In a recent interview, I was asked to share my thoughts on the global pandemic that is transforming our lives and shaping a new future for so many people.
Most of my responses concerned Ghana and the strong, decisive and admirable way the country has responded to the crisis. My hat goes off to all the healthcare workers on the front lines who are sacrificing their livelihoods and going out in fear daily for the collective good. I feel that what we need now is to exercise positivity, rally together under one direction, speak with one voice and thereby help to curb the spread.
On Mental health
I have lost family members in the UK to COVID-19. My brothers-in-law, two brothers, living in different cities, who had not even seen other, since the virus started to spread, died within 10 days of one another. The border closures have separated my husband and I, without a clue as to when we will be re-united. I know others who are having it rough as well and appreciate the toll it can take on our wellbeing.
Furthermore, there is a lot of stigmatisation of those who have been infected by the virus. This is hurtful as it upsets mental health and impedes efforts being made to contain the spread, as some people tend to hide (their symptoms) instead of disclosure and getting tested, for fear of being declared ‘COVID-19 positive’ and ostracized. Let us be reminded of World Health Organisation (WHO) reports which indicate that the majority of people recover after experiencing mild symptoms (not unlike your everyday cold). Let’s use our propensity for kindness to protect our own and our fellow citizens’ mental health.
Recently, someone posted a comment on Twitter about the ‘civilised world,’ referring to the West, and their actions in response to COVID-19, which, to be frank, irked me.
Between February and March this year, before the lockdown, I visited three countries and can confidently say that the screening protocol in place at Kotoka Airport in Accra, Ghana, was by far the most thorough; from the checking of temperatures to the compulsory sanitizing of hands. This was not the case in the airport of the ‘civilised nation’ visited.
The suspension of public gatherings and closure of schools in Ghana came soon after the confirmation of 6 cases, and ahead of similar actions in some European countries, who by then were already having a far larger number of confirmed cases and resultant recorded deaths.
The urge or need to constantly and negatively compare Ghana to Western ‘civilised’ nations is completely misguided! How do we expect people to respect us, if we do not respect ourselves? Ironically today, Western nations are in admiration of Ghana, heralding Her as a country under strong leadership, that has taken timely, decisive and positive actions to protect Her people from the spread of the virus. Let us do the same.
I usually stay away from the word ‘politics’ because it is such a divisive factor in Ghana, but will use it three times today because sincerely, we need to put politics aside.
We are talking about a global public health crisis, an economic crisis, a mental health crisis. What has politics got to do with it? COVID-19 is non-partisan. This is the time to unite as one country to fight this crisis together, under the direction of one leader. Why then, do we Ghanaians, want to pull ourselves down? You know the saying, if you do not love yourself, how can you love others or have others love you? And to that I add, if we do not value (or see value in) ourselves as a nation, who will value us? There is often mention about the West robbing Ghana of her gold and her cocoa. This should also include Ghanaians robbing Ghana of the (self)respect She deserves. But I would prefer to talk about Ghanaians being patriotic. Let us put Ghana first.
On media & influencers
The International media mainly reports negative news coming out of Africa. And to be fair, it is not reasonable to expect a positive portrayal if the news they pick up from Ghana is largely negative.
Let us educate ourselves on preventing the spread of the virus, in line with the Health Authorities, and when we gain positive traction, let us celebrate that, with the local media leading the way. And thus, we should say together to the international media, ‘If they won’t report on the positives, I will not lend them a voice to report on the negative.’
My fellow citizens in the media, socio-cultural, religious and corporate world, who sit on whichever side of the political divide; use your voices to spread the positive news too. Also, encourage everyone to follow the directions given by the authorities, and not spread your own thoughts on information which may or may not be accurate. When there are too many voices, people become more confused. This is a sure way for the situation to spiral out of control. We need responsible, accountable, fact-based journalism. Not the journalism of unconstructive criticism. Let us get to the business of reporting for the greater good.
On the positive side, many citizens have displayed a profound community-spirit, sharing food with those less fortunate, donating towards purchasing PPEs and through various other contributions towards the cause. This is what we need more of. Let us do more and more.
On SMARTER leadership
When you manage a home, a team, a small company or a large organisation, at any level, you know how difficult that can be. When you have one or two people who do not toe the line, it gives you cause for stress. How much more to manage a nation of people who are fearful and to whom you cannot even provide guarantees because the only thing certain is the uncertainty.
I have a Mentoring programme called SMARTER Leadership. It consists of behavioural traits and lessons that will help one to lead in tough times. These are sincerity, motivation, artfulness (creativity), resilience, toughness, empathy, and respectfulness (walking the talk). Tough times take many forms, of which global pandemics like Covid-19, are experienced maybe once in a lifetime, but the traits are still applicable.
I’m singling out being tough and empathetic in leadership because people often ask how the two are balanced, and we need extra doses of both during this crisis. Leaders all around the world are having to make tough decisions.
Our President had to make the tough decision of imposing a lockdown in a nation where people largely live hand to mouth and the fear of hunger is bigger than the fear of Covid-19 (they do not see death yet). And the decision to lift the lockdown was just as hard at a time when a section of society is scared for their lives. On the other hand, some of the measures introduced, such as the provision of water to homes and the subsidisation of electricity for three months were taken to lessen the burden on majority of the population. The situation is being reviewed on a daily basis and I am confident that our leaders will continue to make the best decisions with the information they have available. I am thankful we have such strong and inspiring leadership at the helm of our Nation. Let us work with them.
On Brand Ghana
One of my passions is seeing how together we can build the brand Ghana and in previous communications, I posited that G could stand for Goals, H for History, A for Attitudes, N for Nationalism and the final A for Actions.
In the short term regarding Covid-19, that Goal has been clearly spelt out by our leader; to identify and isolate infected persons, protect the population from further infections, and contain better the spread of the virus. The History we learn from, is one of being a leader. So why not let it be that the first African country to gain independence is the first African country to innovate in trying to curb the spread? The quarantining of travellers and the contact tracing exercise are commendable and have helped Ghana to get a grip, however still unsteady, on the situation. The Attitude should be ‘I am my brother and my sister’s keeper.’ On Nationalism it should be ‘United, we will get through this’. And on Actions, we should continue to observe the hygiene and safety protocols, educate those who do not understand them, and lend a helping hand by providing where we can. We know this crisis is far from over but this is an opportunity to reset our standards, become more organised and be co-creators of our Country’s destiny.
I do not say everything is perfect. Where in the world is it perfect even on a good day? But I do believe that we have the perfect ingredients to build something strong, enduring and powerful. Let us build brand Ghana. Let us be proud of our country. And let us show the world what Ghana is capable of.
The views of the author are entirely her own. She can be found on her social media handles @tucciivowi
About The Author
The author is the founding Deputy CEO of the Ghana Commodity Exchange. She is an experienced business leader with over eighteen (18) years’ experience in marketing and general business management in the UK and emerging markets of Southeast Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa. Leading teams across multiple geographies.