Coronavirus Pandemic the Case of Politics Overriding Humanity

5 mins read

By Zerihun Gudeta Alemu,
March 24, 2020

The Coronavirus is spreading like wildfire becoming a pandemic in a short period. In response, several measures that have disrupted people’s lifestyles have been introduced. One good example is ‘social distancing’ which due to limited socio-economic costs and ease of application is touted effective in containing the spread of the virus. Nevertheless, results vary depending, among others, how well economic actors (e.g. businesses, households and governments) in affected countries have embraced some elements of the ‘digital revolution’. The digital revolution has allowed businesses to design ‘business continuity plans’ to keep them afloat in events like this by introducing ‘telecommuting’ (i.e. working from home and reducing business travels). Households have benefited from it; it allowed them to access digital shopping platforms that made possible online shopping including simple grocery items. And education institutions have benefited too. They, by moving to the web, have been able to replace classroom instruction by ‘online courses’. For sure, in times like this, the benefits that the digital revolution has brought to countries that have embraced it early enough to contain the spread of the virus through social distancing are many.

Unfortunately, Ethiopia has considerable ground to cover in the digital revolution space compared with its neighbors. Successful countries (including its neighbor Kenya) credit their achievements to their vibrant telecom industries. Kenya is in the process of acquiring the fifth-generation (5G) mobile internet service to deepen the benefits even further. It was only in August last year that the Ethiopian Telecommunication Corporation (ETC) announced a plan to install a 4G network in the capital and selected regions. Ethiopia’s late adoption had to do, inter alia, with the political-economic thinking that dominated policymaking in the country spanning over three decades. The ETC, as a sole Internet Service Provider, was served as a cash cow to finance the government’s flagship and vital infrastructure projects. Nevertheless, this happed at the expense of its own development. This is because, undoubtedly, it could access, like many other SOEs, an only small portion of the profit it amassed from exorbitant service charges it collected to upgrade its operations to keep pace with developments in the global telecom industry.

Internet penetration is estimated at 14 percent compared with Kenya’s 90% and Africa’s average of 22 percent. Besides, it is expensive compared with its peers and is characterized by frequent blackouts, as recent experiences have demonstrated, not due to technical glitches but rather politics. One recent example is the government instigated blackout of phone and internet connections in some regions of the country perceived to be politically unstable. This is uncalled for at a time when the world is utilizing all available means at its disposal to contain the spread of the virus.

The level of telecom technology penetration is indeed low in these areas. But keeping those having access to the internet in these areas in darkness, whatever small in number they may be, could severely jeopardize the flow of pertinent lifesaving information within and outside the region. I recall, a few years ago, the government paraded model farmers on state media in a bid to demonstrate the success of government’s agricultural development program. I presume, one common factor that contributed to the success of these farmers is their ability to obtain critical agricultural information to boost production and protect their profits from unscrupulous middlemen by accessing price information on time using their mobile phones. This means that although slowly information exchange through the internet is entrenching in rural areas. I don’t see why the role of the internet in containing the spread of the virus is discounted by the same government that praised it a few years ago.

I take my hats off for the government for the recent decision it took to grant amnesty to inmates to reduce congestion in prison cells (a good example of ‘social distancing’ I alluded to earlier). It demonstrates that it chose humanity over justice. By the same token, I remain hopeful that the government would come to its senses to prioritize humanity over politics to extend the same gesture to the regions experiencing blackouts by striking some form of truce with the disgruntled forces operating in these regions.

So long!



  1. proffesor Zerihune gudeta, was by firend while we were at high school, in addis and even in Addis Ababa University during those days years before.

