BY TAWANDA MAJONI
Some bad things are just worth remembering. You then hope that the memories will bring good lessons, even though it’s always so hard to be optimistic in Zimbabwe.
You see now, in March last year, we woke up to new terms—Covid-19 and coronavirus. We already knew about China, so nothing novel in that. Just that Wuhan, the place where the Chinese kept bats that then kept the virus, was some bit of a discovery.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa declare the coronavirus outbreak a national disaster. Well, there was something like a single death and a handful of cases then, so you wouldn’t call it a disaster if you stuck to what your professor taught you in the disaster management class.
But that doesn’t matter anymore. Classifying Covid-19 as a disaster was going to open the money floodgates. At least, that’s what the chaps in government — those dudes with big eating mouths and run-through potbellies — thought. Pity the gates jammed and no money for looting came the way they expected. We will talk about money things later.
After prematurely declaring Covid-19 a disaster, government then decreed a national lockdown. Those two developments — the national disaster and lockdown things—came with other, rather unflattering, companions.
One, there was the issue of money. You will remember that when the lockdown was announced, many businesses were locked down. That included informal trade. Even though vendors and other informal traders didn’t quite stop hustling, there is no dispute that their trade was severely affected by the limitations that came with the lockdown.
That was the time government started mumbling things about giving money to vulnerable populations so as to cushion them against the vagaries of the lockdown. Initially, they said they had set aside some $600 million, translating to about US$25 million on the official market. Then, with little provocation, the government announced that it had budgeted a crazy $18 billion to fight the Covid-19 curse, the cushioning of vulnerable populations included.
Two, there was the issue of tendering and procurement of Covid-19-related things. Here, the world started knowing what stuff our big guys were made of, if they hadn’t already known in other ways. We started knowing of dudes you would have passed in Kaguvi Street without even shooting a glance.
The likes of Delish Nguwaya, a bosom buddy of the first family who faked companies and stuff in order to get tenders. The likes of Obadiah Moyo, the then Health minister who was arrested and taken to court for also doing dirty things with some alleged crooks. The list is, in real terms, very tiring. But the bottom line is that there was lots of looting and cheating.
Then, thirdly, there was the issue of the politicisation of the rollout of the money meant — on paper — for all vulnerable populations that had been affected by the national lockdown. We saw that the Social Welfare ministry was shoved aside as people from Zanu PF took charge, re-defining “vulnerability” to mean a condition whereby you are entitled to benefits because you have links with the ruling party.
Senators, businesspeople, etc, suddenly became vulnerable people just because they knew someone big in Zanu PF, or were MPs or councillors from the ruling party. So, that tomato-hawking granny looking after a village of orphans was no longer vulnerable according to that new Covid-19 dictionary.
Now, where is all this mumbo jumbo leading to? You see, there is a similar but hidden narrative here. It’s now some 50 years since the first HIV case was discovered. There is no vaccine for the virus yet. But the Lord is good. In under a year, we now have vaccine types whose numbers match the quantity of coronaviruses that are floating around the world.
And Zimbabwe has taken delivery of the first batch of doses to prevent the disease. From China, of course. It means that, in the next 12 months and beyond, we will be hearing, ad nauseam, about Covid-19 vaccination. That is, if we are not hearing about vice-presidents doing naughty things with married women in their offices. Pretty like we were hearing about PPEs and lockdowns in close to the last 12 months. The common denominator, of course, being Covid-19.
It’s useful to remember that, last year, most of the talk about rolling out the money to cushion people and fight against Covid-19 was a big farce. The majority of the people who were supposed to benefit from the money didn’t, and that also includes frontline workers who had been promised monthly risk allowances. While there was enough to loot from public coffers, there was hardly anything to give to the people. In fact, the last time we heard about the ZW$18 billion that government promised was when government promised to give the money.
This is quite instructive. Right now, government has spread out an ambitious plan to buy vaccines from China, Russia and India, and possibly more sources. Zimbabwe, by sober estimates, must be having an 18 million-strong population by now.
A single dose of the vaccine costs US$5 if you are buying from China’s Sinopharm. Each person needs two doses. That means each person requires US$10 for a full course. Government said people would get the vaccines for free. That means government will have to meet the cost of buying the vaccines, and then managing the rollout, on its own, if the private sector or other philanthropists don’t contribute.
Assuming that all the 18 million will receive the vaccines, and also assuming that government will foot the bill on its own, a fabulous US$180 million would be required to buy the vaccines. But that’s the minimum figure. Millions more would be needed to transport, store, distribute and administer the vaccines. So, let’s safely say Zimbabwe would need some US$200 million for that.
For God’s sake, who is going to be optimistic about this? The government failed to avail in full, US$25 million that was needed for vulnerable people affected by the first lockdown in 2020. And the prying ones are already talking. They say government absolutely has no money for the vaccines. They say that’s why it made such a big drama bringing in free doses from China last week and will make equal drama taking more free vaccines from Russia, India and the UK.
Talking globally, only 10 countries have vaccinated at least 75% of their populations and some 130 countries are yet to receive a single dose. Zimbabwe might just as well fall in the latter category. Two-hundred thousand doses will vaccinate a sorry maximum of 100 000 people, and they are free stuff anyway. At that rate, “broke” Zimbabwe is unlikely to vaccinate any people outside those beneficiaries of charity. But the question is whether or not Zimbabwe is that broke. What happened to Mthuli’s Ncube’s much-vaunted budget surpluses, for instance?
Procurement and tendering were a messy affair last year, where the PPE was concerned. Will things, by any chance, change this time around? Hmmm, there are no larks singing in the sky yet. The government says it will procure 600 000 does from China. That would mean the deal is already done. But no deal has been agreed. Fact. The government approved and authorised the purchase of the Sinopharm, Sinovac and Indian vaccines before any deal was concluded. Another fact.
There is no transparency in the way the Sinopharm and other deals are being done. Fact number 3. The government approved and authorised the vaccines without adequate information on the jabs and without testing them conclusively. Fact number 4. And, fact number 5, it follows that the government never took the vaccines to competitive tender. Granted, special circumstances may arise whereby government has to railroad procurement, but who is saying there are any special circumstances here?
Back to the politics. If Covid-19 — and other humanitarian — matters have been politicised before, Covid-19 matters will be politicised again, on a scale of one to 10. The free doses are already in the provinces. Just watch this space. The next thing is, we will be hearing that Zanu PF cronies or well-connected people are stuffing the lists of people being lined up for vaccination. As sure as the sun will rise, those that are being classified as “rest of the population” in the third and last stage will get into the first stage reserved for frontline workers, people with underlying conditions, what, what.
- Tawanda Majoni is the national coordinator at Information for Development Trust and can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org