It is that time of the year when ordinarily people across the world would be gearing up for holiday travel. In many African societies, the end of year has also traditionally been an opportunity for family reunion. It is the time when in many communities, the urban folk trek back to their ‘origins’ where over a feast, the latest additions to the clan are introduced, family and communal challenges are discussed as social responsibilities assigned.
The urge to celebrate the end of the year is universal. It appeals to an ancient instinct within humans, dating back to the beginnings of farming when the last season of the year was a time for taking stock and celebration.
All that tradition has been turned on its head this year as the menacing shadow of the Covid-19 pandemic spreads across the world, leaving terror in its wake. Without self-restraint, the shared culture of travelling for family and gathering for celebration could for many, easily turn into grief.
A challenge for our generation is that there is no historical parallel to Covid-19 with which people are familiar. Recent epidemics have either been localised, while pandemics such as HIV are avoidable through choice.
The disruption of traditional communal life, where memories were passed from one generation to the next over fireside tales, means that coping strategies have been lost in the mists of time.
Governments are asking the public to suspend cross-country travel. They should be listened to.
More than 70 million people have caught the disease and the number is growing by some four million new cases a week. Some 1.6 million have not been so lucky.
Community infections are at an all-time high and travel is a major conveyor of the disease. Any natural resilience is threatened by the emergence of a new strain of the virus whose full ramifications are yet to be fully understood.
Although some countries in the region have already seen exponential growth, what the past nine months have taught is that nobody can figure out with any degree of accuracy where, when or how the big the next wave will be.
Yet for all the gloom, there are many reasons to celebrate the year. One enduring reason for celebration has not changed. It is simply good to be alive and healthy at the end of the year.
In the face of a common threat to survival, humanity has banded together, pooling its intellectual resources to find some early fixes for Covid-19.
Despite earlier concerns, East Africa will get the available vaccines much earlier that initially thought. Without personal caution however, many will not live to see inoculation or celebrate another Christmas.
Lockdowns are unpopular and indeed inconvenience but for now are the better alternative. Countries that introduced draconian limits to personal freedom at the onset of the pandemic, have seen benefits in limited spread.
Luckily for us, modern technology means that our failure to travel upcountry, will translate into total isolation.
The Christmas goodies can still be conveyed to grandma via mobile money and social media platforms allow us to chat and see each other in real time. Merry Christmas.