Day 15 – 7th April 2020
In which our Hero paddles up the tributary of the great river desperation in search for the solution to the problem of man’s inhumanity to everything but his own self interest.
“Sometimes people hold a core belief that is very strong. When they are
presented with evidence that works against that belief, the new
evidence cannot be accepted. It would create a feeling that is
extremely uncomfortable, called cognitive dissonance. And because it
is so important to protect the core belief, they will rationalize,
ignore and even deny anything that doesn’t fit in with the core belief.”
Social distancing. Social. . . . . . Distancing.
We get very upset when we see news clips of people jogging too close together, of families sitting out in the park or couples sunbathing. There are cries of indignation and even calls that the UK should bring out the police or army as they have done in parts of Italy, Spain and Nigeria to enforce it. Don’t get me wrong. It makes sense. I ensure I keep the requisite two-metre distance whenever I go out and it certainly must be done – where it is possible. But for many people, it is not possible or at least a great deal more difficult. The majority of UK residents should be able to maintain it though there are many in social housing where it is more difficult and even impossible. Certainly, if I was in a one room flat with my family I would want to take them out into the fresh air whenever I could. The increase in domestic violence is testament to the mental pressure that the crisis is exerting and is a prison sentence for those living in lockdown in an abusive relationship. Then there are thousands of people more formally ‘locked up’. Prisons obviously. The UK prison population (the largest in Western Europe by the way) is circa 85,000 and is disproportionally skewed economically and ethnically. Then there are some 27,000 * people locked in Immigration Detention Centres in this country too. Amazing that this is over 30% of our prison population, isn’t it? I did not check how many people are incarcerated in mental health institutions, or those that have been released into the community, that are in hostels for the homeless, orphanages – anyway, you get my point. There are many people in the UK who are not able or find it difficult to ‘self-isolate’.
Let’s move further afield. I lived many years in Lagos and I actually ran a business there with 2,000 employees during the Ebola Crisis. Nigeria was able to survive the outbreak of that disease in part due to quick action by the Lagos State Government and, critically, by the selfless action of one Dr Stella Ameyo Adadevoh who paid with her life when she prevented a patient from escaping the isolation ward. If there is any doubt that Nigeria has some amazing doctors this incident should put it aside. Unfortunately, too many of those capable health practitioners are working in the US and the UK where, unlike in many Nigerian hospitals, they actually receive their salary. Nigeria was fairly slow to react to the Covid-19 threat. First there was a feeling that this was an ‘Oyinbo’ (white persons) disease and black or African people would not get infected. Then there was a widespread theory that the virus was not resistant to heat and would not survive in hot climates – a theory that still holds some sway by the way. Official figures on infections were still low when the federal Government acted to close its borders (on 21st of March) and announced a lockdown in Lagos and neighbouring Ogun State on the 30th. Several State governments had already announced more local lock downs of varying severity, including Lagos itself. However, returning to my theme that it is not everyone that can afford or is able to self-isolate, it soon became apparent that while this was easier to enforce in the middle-class areas known broadly as ‘The Island’, the urban dispossessed would be less compliant. ** While official media outlets circulated drone videos of empty streets, inevitably filmed on the Islands, the situation in the urban ghettos was very different. It is hard to estimate how many people in Lagos are formally employed as we would know it – I would hazard a guess at between 10 and 20%. The rest earn their living in a daily, cash-based, hustle-economy. Day labourers, hawkers, traders, local transport operators and even beggars proliferate. Typically many of these in high density areas like Badia, Mushin, Orile, Oshodi – the list of ghetto areas and settlements is almost endless – live in one room per family shacks, or apartments so densely packed in they are called ‘face me, face you’. Potentially ten other families will be sharing basic toilet facilities and a single stand pipe for water – if they have running water at all. Social Distancing can not exist in any form for these people and rapidly there were outbreaks of social unrest. Quickly, Lagos State was forced to announce markets would re-open and they began to hand out emergency food parcels. At least they were trying but the quantity and quality of these bags frankly just made things worse. Meanwhile, stories began to be circulated of the elite continuing to hold parties and social gatherings, of avoiding quarantine after returning from trips abroad and refusing to stop attending their church or mosque. Meanwhile rumours spread of politicians having contracted the Virus finding ways of flying to Europe for medical treatment despite the ban on flying. Without going into specifics, the point I am making is that as this behaviour is being repeated in Mumbai and Delhi, in Dhaka and Dakar and basically in all major cities across South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa. It is clear that Social Distancing and Isolation are only available to the global middle class. In addition, elites in these cities and world wide are exempting themselves from the rules they are setting for their own people.
