The moment for leadership is now

The moment for leadership is now

6.      The Uncertainty of Covid-19
Covid-19 is new and we have much to learn about it. We do not know if people who have recovered from it are vulnerable to further infection. Nor can we predict with any accuracy the economic and social outcomes of our interventions. We do not know when social distancing will end or a vaccine will be available. We can mitigate some risks, but uncertainty remains. Leaders can deal with uncertainty by taking small steps at a time, by being open to new knowledge and adapting their actions in the light of it, and by being clear about their purpose and values. More critically by observing the behavior of the virus in terms of the reduction of new infections.

The situation is volatile because people are afraid and decision makers are under great pressure. There is fierce media scrutiny. Government messages need to be clear and reassuring. When people fear that they may be infected by others it becomes easy to blame outsiders and minority groups. Unrest may turn to violence against ‘others’. Leaders need to ensure that their messages do not blame or vilify vulnerable groups. The leaders’ messages need to be specific, consistent and factual. Try by all means to avoid contradictions, misinformation and politicisation of the pandemic. The nation needs to work together and go beyond political or national boundaries because that is what the virus does, it does not belong to a political party, it randomly infects us, let us try to do something together and stop the infection.

7.       Response strategy – what Lesotho needs to do going forward
Taking the above into account, the overall goal of the strategic preparedness and response plan is to stop transmission of Covid-19 into the country. Lesotho needs to take the following strategic objectives very seriously:

a)    Limitation of human-to-human transmission
Critical and serious actions need to be scaled up for the above objective to be achieved; this includes the following: rapid identification, diagnosis and management of cases, identification and follow up of contacts with priority given to high-risk settings such as healthcare facilities, infection prevention and control in healthcare settings by making sure that all health workers have personal protective equipment (PPE) , implementation of health measures for travellers (by ensuring that all our borders and illegal entry points are protected and all people entering into the country are quarantined and tested), by restricting internal movement from district to district and awareness raising in the population though risk communication and community engagement. The lockdown should continue until end of July, (because May, June and July are the most critical months); allow only small section of businesses to operate where social distance and other prevention measures are easy to apply and maintain.

b)     Scaling up country preparedness and response operations
i. Identify proper facilities of quarantining visitors from other countries and suspects of Covid-19,
ii. Identify proper facilities of care for patients, including providing optimized care for infected patients, and making sure that all medical equipment required for Covid-19 patients is available.
iii. Epidemiological analysis and forecasting to be in place, to carry out surveillance and case definitions, to characterize the key epidemiological transmission features of Covid-19, help understand spread, severity, spectrum of disease, impact on the community, and to inform operational models for implementation of countermeasures.

iv. Scale up the laboratory and diagnostics to strengthen their capacity for detection, in order to improve surveillance and tracking the spread of disease. Our efforts to limit the spread of the disease will depend critically on the ability to detect the pathogen. 
v.  Prepare guidance and protocols procedures for home care of patients with suspected Covid-19 infection presenting with mild symptoms and management of contacts;

vi. Develop a communication strategy which addresses critical risk and event information to all communities, and counter misinformation.
Above all these, let us make sure that our brave front line workers the immigration officers, police, soldiers and the health professionals are all protected with PPEs. Let each citizen take it up to themselves to be responsible to stop the spread of the virus by strictly adhering to the WHO and our government’s guidance and protocols to prevent the spread of the virus. Without unity and working together as a nation, we will not able to defeat the virus, we will lose a lot of lives.

8.      Expected qualities of effective leaders – Covid19 Crisis
Our leaders need to have the ability to learn from the experience of others. Covid-19 requires the capacity to learn from our own experience and, more importantly, that of others. We need the humility to learn from diverse, and sometimes unexpected, sources such as, for example, South Korea and New Zealand whose leaders appear to have limited numbers of infected people by taking early and decisive action on quarantine, contact tracing and tracking, lockdown and testing.  The fact that South Africa which surrounds

Lesotho, and whose citizens are infected by Covid-19 virus, has taken an early and decisive action in isolating, contact tracing and tracking of the infected victims, followed by a complete lockdown and intensified testing nationally in order to limit the wide spread of the virus, helped Lesotho from being infected. Lesotho is, at the moment in a good position to be able to completely isolate this disease from its citizens because there are no victims of Covid-19 yet. If only the leadership could implement good strategies to mitigate and manage the disease, there is a possibility that it can be able to remain safe from Covid-19. It was a good decision by the Lesotho leadership to quickly close all its borders, and immediately implement a 14-day quarantining of everybody coming from outside the country. This was immediately followed by a complete lockdown and testing suspects for Covid-19.

