Africa, Omicron and the ideology of the goat, By Owei Lakemfa

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I categorise the unscientific and punitive reaction of some of these developed countries against Africa on the Omicron case, to the ideology of the goat. The first reaction of the goat to any new thing it does not understand, is panic. This it follows with self-defence and self-preservation. It then digs in and usually remains stubborn, even in the face of new facts, unless it is pushed to change its position.

Four foreigners identified as diplomats leaving Botswana on November 11 tested positive to what turned out to be a new variant of the coronavirus, which has now come to be identified as Omicron. This variant was unknown to science earlier. However, South African doctors, led by Angelique Coetzee, by November 24, had correctly categorised the new variant, and with tha, the world became aware of the new coronavirus mutation.

It is common sense that the discovery of a virus or its variant in a place or country does not mean it originated from that place. For instance, on that same November 11 when the foreigners in Botswana tested positive to Omicron, a Belgian lady returned home from a visit to Egypt via Turkey and tested positive for what the South African doctors had identified as the Omicron variant. By November 30, there were nine reported cases of the virus in Scotland and none of the victims had travelled out or had any overseas contact. This simply meant  that there was community transmission of the disease in their location.

But the basic fact that the Omicron variant was already travelling round the world before its discovery by the South Africans was lost on some European countries. Their immediate reaction was to baptise the Omicron as  a ‘South African variant’ and while it was spreading in various European countries, they decided to isolate South Africa and its neigbours by placing a travel ban on their citizens. This, they later extended to countries in other parts of the continent.

Many Western countries did not seek to establish the identities of the foreigners in Botswana who bore the variant, in order to establish its origin and put in place strategies to contain it. They were not interested in understanding the fact that even if doctors from South Africa discovered Omicron, it did not make it an African variant for which the continent should be slapped with travel bans.  

But that is precisely what happened. For example, within fourteen days of the detection of Omicron, Canada banned seven Southern African countries, and a day later added Nigeria, Malawi and Egypt. Its Health Minister, Jean-Yves Duclos declared on November 30 that: “Canadian citizens and permanent residents that have been in any of these ten countries over the last 14 days will need to receive a negative PCR test before being allowed to travel to Canada. Upon arriving in Canada, they will face more testing and quarantine measures. These new measures also apply to Canadian citizens and permanent residents, even those that are fully vaccinated”

Such knee-jerk reactions and actions by developed countries and even some underdeveloped countries like Saudi Arabia against Africa, forced South African President Cyril Ramaphosa to embark on a tour of four West African countries to explain issues, build consensus and organise a united fight back.  

Although Ramaphosa subjected himself to the COVID-19 test in each country he visited and was negative, unfortunately the test he did on his return home turned out positive and he has had to self-isolate. There may be those who gloat that after embarking on a campaign against Omicron, he turned out positive. I do not think this is either scientific nor logical, as many world leaders had tested positive before him.

In Dakar, Senegal, he told the rich countries to fight the virus, not poor countries. The former labour leader said: “When South African scientists discovered… Omicron, the new variant, they immediately took on the responsibility of informing the world… that a new variant has come through. And what is the result? The Northern countries imposed a ban to punish the excellence that comes from Africa…They basically said, ‘we will not allow you to travel around’, but lo and behold, Omicron is spreading all over the world.”

Senegalese President, Macky Sall told the rich countries that what the war against the coronavirus pandemic requires is unity of the human race, not division: “We must continue to work together in solidarity. This pandemic, which is affecting all our countries, must bring us together on the side of solidarity in our response, instead of adding a new divide between rich and poor countries.”

President Muhammadu Buhari of Nigeria, after meeting Ramaphosa, emphasised that: “Despite the scare generated by the new COVID-19 variant, we have been able to hold successful meetings, while observing strict COVID-19 protocols, through fraternal cooperation and understanding.” Both countries used the occasion to sign  Memoranda of Understanding in areas like youth development, women and child empowerment, as well as reviewing existing ones in areas including: “military cooperation, power, cooperation in the field of geology, mining, and mineral processing, oil and gas”.

Although Ramaphosa subjected himself to the COVID-19 test in each country he visited and was negative, unfortunately the test he did on his return home turned out positive and he has had to self-isolate. There may be those who gloat that after embarking on a campaign against Omicron, he turned out positive. I do not think this is either scientific nor logical, as many world leaders had tested positive before him. These include  then United States President Donald Trump and wife, Melania, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Presidents Alex Lukashenko of Belarus and Emmanuel Macron of France.

Despite all the panic in Europe and Canada over Omicron, research so far by the South Africans show that it milder than previous variants of the coronavirus, like the Delta. Leading American scientist, Anthony Fauci, who is also President Joe Biden’s chief medical advisor, said early indications suggested that Omicron is not worse than previous variants and that it is possibly milder:  “There (are) some suggestion(s) that it might even be less severe, because when you look at some of the cohorts that are being followed in South Africa, the ratio between the number of infections and the number of hospitalisations seems to be less than with Delta.”

A more conscious, serious, visionary and conscientious Africa Union is required to defend the continent against predatory attacks. Meanwhile, I wish our President, Cyril Ramaphosa, speedy recovery.

In one of the earliest attacks against Africa, the United Kingdom (U.K.) had placed an immediate ban on  six Southern African countries — South Africa, Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Namibia and Zimbabwe, and added Nigeria in West Africa. It claimed that this was to prevent the importation of Omicron into its territory.

In reaction to these blind attacks, Nigeria announced that it will also restrict airlines coming from Canada, the U.K. and Saudi Arabia and place these countries on a red watch list.

Perhaps realising the lack of scientific basis in its reaction to Omicron and the threat of some of the banned countries to retaliate, the U.K., within a few days, changed course and replaced its so-called red list with testing for the fully vaccinated.

I categorise the unscientific and punitive reaction of some of these developed countries against Africa on the Omicron case, to the ideology of the goat. The first reaction of the goat to any new thing it does not understand, is panic. This it follows with self-defence and self-preservation. It then digs in and usually remains stubborn, even in the face of new facts, unless it is pushed to change its position.

A more conscious, serious, visionary and conscientious Africa Union is required to defend the continent against predatory attacks. Meanwhile, I wish our President, Cyril Ramaphosa, speedy recovery.

Owei Lakemfa, a former secretary general of African workers, is a human rights activist, journalist and author. 

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