite the truth of this virus in our reality? Our median age in Namibia is 22. The WHO even admitted that they cannot completely explain why Africa is doing so well relatively speaking, yet no change in strategy.
The 127 lost Namibians are 127 too many but let us put this into perspective:
More than 420 Namibians died in vehicle accidents last year (2018 more than 700),
We lost 150 Namibians to TB in 2019 (2018: 620). Yes, Covid-19 is still way less deadly than TB for Namibians. TB is highly infectious and deadly to children as well, is it not?
We lose thousands of Namibians every year to malaria, cancer, suicide and so many other diseases.
The difference is that we do not destroy our children’s future because of it. We cannot afford the luxury of defending the small minority at the cost of the vast majority.
You see Mr. Guterres, in the developed world extra debt comes at a very small or no extra cost. That is not our reality. The N$ billions that we are borrowing and will still need to borrow in the next decade to pay for this destruction, comes at a very high incremental cost. The costs of our debt come at the opportunity costs of another brick house for a family, the costs of basic human dignity. It comes at the cost of another Namibian child’s education.
We do not have a money printing option.
The irony is that all this is causing a massive capital flight from Namibia to the developed world, with probably a wave of skills to follow.
We also do not have the luxury of dreaming about a vaccine. How high do you think Namibia is on the priority list for pharmaceutical companies? Our reality is that Covid-19 will not go away soon, we simply have to live with it, probably for years to come.
Let us be clear about one thing. These things are self-inflicted.
It is not Covid-19, no, it is our decisions regarding how to deal with it. Billions lost from the economy; thousands of livelihoods lost. Tens of thousands of people pushed back into poverty. The small tax base that has to pay for our government, destroyed.
You see Mr. Guterres, our Minister of Health, Dr Shangula, is dictating and destroying our future strictly along WHO guidelines. We will pay for these decisions for at least the next ten years. I assume the next decade is on you, Mr. Guterres?
I see our Minister of Health tests school children now for Covid-19. I assume he tests them for TB too. I mean, they run a higher risk of being killed by TB anyway.
The complete lack of leadership on an international level is rather shocking. To recommend lockdowns and the destruction of industries like tourism comes quick and easy, yet more than seven months down the line there is no agreed protocol for the opening of that same industry. The same virus in every country, yet everyone decides for themselves at the detriment of the other. It is simply a self-inflicted slow suicide of the fastest growing international industry. With around 50 infections per day of 2,5 million people in a country almost twice the size of France, we must be one of the safest destinations in the world, yet we are on every European red list.
To make matters worse, the death of tourism comes at an increase in poaching, the destruction of our environment, but we aren’t discussing those repercussions either.
Will you ever see the suffering? One of Gondwana’s groundsmen came to me last week to ask for corrugated sheets. He cannot afford his rent any longer with our pay cuts and he has to build himself a shack.
I always hoped to be part of a solution to get people out of shacks, into homes. A home is so much more than brick and mortar, it is basic human dignity. Now I am part of putting more people into shacks. Thousands more will follow because of these decisions, Mr. Guterres.
I am tired of seeing our people suffer, tired of seeing the stress in their eyes. Tired of having to see these people who we so deeply care for suffer from stress induced illnesses like shingles, to mention one. As if it is not bad enough for them to worry about whether they will have a salary next month - the ability to care for their loved ones, now the mental and physical health issues on top of that. They deserve better.
I wonder if our Minister of Health even sees the ever-increasing number of men, standing on the street corners, begging for a day’s wage, begging for a meal? Does he see the desperation in their eyes? I suppose not, it is probably difficult to see their plight from the back seat of a black Mercedes that barely stops at intersections.
You see Mr. Guterres, we have another ever increasing pandemic here in Namibia, it is called poverty. Now, I am no doctor and I do not know its epidemiological profile, but I see its impact every day. It steals hope and dreams and destroys dignity and ultimately it kills. I doubt you have this disease in Geneva.
Today, I visited two of our suppliers. These are poor women, Miriam and Magda, who have been supplying Matukondjo dolls to us for more than fifteen years. We sell these in our Gondwana curio shops, and they sell directly to tourists at the Windhoek Craft Centre. They used to earn at least N$1 500 (US$100) per month from the dolls which they make with their hands. They also used to get a big profit share at the end of the year that they use for large expenses like school fees, new school uniforms and stationery in January. Miriam said to me she is not sleeping because she does not know what she will do in January. Their income from the dolls has now dropped to zero.
Managing Director at Gondwana Collection Namibia