In our series of letters from African writers, journalist and former Ghana government minister Elizabeth Ohene writes about the new normal – from how to hold a socially distant election to attending online funerals.
Since the outbreak of Covid-19, we have come to accept that our lives have been turned upside down.
We have been learning to cope with things nobody had ever dreamt about – like not hugging or shaking hands. Social distancing, self-isolation and quarantine have all become terms of everyday use.
Schools have been closed, and parents are discovering anew just how much food growing children eat.
There are things we studiously avoid talking about; the mortuaries are full, not from coronavirus deaths (so far in Ghana, there have been 16 from the disease) but the ban on public gatherings, which means we cannot have normal funerals.
Private burials are allowed but with no more than 25 people and that really is an unbearable experience for most Ghanaians.
So, we are keeping the bodies in the morgues in the hope that this dreadful nightmare will soon be over and the dead can be given befitting Ghanaian burials.
Funeral services are going hi-tech to abide by the new restrictions. The service has the prescribed 25 or less people and the proceedings are streamed online. Many people now sit at home by their laptops and log on to join the service.
If this trend continues, it will totally subvert our funeral culture. I joined an online funeral last week dressed in a pair of jeans and a T-shirt. Nobody attends a funeral dressed like that.
Now that we have gone through seven Sundays, including Easter Sunday, without church services, it is dawning on all of us that coronavirus is rather dramatic.
We are into the holy month of Ramadan. Muslims have started their fasting, without the congregational prayers in the mosque that mark the breaking of the fast. More and more of us now accept that we are in unsettling times.
The capital Accra and its environs, and the second city Kumasi, were put under lockdown for three weeks and we have emerged from that too with the restriction on the movement of people now lifted.
At the centre of the entire Covid-19 experience has been President Nana Akufo-Addo. He addressed the nation on the evening of 12 March to tell us of the first two cases of coronavirus in the country.
He announced the ban on social gatherings, the closure of borders, the lockdown in the two metropolitan areas, and he enumerates the tally of confirmed cases of infections.
There is an unstated but awkward fact that runs underneath all the frantic coronavirus activities in the country. We are due to hold presidential and parliamentary elections on 7 December.
Elections are keenly contested here and campaigns are usually loud, chaotic and, of course, crowd-centred. Preparations were on a tight schedule and did not leave much room for anything to go wrong.
Poll plans derailed
Then the virus struck and the first casualty was the National Identification Authority. It has not yet been able to finish giving identity cards to everybody above the age of 16. Without it, people cannot register to vote.
The electoral commission wants to compile a fresh voters register, but the opposition National Democratic Congress (NDC) is having none of that and has sworn loudly that it will do everything it can to make sure it does not happen.
The commission had, in fact, planned to start the registration process more than a week ago, but since all gatherings are banned, it seems to be stuck.
Furthermore, the two main parties are gauging each other as the nature of politicking has changed with the advent of coronavirus.
No-one knows if the people’s judgement is going to be based mostly on how the parties and their candidates fare during this crisis.
The candidate of the ruling New Patriotic Party (NPP), President Nana Akufo-Addo, and the NDC candidate, former President John Mahama, know each other pretty well. This is going to be the third time they will be facing each other.
The NPP should have conducted primaries in about 150 constituencies in which it has sitting MPs last December but postponed them to April – only for them to be derailed by lockdown measures. The candidates cannot campaign, at least not in the manner we know.
Party officials are in a bind, will they be able to hold primaries and how will they manage the tensions that come with internal elections if there is no time to heal wounds?
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