Coronavirus: A pandemic, exploited by opportunists and a perfect acid test of leadership

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By Miheretab Wolde

Opportunist opposition political parties are trying to put a scheming mechanism in place to use the Coronavirus pandemic as a chance to score political points in the nationwide health, social and economic crisis. The opposition parties in countries like Italy could be a good example of amplifying such an argument. There are also a number of countries flexing their political muscles and taking advantage wherever there is an opportunity regardless of the reality, good or bad. For instance, one pays attention to what the USA and Egypt have done. On the contrary, countries like Greece, Finland, Germany, and Austria united as bipartisan to protect their nations by demonstrating timely actions, skillful leadership, and transparency during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The “Lega” is a far right-wing party in Italy that came to the higher political prominence in its trademark policy of blocking refugees from crossing its borders. Soon after the party got the mandate of governing the nation along with ‘cinque stelle’ or Five Star Movement, it fulfilled what it promised to the Italian public. Thus, countless refugees who escaped the hell of the Saharan desert, just to suffer and perish in Italian coasts. However, the blockage of refugees didn’t solve the deep-rooted socio-economic problems of the Italian people, but rather led the country to a multifaceted crisis. The socio-economic impact of refugees on Italy’s economic foundation is insignificant. Italy already has been suffering from decades-long shattered economic structures. Italy’s declining economy has nothing to do with the arrival of the refugee communities. The claim made by some politicians regarding immigrants does not have any objective or empirical merit. The far right-wing politicians used refugees as scapegoats to spread their xenophobic agendas way before the onset of Coronavirus. In recent years, the refugee-related issues have been a punching bag and a talking point for many right-wing politicians across Europe. This approach helped to mobilize the general public, but it did not help to improve the economic agenda to take the country forward. Most of the far right-wing parties, who came to power using these tactics, couldn’t stay in power in their respective countries for a long time. Scapegoating immigrants is not an economic policy. The tendency to fall back to the categorization of people and ethnic groups based on their heritage is an innate human nature. This is especially magnified in times of an economic downturn. However, blame-shifting instead of examining the root cause of the issue does not solve the real problems that nations face. The “Lega” party didn’t govern longer than a few months let alone a full term. Governing a nation is not mere sentimental rhetoric to rile up the pub, it requires in-depth knowledge, wisdom, leadership skills, and vision. Nowadays, the “Lega” party, as usual, is trying to broaden its party membership via exploiting the pandemic of the Coronavirus.
Italy is one of the countries that heavily suffered from Coronavirus. In this fearful pandemic time, the ‘Lega’ populist leader, Matheo Salvin continued his negative opposition for each and every measure taken by the central government to combat the Coronavirus pandemic. Lombardia region, where his party has majority support, is the one that has a high number of infected cases and death rates. The Italian constitution guarantees autonomy for the regional states to make decisions as per their mandate to the contrary or in support of the central government. Though this decentralized government system played its part in complicating the pandemic, the situation was more exploited by populist political leaders like Salvin. These divergent political views in Italy made it challenging to tackle the pandemic. On the contrary to this oddity, there is a district in Italy called Isernia, where there is no known Coronavirus case thus far. The district of Isernia totally followed the pandemic guidelines set by the central government and performed accordingly.
Similarly, where there is an educated and wise opposition political leader in countries such as Austria, Finland, Germany and Greece, the pandemic has been losing its devastating power. These countries have shown to the world how collaboration, coordination, solidarity, preparedness, and swift response is the best way to stop the pandemic. The Austria opposition party leader, for instance, used to be a health minister, has worked very closely with the governing bodies to formulate wise and feasible strategies to control the Coronavirus. Likewise, the Greece and Finland crisis management performance, particularly its bipartisan and timely action singled out as a model for many other countries. As of April 20, 2020, Finland Coronavirus cases are 3,783 and deaths tolls related to COVID-19 are 94 while Italy Coronavirus cases are 178,972 and death tolls are 23,660. On the contrary, to Greece or Finland, the USA pandemic management task force has demonstrated how poor and superficial the leadership of the President is! The USA response is sluggish and it is based on denial and unscientific hypothesis. The President’s actions in the month of February and in the first two weeks of March 2020 were simply campaigning for his reelection. He expressed his gratitude and appreciation to the Chinese President. He spread false information such as the Coronavirus will vanish after April 2020 and etcetera. Soon after engulfed in crisis, President Trump started pointing fingers at the World Health Organization (WHO) and China. The president was not only saying the wrong things, but he also did the foolish and horrific things to the entire citizens of the world by suspending the fund of WHO at the time of this pandemic. The USA administration under Trump isn’t only thrashing its world leadership role, but it also damaged the country’s image in relation to its longstanding generous humanitarian efforts that founded on the American forefathers’ values and principles.
All in all, this pandemic has shown in a practical sense of how crisis management is the acid test of leadership. In the coming few weeks, the African leaders, including the Prime Minister of Ethiopia, Dr. Abiy Ahmed leadership capability will go through the acid test in relation to the Coronavirus pandemic management. Could he and other African leaders have a competency to pass the test like the leader of Greece, Finland, Germany or Austria? Or are they going to fail like President Donald Trump? Are African leaders ready to learn from the success and failure of these countries? If not, are they confirmed into their old ways of denial, false propaganda, corruption, incompetency, manipulation and lack of transparency or are they going to try to take advantage even in the time of this crisis like that of Egypt?
Even though Egypt is one of the highly affected Arab nations, it still tried to exploit the Coronavirus pandemic. A large number of medical professionals, including doctors in Egypt, have been exposed to the Coronavirus. The shortage of protective kits in the country exposed the medical staff to the virus. In the presence of this severe shortage and fatality, the Arab Republic of Egypt has provided two rounds of medical protective equipment, and medicines to Italy in the name of Coronavirus Pandemic Assistance. This is a noble gesture, but its hidden motive is so palpable. If this country is willing to sacrifice its own citizens and medical professionals in order to help other nations with pure humanitarian motive, why is it hard for them to assist Muslim nations like Iran, which highly affected by the embargo and suffered from lack of medical supplies during this pandemic? The country leaders think this is a good opportunity to score ‘Coronavirus Diplomacy’ and influence the government of Italy to boycott Salini Impregilo, Italian Company, which has been engaged in the construction of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam. In the past, Egypt tried many times to influence the government of Italy and Salini Impregilo to withdraw from the construction of the dam but it failed. This is another attempt of knocking at the door of the Italian government in the time when there is a need for genuine solidarity and support. Egypt’s superficial, mischievous, and opportunistic foreign policy might serve in authoritarian Arab nations and war-prone African countries, but it doesn’t have much weight in developed and democratic nations.

The writer can be reached at miheretab1@yahoo.com