Politicians and Covid-19
April 17, 2020

Politicians and Covid-19

Crises, whether of a national or international nature, and irrespective if they are man-made or not, have serious implications for leadership, political leadership in particular.

They test the mettle of political leadership; some leaders benefit if the public perceive them to be providing calm, decisive leadership. Some leaders benefit from sheer luck.

Sometimes the chain of events may be such that they revive the faltering political fortunes of those in power. The political stock of then US President George W. Bush improved significantly after the 9-11 attack in the United States.

This can sometimes tempt political leaders to overreach, trying to take political advantage of circumstances which may seem favourable to them. It can have dangerous repercussions especially when such leaders face pending polls.
It is a danger which a world, faced with the COVID -19 pandemic now faces.

In the USA there is a President who is acting in a manner which jeopardizes the health and safety of millions of people the world over. On Wednesday of this week, President Donald Trump took his hostility to international organisations and global solidarity to a dangerous level by announcing that his government is freezing its contribution to the World Health Organisation (WHO), the international body spearheading the global fight against COVID -19.

This falls in line with his assault on his country’s participation in international organisations, but, given the critical importance of the COVID threat, has real, immediate, practical repercussions. His announcement has been condemned worldwide and even labelled as “a crime against humanity” which threatens the health and lives of millions of people worldwide.

There are other international examples of weak leadership, which has contributed to the rapid spread of the virus and the mounting death toll, particularly in Europe. In the midst of the grave threat to humanity, leaders in Britain for example, gave wishy-washy responses opening the door to the flood of victims.

It is clear that not only can the threat only be matched by international cooperation, but that it is the only solution. Shining examples are there of leadership which places cooperation above narrow interests, which, in spite of hurting from unjust sanctions, reaches out to help countries like ours, as Cuba and Venezuela have demonstrated.

It is a lesson that we in the Caribbean with close historical, cultural and social ties must heed. There will be differences at the national level in the individual approaches to the COVID threat, but they must be taken in the context of an agreed regional strategy. We cannot afford to have our leaders appearing to squabble publicly whilst the wolf is literally at our doors. This is no way helps us or advances our cause.

Finally, we recognize that several governments have to face their respective electorates within the next year or so, but let us resist the temptation to use COVID-19 for partisan political ends. Let us rise above that and put our people first.