Senegal is one of a number of African countries that have demonstrated real leadership in the face of the world health pandemic unleashed by the COVID-19 virus. The entire region of Thiès, the most populous after the capital Dakar and the main passageway between Dakar and the rest of the country, has demonstrated that Africa can beat the virus. How? With good leadership, a mindful population, and a collaborative spirit focused on the Common Good.
It has been 3 days since there have been no new cases of infection in the city, as announced by the Mayor of the regional capital, the city of Thiès, Mr. Talla Sylla, in his radio program and later reported by several media outlets.
Senegal’s leadership is doing its job
Senegal’s leadership and its citizens have behaved in an exemplary manner, at all levels. The irruption of the novel coronavirus into the life of the nearly 16 million people of Senegal was as daunting, if not more so, than for richer countries in the West, for example the United States. But Senegalese leadership did not balk or stall or create a televised political farce to blame others.
When confronted by the same uncertainty of the epidemic-become-pandemic that Europe or America faced, Senegalese leadership responded swiftly, effectively and without panicking. And the Senegalese were among the first to unite in their response to their government’s call for prevention and safety. Together, the Senegalese government and Senegalese citizens put aside their rancors and partisanship and united to pursue a sense of high purpose. The goal: to do service for the common good of their country and beyond their borders.
Senegal has less resources, less financial wealth, less food security, more unemployment and underemployment, and no Space Force ready to launch. Yet Senegal was among the first
- to call for and motivate continental collaboration.
- to start developing testing capability and working on a vaccine.
- to become an example of how leadership can communicate honestly and transparently while enforcing strict preventive measures
- where government at national, regional and local levels joined forces with business and civil society to provide support and relief to the economically disadvantaged.
- in imposing social distancing and mask wearing, followed by stay-at-home orders, restriction of movement and curfews, combined with clear and honest public information.
- to start producing non-medical protective masks.
- to start testing and tracking the number of infections, deaths and recoveries from the outset and reporting daily through communiqués from the Minister of Health informing on the evolution of the spread of the virus.
As of April 18, 2020, there are 350 people infected, 211 have recovered, and a total of 3 deaths.
Thiès has had no new cases since April 16, 2020…whether you want to believe it or not
In Senegal, governors, local officials and city mayors rallied behind national leadership and have made an effort to act in unison, conducting themselves in exemplary fashion. One such example is Thiès. The city of Thiès, the capital of the region with the same name, was the first to develop a comprehensive community approach to prevention of infection. The model is what in a previous article I called PANHACEA. Since April 15, 2020, Thiès has had no new cases of infection.
No way! some may exclaim. It’s too highly infectious to have been successfully controlled in an African country. It’s impossible… in Africa. There’s just no way the statistics are correct! not when deaths in the U.S. keep climbing, and the number of deaths in China were clearly underreported.
Why is it so hard to believe that Africans are not poor, helpless, ignorant pawns for others to use and exploit? Why is it so easy to be incredulous about African successes when in countries like Italy or Spain or the U.S. success has proven to be very elusive? Why is it so hard to believe that Africans can and do have the ability and capacity to provide reliable metrics and statistics when others, like China and the U.S., over-report, under-report or erroneously report in theirs? Why is it so hard for so many Americans to relearn to make required basic sacrifices, while Africans are making their decades of sacrifice count even more, not just for themselves but for the Common Good? Africa is not the dark continent lost to history; it is today's brightest continent.
The Senegalese value their freedom as much as anyone else
Freedom is defined by the Oxford Dictionary as “the power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants without hindrance or restraint” and by the Mirriam Webster dictionary as “the absence of necessity, coercion, or constraint in choice or action”. The Senegalese value their freedom just as much if not more than Americans.
Paraphrasing Miguel de Cervantes, a pre-eminent Spanish writer of the Spanish Golden Age (1492-1681), freedom is one of the most precious gifts that heaven has bestowed upon humanity. No other treasure on land or in sea can compare with it. And it’s a precious treasure valued as much by Senegalese as by Americans, one that everyone has a right to keep and the responsibility to take care of. But one’s freedom can never be enjoyed at the expense of the freedom of others. The Senegalese understand that this means accepting that, in a crisis situation, exercising one’s freedom requires making some sacrifices in one’s daily habits. Because if you want to keep your dignity, you cannot enjoy your freedom at the cost of your neighbor’s.
