BY ANDUALEM SISAY GESSESSE – Since Ethiopia announced its first confirmed cornavirus (COVID-19) case in mid-March, the number of patients infected by the pandemic in the country has been growing and reached 116 on Wednesday this week (April 22, 2019). The next day on Thursday after conducting laboratory test for over 900 people in 24 hours, the Ministry of Health of Ethiopia for the first time reported that it has not found a single COVID-19 positive case. All the 965 suspected people were free from the virus.
That was the first good news for the people, who have been under the fear of the pandemic partially locked-down. But not that much festivity for many Ethiopians including me. This is not because Ethiopians are immune from coronavirus or we pray for the suffering of people by the pandemic. It is kind of choosing between two evils – the least evil and most evil.
I and millions in Ethiopia believe that coronavirus gave us a break from the ethnic politics, which engulfed us into deadly ethnic clashes. For many months before the outbreak of the global pandemic, promoters of ethnic politics and political activists in Ethiopia have been orchestrating the killings of hundreds of people by mobilizing gangs against one or another ethnic group.
Using social media and their media outlets these politicians have been nurturing and fueling deadly ethnic conflicts, which resulted in internal displacement millions of people, daylight robbery and the killings of so many innocent people. Using the media outlets designed to serve their evil purpose, some even went as far as telling their ethnic group members to get divorce from their partners who are from a different ethnic group and expel them from their region.
As the country was scheduled to hold its general election at the end of August this year, millions in Ethiopia including me were captives of fear about what will happen to them when we approach the election. While many who afford have been processing their exist to safe countries such as, Canada.
The source of the fear is realistic and based on our own recent experiences. We were afraid that as usual a certain activist or politician will make a toxic comment against the people from another ethnic group any time, which will cause ethnic based massacre and displacement of millions like that of the Rwanda genocide.
It is in the middle of this fear that we Ethiopians heard the news of coronavirus pandemic and its grave danger to humanity and the global economy. As seen across the world the news of the pandemic has overtaken all of our attention. Following the first confirmed case, the government of Ethiopia been taking measures to save the lives of its people from this global pandemic as well as minimize its economic and social impacts.
Following the gradual increase in the number of infection, a few weeks ago the government has even declared a state of emergency that last for five months. So far only three of the infected people have died In Ethiopia, which is relatively small as compared to other countries who have lost tens of thousands of their lives by this global pandemic.
Though no one has to die especially by the kind of pandemic, which to some extent can be avoided with disciplined protective measure, the number of people died by the pandemic in Ethiopia so far is incomparable to the number of people, who have died following just a single facebook post of a political activist.
Not only saving lives that could have been killed by the toxic comments of our politicians and activists, coronavirus pandemic has helped us in Ethiopia to mobilize huge amount of domestic resources to feed the people affected by the partial lock-down of the country.
In a way the outbreak of coronavirus pandemic has reunited Ethiopians enabling us to show sympathy to one another forgetting our ethnic differences. During this pandemic we managed to donate and share what we have to our brothers and sisters ignoring the ethnic differences our politicians have been capitalizing on.
Other than the non-perishable foods and related items donated and stored in food banks in different parts of the country, the government has so far managed to collect over 1.6 billion Birr (about $50 million) donations in cash. The donation has continued as part of the national concerted effort to mitigate the impacts of COID-19 on Ethiopians and the economy in general.
In addition, proper hand washing using soap, which is one of the recommendations of the world Health organization (WHO) to stop the spread of coronavirus, has indirectly contributed to the reduction of other hygiene and sanitation related diseases in Ethiopia. Don’t forget that we are the worst in Africa in sanitation even worse than South Sudan, which has been in civil after civil war for many years.
What am I saying? In my opinion coronavirus saves tens or even hundreds of lives and displacement of millions of people in Ethiopia, who could have been victims of the usual toxic comments of our ethnically biased politicians and political activists working to come to power at any cost or benefit from external financiers by creating chaos.
I strongly believe that with the discipline we demonstrated so far in the fight against the global pandemic – COVID-19 – and of course with the Grace of God, coronavirus will do less harm in Ethiopia than the bloodshed we could have dived into driven by our blood and power thirsty politicians. Thanks to coronavirus, now that the general elections of Ethiopia is suspended and today one additional COVID-19 case is confirmed, I hope the five months state of emergency will give us opportunity for all of us to return to humanity abandoning toxic ethnic politics.
But we all mourn for the over 190,000 citizens of the world, who lost their lives by the pandemic so far and I pray that God gives comfort for their loved ones. Amen!