Outbreak unmasks those with greedy, alarmist and selfish traits

Saturday March 21 2020

A staff member of Matatu sprays disinfectant inside a minibus as a preventative measure of coronavirus in downtown Nairobi, Kenya, on March 16, 2020. PHOTO | YASUYOSHI CHIBA | AFP


It is hard to find the proverbial silver lining in the Covid-19 outbreak, and all that has come to us on a daily basis since the outbreak was signalled in Wuhan a few months ago has created confusion, panic and cluelessness.

We are being treated to real-life episodes of sci-fi movies we watched in such terrifying chillers as Outbreak, Contagion and Virus.

Those strange movie buffs addicted to Frightainment are now welcome to witness what the real thing looks like. However, I doubt anyone is carrying popcorn packets to the cinema.

Yes, there is always that feeling of security when you know that what you are watching is only fiction, and it cannot bite you. And the hero of the story, a Matt Damon or a Dustin Hoffman, comes out on top, and that makes you feel real good and safe.

But when the plague leaves the silver screen and comes to town, you know the djinn is out of its bottle and will do you harm. Panic ensues, and with it wild rumours, exaggerations and fake experts.

We also have to do with the rampant power of social-media communication, which has made all of us journalists as long as you have a smart phone and the right attitude.


Just how do you gate-keep to weed out the speculations and outright inventions sometimes posted by irresponsible members of your community who enjoy spreading falsehoods for fun?

Then you have the profiteers who see an opportunity to mint money on the back of the bewilderment of millions of people who believe Armageddon has arrived as promised by ‘the Book’.

Thing is, all those who have spent their whole lives singing how lovely life is in the hereafter are not anxious to go there when it looks like the hour has come, and they will part with a lot of cash to stay on this wretched earth.


The spectacular skyrocketing of the prices of face masks, sanitisers and other gear in recent weeks has demonstrated to us how greed feeds on fear.

It may be explained away as part of the demand-and-supply equation at work, but there is also a certain heartlessness of the coffin-maker welcoming the news of mass death.

Of course you have to reckon with the inept political types, who may have waited too long before taking action because they thought this was a ‘Chinese’ flu, and are now telling all sorts of stories that, if anything, speak to their muddle-headed thinking.

Such is Donald Trump, who has apparently discovered the potency of a couple of drugs whose names he could hardly pronounce but of which he says, “I think it’s going to be very exciting...I think it’s going to be a game changer … and maybe not…”!

At our local level, it is a display of the true colours of those who rule over us, and we shall soon see what they will do to save themselves if the virus takes hold in our midst.

India has imposed travel bans on those who would normally seek medical treatment there when they have neglected to improve health facilities at home.

Here is one possible silver streak: Now our rulers will be condemned to stay with us and face up the virus. And maybe we could learn a few ground rules pertaining to civility and hygienic living, such as regular washing of hands and avoiding unnecessary handshakes.

Ordered closed
Also, we may have entered a new learning culture unwittingly and unwillingly. Schools have been ordered closed and this will necessarily mean that a lot of teaching and learning will have to be conducted from a distance. With time, this could develop into a distance-learning culture that will involve hundreds of thousands, nay, millions of learners.

The virus has taught us to stay at home, which hopefully gives us a reprieve from the oppressive round-the clock rat-race that takes us nowhere. Maybe now we will have time to reflect a little about this meaningless existence.

But probably the most salutary development has been the banning of large gatherings, including wedding parties. This will spare us the spectacle of the obscene amounts of money spent on large weddings of poor couples who have been peer pressured into believing that when you get married you are allowed to spend more than you can afford, and pestering people you hardly know to make contributions for a grand banquet.

So, look up!

Jenerali Ulimwengu is chairman of the board of the Raia Mwema newspaper and an advocate of the High Court in Dar es Salaam. E-mail: [email protected]