There is a video of a mad-looking American pastor of a mega-church banishing coronavirus which starts with him shouting out ‘‘Covid-19!’’. It is seared into my mind, whenever I hear about the pandemic I can feel the reverberations of Kenneth Copeland — the pastor — yelling it out. He was driving the spirit of evil out in a way that only a prosperity pastor can.
Looking past the drama and theatre of it all, I was intrigued by the faith aspect of it. Copeland was just one of so very many asking for a miracle to cure the plague. You know what miracles are particularly good for? Response time. Miracles are fast.
This week, a major news item is the development of two viable vaccines that have a high success rate in inoculating people against Covid-19.
It has only been roughly one year since the pandemic started, and nine months since it became a global phenomenon. Within this time, we have developed therapies for it.
“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic” is science fiction author and tech thinker Arthur C. Clarke’s Third Rule.
When a plague appears to decimate a populace and the answer comes fast, by bended knee or from a laboratory, the magic kicks in. I do not know exactly how the two potential vaccines came about but I can tell you a few things: these are modern pharmaceuticals.
I can only grasp at the science and technologies that were involved in racing towards a vaccine for this novel virus. It makes me wonder about the divide between religion and science. At junctures like this, are we looking at a modern-day miracle, magic or just plain old science? Is there a difference anymore?
I have to admit, at the beginning of the pandemic I was concerned. We don’t always do well as a continent when a major disease outbreak hits.
I grew up in the time of the “slim disease” and just at the tail end of a time when it was not uncommon to know people who had been affected by polio as children, or to see red-headed children with the distended bellies of malnutrition as the normative if not entirely accurate face of my own generation and the one coming after.
I grew up in the time of “by the Grace of God we live” but matured in the Age of Information.
I chose science, and am still made extremely nervous by men yelling at the Divine to intervene.
Yet Africa, initially predicted to become the greatest victim of this cure-less viral infection, has done remarkably well in containing its spread and impact on its populace.
Covering Africa’s successes in containing the Covid-19 pandemic, a recent piece by “The Late Show” with Trevor Noah used Tanzania as outlier.
It is almost always exciting to see Tanzania make the news outside the country but not this time. We had taken the Copeland Road and prayed the disease away. This allowed us to take very few of the measures our compatriots had implemented. Not the exceptionalism I was hoping for.
From a cynical point of view, I can understand the pragmatism behind this approach. We were never going to have nearly enough resources to combat Covid-19 if it became a real issue: test kits, testing centres were a real challenge as was treatment.
Easier by far to declare the game won only months into this battle because “by the Grace of God” we shall survive, as we always seem to. Then do not record the cause of death. I have been here before: nobody used to die of Aids either, they always died of the complications.
But here we are, having more or less ridden the wave of the pandemic to a shore of safety — for now.
One popular theory is that the youth of our continent’s population has kept the disease mostly at bay. Mostly gone are the kwashiorkor baby days, now it’s a land full of rudely healthy teenagers.
There are probably many other factors involved, we might be somewhat immune or hardy, perhaps with our extremely close relationship to China the exposure came earlier than it hit globally allowing us to build an immunity?
Who knows. This does raise a few issues though. Foremost is the fear that confirming that prayer can keep diseases and disasters away as a credible and effective policy tool might allow — nay, encourage — us to avoid scientific and modern methods of tackling illness.
I distinctly remember the strength and boldness of President Yoweri Museveni’s response to Aids in Uganda: it did not need to be a conflict between faith and modern medicine. It was pray and pray hard, also practice Abstinence, Be faithful and Condomise (ABC).
You can have your Copeland moment and also give thanks for the Pfizers and Modernas of the world. Maybe the script could have gone a bit more like: “Covid-19! I reject you in the name of technology and modern pharmaceuticals! Begone!” At junctures like this, are we looking at a modern-day miracle, magic or just plain old science? Is there a compromise to be had? I hope so.
A magical scientific miracle has just taken place. Now, how do we distribute vaccines equitably across all of the world, not forgetting Africa where “by the Grace of God” all humanity emerged from in the first place?
Elsie Eyakuze is a consultant and blogger for The Mikocheni Report: E-mail: [email protected]