 Effective leaders will be comfortable in learning the aetiology of disease and welcome advice from people who are not afraid to speak the truth, who challenge conventional wisdom and offer alternative points of view. Effective leaders do not surround themselves with courtiers or ‘nodding dogs’ who defer to authority. They listen, even when messages are uncomfortable. They appoint specialists and experts based on merit not political lines. They look to universities to learn from their best scientists, medics, technicians, economists and organisation change specialists. In February the UK Government advisors predicted that if no action was taken up to 500 000 people in the UK would die of the virus. They failed to make their case strong enough and leaders were reluctant to accept their dire warning. Valuable time was lost before action was taken which resulted in many deaths.    
Effective leaders need to have self-knowledge, and are able to know their blind spots. They will recognise their own cognitive biases, the familiar routes by which they seek solutions. In Europe and the US, scientists thought the virus was more like flu, which they had experienced. This assumption proved to be wrong. We are programmed to be instinctively cautious. We may carry unconscious stereotypes which mean that we only look for ideas from ‘people like us’. Such cognitive bias may have meant that governments learnt less from the experience of China and South Korea than they might have done. It looks like the early imposition of social distancing in the UK was opposed by advisors who thought that keeping people at home might be acceptable in an autocracy but would be resisted in a democracy. That assumption (that cognitive bias) proved to be wrong.     
Admitting when things go wrong and being responsive in putting them right – in this crisis we need leaders who are practical, open and who generate trust. We trust people who can recognise failure and ensure that it is not repeated, who respond positively when new information comes to light. We respect leaders who make their assumptions transparent and allow open debate, scrutiny and challenge. From open conversations new solutions may emerge. We trust leaders who care and put their citizens’ welfare first before their personal interest.
Recognizing the importance of morals and ethics in decision making is paramount when you are dealing with health issues. We should remember that technical solutions to complex problems have their limitations and on their own may be dangerous. Statistical models which rely on direct and observable causality may give misleading results when applied to complex problems with multiple variables. Effective governance requires that we recognise multiple constituencies where decisions may have different consequences for different groups.
It requires that we have emotional intelligence and are clear about our values. Early on in the spread of Covid-19 it emerged that it could have disastrous consequences for older people. It is becoming clearer that (in Europe) it impacts more on men than women and on ethnic minorities more than others. An ethical approach to leading in these circumstances means collecting data to understand the causes of these disparities and taking action to promote fairness. Ethical decisions generate and sustain trust when they consistently respect and care for others, and outcomes are perceived as fair.
In Lesotho and other African countries, there is the likelihood that the impact of the virus will be on the most vulnerable group of our society, mostly the poor and the elderly. We need to make a choice to continue with the lockdown, social isolation, prioritizing health needs until end of July and minimising direct deaths from the virus against allowing normal life, with the economy continuing to function. The choice of continuing with the lockdown, social isolation, prioritising health needs until end of July will be a noble one because it will prevent many deaths and save many lives and it will be consistent with good citizenship.    

In a time of fear and loss, we need leaders who generate hope that one day things will be better. There are clear signs that we are valuing public services and essential workers more. Some businessmen and people of goodwill are demonstrating emotional intelligence and empathy by providing food to the most vulnerable members of the society. People are willing to share the little they have with their neighbours and those in need which is a good sign. The good thing Covid-19 has brought among us as a nation is our African identity – the Ubuntu philosophy.

The stifling regulatory micromanagement that has become the norm of the current government is yet another example of the failure of leadership. Responsible leadership needs to embrace both the preservation of its people and the need to keep modern society functioning by nurturing the social ecology of existing value – creating functional organizations and institutions. If all this sounds like an overdramatic wake-up call, I make no apology. The Covid-19 crisis emerged at a time when our economic, social and political fabric are already significantly in a bad state. We are living in an acute period where there is a crisis of leadership. This crisis is massively amplified today by the latest developments of poor leadership and governance.

Real leaders will never want a serious crisis to go to waste, but will take the crisis as an ideal opportunity to rethink over their outdated assumptions in terms of the leadership agenda.  Firstly, leaders must remember the crucial importance of their role in serving a bigger cause and strengthening trust with their communities and society as a whole. The leadership should be based on fundamental human values, with human dignity at the center, deep understanding of reality, constant openness to learning from that reality, and a profoundly pragmatic mindset that finally demands us to shed the ideological blinkers that we have inherited from the past. Why can we not take this opportunity of Covid-19 to try to manufacture some of the essential goods than keeping on relying on South Africa? We could identify certain companies that have the potential, then the government will give them some capital.

Our society needs leadership to imagine solutions without which – make no mistake – our social cohesion is at risk. To this end, the call for leadership in the 21st century is nothing less than to unchain the potential of human ingenuity, creativity and eagerness to engage, and thus make fully effective the most important resource on the planet.

Dr John Dzimba

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