In Senegal, just like in America, no one can tell you what to wear. But people trust their leaders and make the necessary sacrifices to comply with what is obviously an inconvenience. Social distancing is definitely not a part of African culture. But the Senegalese are doing everything they can to keep themselves safe and healthy, because they understand that it’s the best way to keep others safe and healthy. They are making a concerted effort to change their behavior and everyday habits.
The Senegalese are not “acting out” in political protests or rallies or acts of civil disobedience of orders given in benefit of the safety of all. Of course, like anywhere, there are a few rebels who try to defy them, but they are quickly reprehended by the other members of the community and brought back into line, sometimes, yes, by force. But these are far and few and are exceptions to the generalized understanding among the Senegalese that public health orders, confinement and curfews, and shutdowns are not whims or government overreach.
No, the Senegalese, as with the majority of Africans, are united and sacrificing Together. They understand that it is people power than can best help those in power to help the nation survive. Collective collaboration and action is the name of the game. Despite the detailed reports on incidents of police violence and food riots in some parts of Africa, like Kenya and Nigeria, this is not the generalized situation on the continent nor even in the countries, in Africa and elsewhere, where there are such incidents.
So let’s not make the mistake of throwing the entire continent under the bus by zeroing in on an isolated passenger in a specific situation on a specific road that is feeling threatened and reacts untowardly. Such reports should be balanced with reports on all the things Africa and Africans are doing right. It’s unfortunate that the latter are practically non-existent, at least in the mainstream American press. After all, focusing on the misery and the weaknesses and failings of others is a good way to deflect from one’s own misery, weaknesses and failings.
The lesson from Thiès, Senegal
The lesson to be drawn from the very real proof from Thiès, however difficult it may be for people in Milan or Paris or Washington DC to recognize, is that collaboration at all levels – in your family, in your community, in your town or city, in your state or region, in the nation as a whole – is the best way to mitigate the unhinged spread of the virus and the accompanying fear. Shared responsibility for the protection of everyone’s right to live in freedom reduces the ultimate number of infections.
The entire region of Thiès has stopped the spread. And the entire population in the region continues to practice the preventive measures that have led to zero new cases of coronavirus since April 15, 2020.
- They continue social distancing and personal hygiene.
- They continue wearing masks.
- The open-air markets still close at 2pm and are regularly disinfected.
- Public transport is still out of circulation (including motorcycles).
- Parks and football practice fields are still closed.
- The PANHACEA district teams are still informing and collecting data.
- There are still no group prayer or events anywhere (not even burials, marriages or baptisms). You still need a doctor’s permission slip.
- And every day, donated food is still prepared in the city hall’s back courtyard, converted into an open air kitchen.
In other words, Thiès is not relaxing its precautionary measures and people are not complaining about their daily sacrifices. They are still in self-confinement, and proudly so.
The truth about money, kola nuts and democracy in action
Uncertainty hangs heavily in the air in Thiès and the rest of Senegal, as it does around the whole world. But the Senegalese are determined to win, not for the sake of winning or declaring a win, but for the sake of the nation’s interest.
Indeed, Thiès is a winning example of what Senegalese leadership is exemplifying:
- a focus on practical education, not political propaganda.
- a focus on people’s well-being instead of selfish principles of self-aggrandizement.
- a focus on a vision for tomorrow instead of on short-range emotional issues.
The Senegalese have no interest whatsoever in undoing the steady, peaceful, democratic progress achieved over the past decades.
Success in the face of uncertainty clearly depends on leadership. Around the world, the willingness to lead has proven surprisingly scarce. That’s why Senegal’s leadership stands out among nations.
- It has not defended unwarranted ideology.
- It has not attacked or accused others while sidestepping its own responsibilities.
- It has not ignored experts or avoided evidence.
- It has not misinformed or lied.
- It has not incurred in any kind of destructive silliness or lack of basic reasoning.
The government of Macky Sall has demonstrated a willingness to lead and an ability to, paraphrasing columnist Michael Gerson (The Washington Post, April 17, 2020), prevent mass casualties from a deadly pathogen and crunch on a kola nut at the same time.
Africans have for decades fought the battle between money and life. Today they are demonstrating the real truth about money and wealth: it is of value only for the good things it brings. And they have demonstrated the wherewithal to prefer to live in the onslaught of a deadly and highly infectious virus by fighting together.
The Senegalese are an example of how to trust in each other and in government. That’s democracy at work, whether you want to believe it or not.