    Melaku Hailu w/michael
    Ethiopian Human Rights Commission

  2. “May you live in interesting times” Confucius. Here we are wading in one. A society that is deep in debt and now scared of a virus that is sweeping the globe. Hey, welcome to reality. The artificial lifestyle people were living and still attempt to live is a facade. Greed and corruption rules the day. The more things change, the more they stay the same. Governments around the world are printing their currencies at an alarming rate to prop up their sinking economy. Will that work? Maybe not. But we are told it will. Those bankers and titans of the industry will benefit from the bailout or whatever name the relief package is given. When the storm subsides they will be on top where they were in the first place.
    Capitalism is a cruel system. It is based on “Buy now pay later” credit system that bankrupted millions of people by giving the illusion everyone is doing well while there are million out in the cold. What is even worse is party politics is at play in these trying days. In the case of Ethiopia it is Ethnic politics that is creating havoc among its citizens. Furthermore, worthless beliefs and traditional medicine men and women are cheating our people without giving any hope or cure by taking their meager resources. And there is no one to stop them from such unproven practices. The release of prisoners is another unwise move without knowing and isolating infected inmates. The same goes to closing all higher education institution and to let students go to where they came from. What if these students and former inmates are carrying the virus to their destinations? How do you stop the spread then? That will be an impossible task. I suppose it might have been a herculean task to feed these students and prisoners if they are left at their places. One things is clear, when this pandemic subsides the world will not be the same. Fear is the best tranquilizer for humans. I believe we are already feeling that. There is no proven drug that will reduce tension or anxiety, but we have got a lot of drugs that will put us to sleep. That may help. Let us wait and see what the impact will be for the present and there after. The whole world is in it. No one will be unscathed by the negative impact of the virus.

  3. Now get a load of this!!! I just read news hot off the press on one the local media outlets from the old country announcing the discovery of a drug concocted from one of the traditional medicines tested using the latest technology. O boy!! O boy!!! Here we go again!!! I remember reading news about a person who was more than 160 years old who lived in that country. Then there was another story where a man was trying to bring a dead and buried person back to life. What about that story of an old man who claimed to be one of the leaders of the Mau Mau Movement/Uprising that shook the British colonial empire in Kenya in the 1950 with Jomo Kenyata in the lead? He was even given a hero’s welcome in Kenya just to be discovered that he was not even a Kenyan not speaking a single word in Swahili. What an embarrassment for everyone involved in spinning that story including the then administration. There was even another story that I was told by one of my warra Chercher friends. It took place in the 1980’s when the dreaded AIDS epidemics arrived at the old country when the demonic Mengistu was in full control of at least the capital. He told me a story of a locally discovered medicine that would heal AIDS allegedly by none other than “Chairman’ Mengistu. He was now an ultra scientist by a quadrillion times more genius than Robert Gallo and Françoise Barré-Sinoussi. If you had the HIV virus then all you have to do was chug down a glass or two(depending on your mood that given day) and that was it. You were healed!!! Then you were expected to do a jumping jack many times as you could and scream ‘Long Live Our Chairman Mengistu!!!’. Remember he was called the ‘Center’ too. A ‘Center’ of everything. I think that also included the universe. I have to verify that with this TV anchor on one of the major TV stations in our Diaspora. That was not announced on the national radio or TV but it was let loose to circulate thru the speakeasies in the hoods. But you dared not to talk about the tens of thousands who succumbed to the disease in that decade alone in that country. But ‘Chairman’ Mengistu had a fierce competition though, Yahya Jammeh of Gambia. That lunatic even had the audacity to tell his people(and the rest of the world) that he had found a medicine he personally concocted himself in 2007 that cures AIDS and many types of cancer and was photographed administering the treatment himself. Just look at him in here:

    Now we have this!!! I am hoping and praying that this story will not reach the ears of the global media outlets like AFP, Reuters and BBC. This latest reckless story of a possible effective treatment medicine for COVID-19 is even being lauded by the Minister of Health. The snake oil/magic bullet was discovered in cooperation with the Ministry of Innovation and Technology. Please remember that this is a country at a loss to find an effective eradicating/preventive medicine for the scabby that has been ravaging its population since birth. Just look at the story in this link: OK, what the heck, I just discovered a brand spanking new technology myself with my septuagenarian brain. I just put together a sling that will hurl a human from here to Mars in just one hour!!! How do you like that? My eyes not are even blinking when I tell you this. And you will be the first human on the sling. Congratulations dear compatriot. You will be the first human to land on Mars!!!!

    This is when I prefer to go and hide somewhere until this news is gone and forgotten.

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