Surviving The Virus: Elizabeth Ohene Writes

Right at the beginning of our Ghana COVID-19 story, I wrote that pandemics tend to expose societies for their weaknesses and strengths. I did not mention luck but I think luck is an important ingredient in how the pandemic pans out.

Two months into the journey, the statement about strengths and weaknesses is proving to be quite worryingly true. Let me get the luck bit out first.

We are lucky to have as our President at this time, a certain Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo. He is willing to take the advice of scientists and ready to take hard decisions.

We are lucky he had had the experience and could, therefore, say that he knows how to bring the economy back to life. I am not sure how he would have managed that bit of language if he had an IMF team in the country breathing down his neck at the beginning of the year.

So, which are the strengths of the Ghanaian society that have come to the fore as a result of the outbreak of this pandemic in our midst?


It is obvious we are not lacking in the spirit of entrepreneurship. Just look at the number of improvements to the Veronica Bucket that have come up once people realised the need to get the water to flow without touching the tap.

Once it emerged that the authorities were recommending that we all wore masks, our designers and tailors have stood up to meet the demand. There are now on the market, enough varieties and colours and styles of masks to suit all tastes.

Indeed, so much so that many people think the mask is primarily a fashion item and thus we see the masks hanging around necks instead of masking mouths and noses.

Our doctors, nurses and other health workers have shown dedication and professionalism during the crisis. Our scientists and researchers have demonstrated that given the proper equipment and incentives, they can rise to the occasion and excel in the world any day.

It is also clear that Ghanaians living in the diaspora have their hearts firmly at home in Ghana. How else is one to explain or understand Ghanaian female doctors in the United States coming together to send messages to those of us in Ghana when all is crumbling around them where they are?

I am not sure where to place the fact that many people seem to let their imaginations run really wild, would that be a strength or a weakness, I wonder.


I have heard of more cures for COVID-19 in the past three months than there are hospitals in this country and that includes those that have been built, and there are arguments over ownership, those being built and those going to be built.

That our belief systems are devoid of any basic science have been painfully exposed.

We have a strange attitude to anything that is said to be free. This cuts across all classes in our society.

If we ever return to a time of parties, just take a look at all the high and mighty in the society approach a buffet table; they would heap their plates with far more food than they can ever eat, they would drink far more booze than they can tolerate, and believe me, it wouldn’t be because they are hungry, that is only because it is free.

I fear that many of the people we saw in the queue for food during the lockdown were not hungry, they can’t resist anything free. Why else would it occur to anyone to turn the tap on to let the water run to waste on hearing that water from the mains was going to be free for three months? 

 No waste

For the moment, I notice I am not yet dealing with the big issues that COVID-19 is throwing up; but I am definitely not letting this crisis go to waste.

For the past two years, I have been planning to start wearing headscarves routinely as part of my everyday look. Those who worry about such things for me took my musings seriously and started gathering headscarves for me.

I am embarrassed to admit to how many of them I have acquired; they come in all colours and shapes and textures. Then I started worrying about how to wear the headscarves; there is a whole artform to how you tie these scarves and I was determined to learn how to tie the headscarves.

It comes as no surprise to discover that YouTube provides quite a number of video lessons on how to tie the headscarves, from the fashionable to the practical, you can find various modes.

Then I said I would have to find an appropriate time to start wearing the scarves; I couldn’t just change my appearance so dramatically without any warning. I am not sure what it means to find an appropriate time, but I did spend a lot of time worrying about it.

Then COVID-19 struck. I couldn’t go to the hairdressing salon for weeks, I couldn’t go to the barber’s. I agonised over the state of my hair for about a week. It was obvious I couldn’t go out looking that dishevelled. And I needed to go out.

Then I realised the answer to my predicament was staring at me. I went into the cupboard that had the headscarves, which had been waiting for lessons in how to tie them, waiting for an appropriate date to outdoor my new look.

I took the first one, I tied it on my head, and that morning, the only important thing was to make sure my hair was covered. It was certainly not the most fashionable headscarf style you had ever seen, but I had tied it and I had taken an important decision without even spending a minute worrying over whether I should or should not.

The problem had started first, with my reluctance to go to the salon because many of those who patronise it were regular overseas travellers and might, therefore, be carriers of the virus.

Later, with the lockdown, I realised I did not have the luxury of agonising over whether I could tie the scarf fashionably or not. I needed to go out, my hair was a mess, I tied a headscarf and that was the end of the story.

Since that day, five weeks ago, I have been using a headscarf. I can’t claim to have mastered how to tie it and I still have accidents with it coming off at the most unexpected times, but I have done it and I now wonder why I had hesitated for so long.

There are other little/major things that have changed in my life as a result of this pandemic. I have discovered things about Peter (the youngman who lives with us) in these five weeks that I did not know in the two years he had been living with us.

I am using couriers and that I have learnt in this period. I am making and accepting more video calls. Wonder if that is a good or bad thing.