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How years of distrust and mistrust are hampering the fight against COVID-19 in Africa.

As the race to stop COVID-19 gets faster, only community-led actions can contain its spread. However, years of distrust and mistrust are hampering such communal commitment in Africa.

Over the years, citizens of Africa have associated their leaders with corruption and thus lack faith in their words and works.

It is an indisputable fact that the number of poor people have gone up in Africa, while African leaders and their families live in affluence using state resources.

Years after years, citizens have seen their leaders pilfering the resources of their countries and thus have come to lack trust in their ability to lead them to the potential of the continent.

In Africa, corruption is pervasive and the leaders often times do not care about the welfare of their citizens, or so it seems since they do not have meaningful welfare package for them.

Such blatant disregard for citizens’ welfare and the unending appetite for material wealth on the part of the leaders have bred deep seated distrust and mistrust among the citizens, who thus believe that whatever their leaders do is driven by the desire to satisfy their wanton appetite for wealth.

Ultimately, an unending cycle of mutual suspicion and distrust and mistrust becomes pervasive on the continent.

COVID-19 and Pervasive Disbelief in Africa.

The arrival of COVID-19 on the world stage no doubt has brought numerous changes to the whole world and Africa is not an exception.

The first case of COVID-19 in Africa was reported in Egypt and since then, the virus has spread quickly with the continent having more than 250,000 confirmed cases and over 7500 deaths as of 20th June 2020.

When citizens put their differences aside and focus their energies on a common cause, the outcomes are usually seen quickly. In a situation of pandemic like COVID-19, such a “common cause” is desperately needed by many African countries.

However, such mutual cooperation has been replaced by mutual distrust and mistrust built by long years of oppressive and corrupt rule.

Many of the citizens do not believe that COVID-19 exists. Just days ago, the Director-General of National Orientation Agency, Nigeria information agency, expressed shock at the level of disbelief about COVID-19 in rural communities.

The citizens have their own postulations as to the COVID-19 figures in Africa: some say the figures are being inflated to get international funds, which would be siphoned into private pockets anyways.

Those who believe COVID-19 exists feel that the government is not sincere in the fight against the disease and that corruption is limiting how much the government can achieve.

Unfortunately, some government officials are being accused of COVID-19 related fraud charges, thereby reinforcing the distrust and mistrust of the citizens in their government.

Government on the other hand is not helping the matter. For example, while the principle of social distancing is in force, some government officials in Nigeria broke the rules themselves by congregating their political followers during the pandemic without sanctions.

Worse still, a sitting governor in Nigeria even blatantly accused the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), the Nigeria Disease Agency, of complicity in the number of COVID-19 cases in the country.

All the while, the citizens are watching the inconsistencies in government words and actions. Such can only fuel distrust and mistrust.

Only Community-led Actions Can Contain COVID-19

Public trust is not built just by grandstanding. Those in government must understand what drives trust and work on it.

Government must act and take the battle right to the community square.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, an an intergovernmental economic organisation with 37 member countries, noted:

“A decline in trust can lead to lower rates of compliance with rules and regulations.”

Trust in government, policy effectiveness and the governance. OECD iLibra, 2013.

Some of the actions of disbelief by citizens may actually be subtle rebellion that is the results of years of distrust and mistrust.

Central governments across Africa must free resources for the use of local councils/districts and communities to tackle COVID-19.

Communities must feel that sense of inclusiveness and accountability in the running of COVID-19 preventive campaigns and economic recovery packages.

Government voices and actions must be consistent and transparent, and officials must obey rules they set.

Only then would the citizens believe that COVID-19 truly exists – and never a channel to siphon funds for an elite few. And only then would they commit to its ‘destruction’!

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