So, the argument ensued. I was seated just about two rows from where they were making their cases. It was in a public transport that was heading out of town. The argument was about what to do and what not to do as far as taking the necessary precautionary measures about the corona virus were concerned. One of the men, who is likely to be in his thirties if not forties made the journey very engaging, but also very annoying – well for me at least. He was arguing that one must be educated to understand the dos and don’ts of corona. Yes! That was his argument and truly, he was stressing on formal education. His opponent, a lady who is likely to be in her mid thirties refuted and negated his claims, noting that with right messaging, anyone could protect him or herself from the global pandemic. Scepticism and counterarguments popped up and in those situations, all I could normally do is to observe and or listen.
In all of what occurred, I figured out a few anomalies. First and like government has noted already, it is strongly recommended that in times like these, social distancing is fundamental. Again, I am not too sure that one’s saliva should be allowed to go in the open be it in these corona times or not. Sadly, what happened in that vehicle is a different story altogether. As they were arguing, I could visibly see the man’s saliva, jumping pass passengers as if they were some bullets. I became even more uncomfortable. He was only lucky that I was not that seated close to him. One of the other passengers had to halt him. Anyway, that is that. As the argument progressed, I realized that a few if not a good number of our fellow countrymen still have a whole lot of catching up to do. We have had countless messages on what to do and what not to do, but it appears that the reach is yet to be fully strategic. Whiles I applaud the various Ministries, Departments and Agencies that have put out a good number of press releases, it has to be made clearer that some of these messages maybe interpreted wrongly or could even be confused. That is why a central information hub is needed in times like these. With that, we may get just one flow and it could be some authoritative approach to follow.
The Office of the President has a Strategic Communications Unit, plus a Media and Communications Unit – I do not know what the difference is, but that is not my focus anyway. We also have another Strategic Communications Unit at the Ministry of Information and Communications. In some ways, it would appear that these units are kind of performing similar if not exact functions. To make things simpler, these units could be streamlined to get a far-reaching effect. Not every Sierra Leonean can read and write. For those that can manage to read and write, getting things right could be a challenge. That is why the need for localized communications cannot be overemphasized at this moment.
I will argue that there is a deliberate neglect on the parts of some citizens because to them – ‘seeing is a way of believing.’ I hope that we do not get to that stage of recording a case of corona, but as it stands, it is clear that such is not impossible. Fear is contagious and if we back that with neglect and ignorance, the worse could happen.
Like KKY would say, ‘institutionalized leakages’ are a menace to growth and development. I will argue that such leaks are not needed in the fight against corona, save we risk battling something contagious. We have heard encouraging messages from the Ministry of Health and Sanitation, but as a believer, I will continue to pray that we do not record any positive case. I need not overstate how challenging our health care systems are. This therefore validates the notion that vigilance should be heightened especially at major border crossing points. The idea of quarantining new arrivals must be strongly upheld in times like these. There have been a few concerns as to how the quarantined are treated, but that could be a discourse for another day. However, I will just state that attention has to be given to such persons at least for the days that they spend in those centres. It is essential for peaceful coexistence and for the good image of Sierra Leone.
Like Ebola, corona shall come and go. This too shall pass, Aameen. Sierra Leone is kind of lucky not to have recorded any case. This is what we all want – I suppose, but that does not mean that we should be home and dry. Like it has been recommended, frequent hand washing should be practiced. For us Muslims, we tend to do that about five times a day, but yes; I will still encourage us to wash our hands with soap and clean water and not just to rely on the washing of hands before each of the five daily prayers.
Let me conclude by stating that the fight against corona should be devoid of politics and politicking because the disease does not pick any race, colour, party and or affiliation. Again, rightful and strategic messaging is essential at this crucial moment. Not everyone is media literate and sometimes even some of those that may have studied pure and applied communications still find it challenging to decode certain messages. This is where government has to up its game to centralize communication and break it down for the benefit of all and sundry because like Ode would note things; communication is not just the giving of information, but the giving of understandable information. So, that shared meaning has to be realized at the end of the day. It does not have to be in formal English. The local languages can do the job for our fellow countrymen. With that, I say shalom. We meet again next week, God willing.
About the Author: Sheku Putka Kamara is a Journalist, and a Media and Communications Lecturer and Consultant