To a great extent these inequalities have been there for millennia. During the Bubonic Plague the elite jumped into their riverboats and were rowed upstream to their palaces in the countryside. However, the availability of the technology that ironically has enabled a whole new class of elite (the tech billionaires – Gates, Musk, Bezos and so on) has meant the disposed have a window into the life they are being excluded from. The numbers are hard to truly understand but many of the three million displaced people across Nigeria, the six million in greater Syria, the many hundreds of thousands lining the southern shores on the Mediterranean, the Rohingya, the Australian Medevac Boat people, the Mexican/US border people and so on, have access to the internet and can see what it is that we have and they have not. If, and let us hope not for their sakes if not ours, when Covid-19 reaches those people for whom Social Distancing is a western myth, no matter how hard we try to close our eyes to it, it will become our problem too.
This is not meant to be a polemic or to turn this Blog into one of the doom prophets from a Monty Python film but rather, because I am naturally an optimist, to suggest that this pandemic will ultimately require some kind of cohesive worldwide solution. I have to hope, for my own sanity-in-isolation, that some form of response that bases itself on the premise that the Status Quo is no longer fit-for purpose will emerge. Where this will come from, who the leaders will be and how we can support it is currently beyond my comprehension but I do believe the right questions are beginning to get asked. In my business life I have returned time and time again to what is often known as ’The Change Curve’ but what is more correctly called The Kubler-Ross Change Curve”. I have a feeling that as we progress in this Crisis we, as a society, will be forced to change. This will raise a great many questions and for now we are still at the ‘shock’ or ‘denial’ stages that precede great change.
As I come to the end of this effort I am going to leave you with two Videos that contain the seeds, at least, of the questions which should be planting. As we struggle with cognitive dissonance we need to start asking the right questions because some of the answers are going to make some of us feel pretty uncomfortable.
The first is a piece from CNN. I am not usually a fan of CNN nor always of Fareed Zakaria but I think if people like him start asking these questions more people will take notice.
The second is from Aaron Bastani of Novara Media. I am a fan. There are more ‘weighty’ discussion Videos on the Novara Media site but I post this one because I like his thinking!
So, don’t worry I am not going to lecture you or try to scare the shit out of you everyday but this is the story of my Chiswick confinement, my Corona Diary and this is my current state of mind. Later in the week I will take you on a real-life adventure, as according to Chelsea & Westminster Hospital today, my appointment at their Orthopaedic Clinic for my (eventual) hip replacement will still take place. Should be interesting. What do you think, should I wear a mask ?
*I quote from Guardian research, see – https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2018/oct/11/britains-immigration-detention-how-many-people-are-locked-up
**Lagos is a sprawling Mega City of some 20 million people. Approximately, one to two million live on highbrow Ikoyi and Victoria Islands, along the Lekki ‘axis’ that is effectively a reclaimed strip of sand and on the more mixed area known as Lagos Island but, effectively, just three bridges connects these to ‘The Mainland’ where the other 18 million plus live, many in often appalling slum conditions. When reading media reports about Lagos it is always pertinent to bear this in mind. Many Island dwellers, often called ‘Aje Botas’ (‘those that eat butter’ the equivalent of having a silver spoon in your mouth), only know the Mainland through the window of their 4 x 4 as they speed (or crawl in the traffic) to the airport. It is as if they live in two separate countries except the Islanders rely on the Mainlanders for labour.