A Malawian high court made an injunction against the implementation of the 21-day lockdown that had been ordered by President Mutharika. Justice Kenyatta Nyirende set aside the Lockdown in response to a challenge by the Malawi Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC). The cause of the application was to ensure that more consultation was done to protect the poor and vulnerable in society before the implementation of a lockdown.
Following the lockdown announcement, protests were held in the major cities mostly by small-scale traders. These protests were based on fear of being left exposed to hunger without requisite assistance from the government. Most of the small-scale traders live a “hand to mouth” life and will have no source of income for the 21 days of the lockdown.
As such the court has granted an injunction and will be up for judicial review in seven days. The 7 days give parties time to engage and find common ground on how best to proceed.
Malawi has confirmed 17 cases of coronavirus and further delay in implementing a strict lockdown can see this number increase exponentially. However, Malawians are stuck between two pressed blocks. Implementation without government intervention on their daily basic needs will cause starvation. It further means failure to lockdown will lead to an increase in cases of coronavirus.
Before the announcement of lockdown President Mutharika warned that up to 50, 000 Malawians could lose their lives to the Covid-19. In his address, the president failed to outline a safety net for the vulnerable in society which prompted the application to seek an injunction.
It is common cause that most governments should consult different stakeholders to plan a way forward. President Ramaphosa of South Africa engaged various stakeholders and players in the economy. Rwanda saw the need to aid the vulnerable in society by distributing free food. Kenyan governors took the same approach to assist the ones left exposed by this pandemic.
It is quite evident that one cannot ignore the hard times that come along with the effects of nationwide lockdowns on economies. The effects are hard-hitting especially on informal traders who comprise 60% of Malawi’s economy. The informal traders are aware of the coronavirus, but the threat of poverty is always lurking. The government must show astute leadership and ensure measures are put in place to protect the vulnerable. Aside from coronavirus hunger is still an imminent threat that is always present in some people’s lives.
This will be a tough task because Malawi is one of the world’s poorest countries. It might be an insurmountable task for them to provide for their low-income citizens as is being recommended. Malawi has an economy that is highly reliant on the informal sector. Many economists have started criticizing African governments for rushing to mimic the lockdown strategies of the wealthier countries without relevant preparation.
There are calls for governments to adopt preventative measures that suit their country. However, the lockdown model has proved the ideal preventative measure to avoid human movement. This measure is efficient in economies that are not heavily reliant on the informal sector. The lockdown should be implemented with a comprehensive safety net for the informal traders.
The need for a lockdown is not disputed. However, the Malawian government should not feign ignorance to the fact that without financial and food assistance a great majority is exposed to starvation. The 7 days before judicial review is a long period in which a virus as easily transmitted as the coronavirus can double or treble. If a solution can be found before the expiry of given days, the lockdown should be implemented with the requisite regulations to curb the spread.
In enforcing its measures to avoid the further spread of the novel coronavirus African governments should be conscious of the prevailing circumstances in their countries. The solutions for coronavirus apart for the universally accepted need for hygiene and social distancing will not be a one size fits all. African governments’ will have to tailor-made solutions that fit their countries and problems that affect their citizens.