Is it in anyway a foretelling of the future that some mainly Western embassies and High Commissions are evacuating their citizens and reducing diplomatic staff in some African countries? Is it coincidence or acting out a COVID-Catastrophe risk assessment?
These are some of the questions agitating the minds of global governance observers about the evacuation that is more confusing to understand when the details are assessed. While the evacuation and staff reduction by the UK or the US in Nigeria might be understandable because of plausible projected fatality figures they might be working with in the light of Nigeria’s relatively huge population, the evacuation is also going on in a much smaller place such as Sierra Leone which has yet to record a single case of detected infection. Meanwhile, Sierra Leone is where a US citizens evacuation flight must either have left by the time of this reporting or about to, going by a U.S. Embassy Freetown Health Alert yesterday. And the alert is an open document.
The Embassy statement said a faith based organization arranged a special chartered flight for its missionaries based in Sierra Leone departing Freetown on Monday evening, March 30th, 20202 but added that, space permitting, other U.S. citizens and Lawful Permanent Residents could be taken along. The flight would, according to the statement, make a stop in Madrid, Spain before proceeding to Los Angeles in the United States. But the statement connects the flight to the larger context of a Global Level 4 Health Advisory for COVID-19 the Department of State has issued.
Available information shows that this should be the second group to be airlifted, the embassy having flown out some of its staff before the Sierra Leonean Government proactively suspended international flights last week.
But it is not only the Americans that are leaving Sierra Leone. Britain is also following that step on the ground of what it calls “The rapidly changing situation in Sierra Leone”. In the case of Britain, they are taking away diplomats and dependents. The notice to this effect was issued March 20th, 2020.
Coordinated staff and citizen departure from Nigeria is still substantially a social media affair although a feared meltdown in Nigeria on account of Coronavirus is a strong perception nearly across the board. The perception flows from the population – health infrastructure gap as well as the degree of diffuseness permitted by Nigeria’s underdevelopment crisis and how this works against contact tracing, for instance. But, according to New York based SaharaReporters, some European countries got concession for certain carriers to fly specified number of, notably, France and Germany out of Nigeria while the British are still contemplating.
The question is what all of these might mean? Opinion is divided.
There are those reading it as a sign that Western technology and surveillance has helped them to know what lies ahead as to start taking their citizens out to safety. This is the opinion of a circle in Sierra Leone, for instance. Interestingly, the section of the media articulating this has had a tight connection with the government preceding the current in Sierra Leone. Could it be exercising journalistic cum intellectual autonomy or it is manifesting the consequences of being cut off from privileged information of yore?
The second dominant opinion suspects the Western embassies just do not want vulnerable staff to be trapped in any African countries many of which have suspended international flights. In other words, the evacuation is more of a case of thinking ahead and anticipating technical problems. While it is conceded to this thinking camp that the move makes sense if seen that way, it still suggests that no one has a clear idea of how long the pandemic could last. The explanation though is that it is all an attempt at “getting your most vulnerable people out to safe places where they could get better treatment if they catch the virus or require urgent medical treatment from other ailments”, Intervention was told. The long and short is that it is still a waiting game.
A long waiting game is sadly suggested by the stories coming from Britain, the US and India. The projection by top operatives such as White House Medical Chief, Anthony Fauci that the pandemic could consume up to 200, 000 Americans sends a chilling message. If that is the potential fate of Americans, then what might be the picture in much, much less endowed countries, especially in Africa? This is more so that the myth of Africa as a zone of high temperature where Coronavirus cannot survive is off the card, there is still no vaccine that can undo the virus with a single shot and conditions have tightened to the utmost as no part of the world is left untouched except South Korea, Singapore that appear to have got it right too quickly or those such as Cuba that are ever ready for eventualities of this magnitude.
Who knows, the legendary ancestors might have a joker up their sleeves in terms of springing a surprise for Africa. Thinking about African ancestors can be comforting in the context of the pictures from Italy, US and India.