Strict nationwide lockdown is not practicable in Ghana largely because the economy is too weak to cater for the vulnerable beyond three months sustainably. The trend of the COVID-19 pandemic across the world suggests that it is not likely to die out soon.
There will certainly be catastrophic consequences to Ghana if we adopt strict nationwide lockdown policies adopted by European countries.
This means we need to have a strategic plan and approach to dealing with the pandemic unique to Ghana.
As the situation evolves, the focus of the country should be on sustainability and effectiveness of the adopted measures to contain and stamp out COVID-19.
Ghana is not ready for strict nationwide lockdown due to the following reasons:
First, informal employment is the main source of employment in Ghana, accounting for 89.2 percent of all employment (ILO, 2018). What is peculiar about informal workers is that they lack benefits such as health insurance, unemployment insurance and paid leave. Worse still, particularly the self-employed need to work every day to earn their living and pay for their basic household necessities. A prolonged lockdown will put the lives of these people in danger.
Second, SMEs are the key drivers of the growth of Ghana’s economy accounting for about 38 percent of the country’s GDP (IFC, 2018).
Total nationwide lockdown will mean a hefty blow to employers and employees in these sectors as well as generation of revenue for government.
Third, government is certainly not ready to support millions of people especially in the informal sectors of the economy in sustainably. Ghana doesn’t have the wherewithal to shoulder the responsibility of providing adequately for five to ten million people across the country.
Third, there is likely to be a sharp decline in remittance inflow as countries especially the USA, Asian and European countries have locked down and these are the countries where Ghana receives huge volumes of remittances from.
Four, government is losing billions in tax revenue this year due to COVID-19 and its attendant disruption in economic activities even with the partial lockdown should it go beyond a month. Oil revenue is also likely to suffer as world market price of crude oil tumbles.
Five, nationwide lockdown will result in shortage of agricultural goods including soya beans, maize, rice, poultry products and other essentials since Ghana is a net importer of basic food and services from China, USA and others. Farmers would not be able farm, let alone increase their production.
In fact, government should immediately retool the agricultural industry, supply large scale inputs and seedlings to farmers. We should even consider plantation farms to produce enough rice, cassava, plantain, yam and other foodstuffs to feed Ghanaians beyond the next three months. Self sufficiency in agricultural production is indispensable to our survival amidst the pandemic.
As a solution, I would recommend regional lockdown or targeted lockdowns as a more pragmatic approach to stifle and contain the spread of the pandemic as opposed to strict nationwide lockdown. In that case, a particular region or municipality could be cut off for rigorous testing and treatment within a given period of time.
Furthermore, government may gradually allow the informal sectors to operate under strict social distancing protocols monitored by the security agencies and local government agencies. The state can institute shift system for the operations of the informal sector.
Moreover, wearing of nose masks should be made compulsory for every Ghanaian in the public place. This would help to minimize the spread of the pandemic since the cost of shutting down the economy would be too devastating in the long run.
Finally, citizens should be educated in a language they understand and not how we want them to understand the situation. Citizens should be educated and not just informed about the pandemic to elicit attitudinal changes. Each Ghanaian must take responsibility for his own health and welfare. This maybe a more sustainable way forward for our country. Let’s walk the talk of “Ghana Beyond Aid” mantra.
(CLEMENT ADJEI SARFO, THE CRUSDAER)