During a pandemic, Indigenous communities tend to be among the most vulnerable, given their often-limited access to water, food supplies, adequate healthcare, and other factors. In this special “Pandemic Perspectives” series of our Dispatches, we’re sharing stories from around the world to shed some light on the obstacles Indigenous Peoples face in light of COVID-19 lockdowns—along with the ingenuity and unity with which they’re facing them.
This post is by Abraham Ofori-Henaku Asamani Yaw, a young Akan writer, poet, and dancer from Akuse in the Eastern Region of Ghana, West Africa. The Akan are a diverse ethnic group in West Africa. Abraham is currently in his final year at the Ghana Institute of Journalism, where he’s pursuing a bachelor’s degree in communication.
I believe at this point almost everyone is sick and tired of hearing and reading about the coronavirus. However, we’re still somehow eager to hear or read any news about it in hopes of a vaccine that has been discovered to cure it. Sadly, that’s not what I’m about in this piece. I basically want to share with you all that’s going on in my country, Ghana, during these turbulent times and, more so, how we’re all responding to it.
It’s been almost five months since the global pandemic made its way to West Africa, specifically, Ghana. Life has since then not been the same. Schools, offices, and trades of all sorts had to shut down due to the severity of the virus. A partial lockdown was imposed on March 30 and lifted on April 20. Citizens were advised to stay home as much as possible and to go out only if necessary to get food, medicine, and other needs for their subsistance. During that period, the government did its best to try and provide shelter for the homeless. However, it was impossible for some homes to heed social distancing protocols. The reason being, some were not accommodated in rooms spacious enough to keep away from each other. Some families living the hard-knock life had to sleep in kiosks, under bridges, and whatnot. In some cases, families of seven or more people resorted to stuffing themselves into kiosks to take shelter there.
Meanwhile, getting food was another struggle on its own. While some complained of boredom in the comfort of their homes, others had to cry out for food. Some families, especially in the rural areas, had to deal with the shortage of food in their quarters. They were unable to sell in the market and resort to their simple means of making ends meet, and that surpassed their fear of the coronavirus. The government did make an effort to supply food items to families in deprived areas. NGOs, celebrities, business moguls, and members of parliament also supported families with food items, hand sanitizers, money, and more to help them survive.
Adapting to the New Normal
At the beginning of the pandemic, the president sacrificed three months of his salary to cover water and electricity expenses in the country. This meant that Ghanaians got to enjoy three months of an uninterrupted supply of water and electricity. A few areas did not really get to enjoy the privilege, though; homes with illegal connections and accumulated water debt were exempted to a large extent. Still, there weren’t many complaints about that. While at home, people tried as much as possible to fight the other “pandemic” that accompanied the coronavirus: boredom. Luckily, our global village has made our digital age a little more interesting with social media trends to share and hop on. Undoubtedly, a lot of the crises caused by the pandemic affected not only Ghana, but lots of countries worldwide. Thus, these “new normals” are a global phenomenon too.
As of today, our confirmed COVID-19 cases have hit 26,123 (3,780 active cases + 14,330 recoveries + 139 deaths). With the lift of the partial lockdown—including the ban on restaurants et al.—life is pretty much getting back to normal. Ghanaians are gradually reviving their usual hustle. The streets are as busy as before, with cars honking and hawkers selling their goods. Although the government has strictly advised the wearing of nose masks everywhere. All offices and businesses and stores must have hand-washing stands set up at vantage points and “No Nose Mask, No Entry” signs posted at the entrance of their buildings. In addition, organizations were required to have agents who would use a gun thermometer to check the temperatures of anyone coming in. These were a few of the conditions laid out by the government in order to ease restrictions on movement.
Now, everyone walks and drives around wearing a nose mask. Schools resumed for all final-year students on June 15. This decision was taken by the government to enable all final-year students to complete their projects and examinations among other necessary academic exercises. Some universities, especially (like the Ghana Institute of Journalism), vouched for the option of online examinations and submission of theses online as well. Others with facilities to accommodate students on campus opted to have students return to their classrooms and lecture halls. Schools without facilities to accommodate students resorted to online lectures and exams to prevent students from hopping on public transportation everyday to get to campus, which would have definitely increased the chances of spreading the virus.
E-learning is not a common trend in Ghana and, for that reason, lots of students struggled to keep up with the academic work. Network instability, jammed portals, and other technical interruptions were some of the challenges raised. Some schools agreed to extend the deadlines for submission of assignments, term papers, and examination dates to help ease the technical stress. All that being said, it’s safe to say that students are beginning to adapt and adjust to E-learning methods, as complaints have lately been reduced. As it stands, final year students of the Ghana Institute of Journalism (GIJ) and University of Professional Studies, Accra (UPSA) have successfully pulled through with their online examinations despite the challenges faced.
What’s July Looking Like in These Times?
Surprisingly, Ghanaian citizens are reclaiming their normal lives or, in other words, returning to their “usual normals.” It almost seems as if the fear and panic that accompanied the coronavirus has evaporated. Everyone is busily attending to their businesses, schools, and whatnots while adhering to safety protocols. The news of increasing COVID-19 cases has become so tiring to the ear, and everyone seems fed up. People are hawking in the streets like they used to, having indoor parties (but in small numbers) like they used to, shooting dance videos like they used to, eating at restaurants like they used to, walking in groups like they used to. On Monday, June 29, registration for the new voters ID begun. And at almost every registration center, lots of people queued up, eager to get their cards. The risk of it is obvious. Inasmuch as strict distancing protocols were enforced, it still didn’t guarantee the decrease of the health risk.
Even the decision on reopening schools did not guarantee immunity of the students from the virus. Just recently, it was reported that six students at the Accra Girls Senior High School had tested positive for COVID-19. Now that’s a scare!
The president of Ghana—Nana Addo Dankwah Akuffo-Addo—has also been isolated for 14 days after it was detected that one of his staff had contracted the virus. This fresh COVID-19 news has once again awoken the panic that citizens had disposed with for almost a month now. Although it’s not as heightened as it initially was. Citizens are able to calm their fear with the increasing number of recoveries, too.
Now, Ghanaian citizens are more concerned with other issues arising, like the racial discrimination sparking up, rape cases, medical misdiagnoses, economic headaches, political issues, and decisions surrounding when the ban on pubs, clubs, and other hotspots will be lifted. The graduate classes of 2020 are also paying attention to their graduation, accommodation and workplaces for their National Service, job opportunities, and so on.
Times are indeed very hard and are even harder now that COVID-19 is running the place. Inasmuch as people are bored with keeping indoors for a long time and feeding their eyes and ears with news of ever-increasing COVID-19 cases, the hope to soon break free with a solution is still alive. I, for one, have been able to keep well and safe, and so have my family and friends. I am done with my online examinations and am waiting to submit my final thesis. 2020 has really been one heck of a year and I’ll definitely have a story to tell.
Read more by this author. In “My Missing Tongue,” (Langscape Magazine, Volume 8), Abraham Ofori-Henaku Asamani shares his journey of beginning to learn his native language, Twi, as a young adult.