Truth be told, although Zambia has an estimated population size of 17.5 million, the country hasn’t got 17.5 million problems, on the contrary, the nation has 17.5 million solutions to its socioeconomic challenges. The object of this article is to lend a theological reflection on the reshaping of Zambia's future in the evolving New World, which has been wrought upon us by the global pandemic of COVID-19.
The outbreak of the Coronavirus in Wuhan, China, in December 2019 and its subsequent proliferation to global dimensions, in the months of March and April, has but made the future of our world, nations, and communities to hang perilously in the balance. Policymakers are compelled to choose between sustaining the stay-at-home policy or to open their respective socioeconomic systems. Add to the reality that COVID-19 projections in sub-Saharan African countries are yet to reach the peak of infections, after which hopefully the curve might flatten rapidly.
To put it in African parlance, in Sub-Sahara Africa, Zambia included, COVID-19 infections are still cooking. The reality is that COVID-19 will be with us for some time. We are yet to get on the other side of the curve. The worst is, however, yet to pass. This catch-22 dilemma will take leadership to unravel. Why? Because as the human family, we find ourselves in difficult circumstances from which there is no escape on account of the mutually conflicting or dependent conditions; continue with a prolonged stay-at-home policy, and suffer the collective consequences of a looming economic disaster or we open up economic activity, to which we shall face the imminent spike in COVID-19 cases, which will invariably stretch our health sector beyond its capacity, and hence lead to a public health crisis.
My proposal regarding thwarting this Catch-22 dilemma is that Zambia implements a Four-Stage opening up of the Country. Of course, this is alongside mitigation efforts to contain COVID-19 with stimulus efforts by the Bank of Zambia (BoZ) to resuscitate critical economic activity. Key economic entities and industries such as agriculture and mining, manufacturing could set the pace for opening-up, followed by the services sector and social sectors such as transport and tourism, then education and the entertainment industry could follow suit after meeting specific health guidelines. This process will require the timely supply of socioeconomic data triangulated between the Central Statistics Office, Ministry of Healthy, and the Ministry of Finance and its younger sister, the Ministry of Commerce Trade and Industries incarnate in the Industrial Development Corporation
The closure of universities alongside secondary, primary schools and kindergartens due to the threat of COVID-19 was a misnomer. Universities and colleges which are centers of knowledge production and finding appropriate local solutions to local problems, closing altogether with a kindergarten was a travesty. This means that there is something which is fundamentally not right with our tertiary education system. Amongst others, Universities and colleges should have migrated to online learning in this circumstance.
COVID-19 has shown us which jobs matter in the crux of situations in life, if we do not learn from this saga, we are doomed to repeat the same blind mistakes and path we set the Country on. The evolving New World, which is currently brewing, will demand shifts in focus and priorities. Zambia has no choice but to get its priorities right. This process will be a painstaking one that will require sincere national and personal reflection. At the domestic level, economic and agricultural opportunities must be explored to promote household resilience against poverty. At the national level,
Zambia needs a reorientation in its policy direction. For example, we can afford to close parliament for several weeks and if possible, months, as is the case now, but we cannot afford to close Chainama Hills Hospital at all. I know that this is an extreme example, but truth be told. There is a profound message in this regarding the urgent need to reconsider our national resource distribution mechanisms. Social sector spending is invaluable to making long-term national gains.
For the future, we cannot afford to enter the evolving New World with a laissez-faire attitude that is with eyes and minds closed. The wise old adage runs true, ‘adapt or perish.’ Zambia has to make pragmatic and structural changes to meet the evolving challenges that will be confronting the nation on account of existential variations. We have no choice but to adapt to the new circumstances of our existence with real-life changes that will include but not limited to the harnessing of appropriate technology and innovation in our production process of goods and services. While many countries in the developed world are moving into the realm of the utilization of high-tech Artificial Intelligence (AI), which is supported by a generous Research & Development budget, a majority of sub-Saharan African countries,
Zambia included, are stuck with archaic technologies in their production processes. If we do not modernize our natural resources harnessing capabilities and establish a coordinated market of services and goods on the continent and yonder, Zambia and Africa, in general, might emerge beleaguered in the evolving New World. The time has come for Zambia and Africa in general to make the best of what we have. It is not in dispute that there is an economic downturn brewing under our feet spurred by lags in production, spending, and consumption over the past few months on account of inhibiting factors wrought by COVID-19. As Zambia goes about opening up some socioeconomic sectors, it is equally important to adjust the Country's fiscal framework in real terms to meet the new realities of the shifting ground. Clearly, in this fiscal year, national output will slump drastically. It might not be necessary to mention the effects of the sovereign debt crisis at this point, because there is much to write home about on this issue hence deserving of exclusive attention at an appropriate time.
Notwithstanding this reality, we have every reason to face the future with confidence by putting our act together as a nation. The long and short end of this article is that mitigation measures are not enough; we have to plan for the future of the Country beyond COVID-19. This will entail the making of necessary adjustments at the domestic and national level, in the coronary functions of innovation, productivity, consumption and general adaptation without which we will be courting chaos in the future.
In a word, therefore, COVID-19 has reshaped the future of our world in a way never conceivable. Since, as human beings, we are self-reflective creatures, one thing is clear; we might never get back to the old normal soon. If we did, we would not have learnt some invaluable lessons from this life-changing disruption in the routine of our lives. A theological reflection on this rupture is that a pestilence, pandemic or epidemic of such proportion demands an exodus that is a movement in a particular direction, a shift in focus or a heightened consciousness. What is God saying in this situation and circumstance? Your reflection is as good as mine. May we, as the nation of Zambia, do better than what we did before COVID-19. May we respond with hope and not fear to this reality. Together as a united front we shall get through this dark moment. Truth be told, this pandemic will be with us for some time. The better we adapt to living with this reality, and changing our lives accordingly, the merrier we shall be. Please do your public duty by wearing a facial mask while in public spaces or public and private transport and frequently wash your hands. A trillion salutations to all our Front-liners who are engaged in the containment and mitigation of COVID-19. And to all our gallant fallen heroes who have died in the line of COVID-19 duty may you rest in the peace of the Risen LORD.
Society of Jesus Zambia - Malawi Province , P.O. Box UNZA 46, Great East Road, Lusaka, Zambia.
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