21st May 2024

By Enyam Morny

Some years ago, on one weekday afternoon, my brother went through Circle, Accra, on his way home. As he made his way through the bustling crowd, he noticed he was being followed by a distressed-looking lady in her 20s. Not long after that, the lady began pointing at him and shouting “Onoa! Onoa!” (“That’s him!” in Twi).

Just as quickly a loose circle of people formed around him ready to pounce on him. Instinctively, my brother, who was carrying a bulky schoolbag on his back, knew that running would be suicidal. Without knowing what else to do, he backed himself into the nearest shop on the street.

Thankfully, the shop owner, who wanted to avert any damage to his shop should the crowd charge at my brother, quickly stepped out to address the crowd.

According to the lady, she had just been swindled by a man who claimed he could double her money. The man had disappeared after taking the money, but the lady claimed my brother was an accomplice. The shop owner, who had turned interrogator and judge, asked my brother to hand over his school bag, while the crowd looked on, ready to pounce like the executioner.

When the shop owner emptied my brother’s bag, it contained his laptop and books which showed he was a student in one of the nation’s universities.

A hush fell over the crowd when they realised my brother was not the swindler or thief as they had thought him to be. Before anyone could ask the lady why she would accuse an innocent young man of such a crime, the lady slunk into the crowd and disappeared; and just as quickly, the lynch mob also dissipated. With the crowd gone, the shop owner told my brother to eat boiled eggs as soon as he got home to celebrate his narrow escape.

That is how close my brother came to death by lynching. Till date, we do not know whether it was a case of mistaken identity or a deliberate setup to kill and rob my brother of his laptop.

Linkage with COVID-19

A lot! There is deliberate misinformation out there about COVID-19 that will kill innocent people. There are conspiracy theories that fuel existing fears and biases and cause people to react in irrational ways.

Take, for example, the case of the man and the woman in Old Fadama, Accra, who had run away from the COVID-19 contact tracing team. According to news reports, the information had spread through Old Fadama that the government was drawing blood from people to use for rituals.

In an election year, it is an easy thing to believe. The rest of the community were therefore unwilling to assist the contact tracing team find these two persons. Now, if these two remain in Old Fadama and expose others to the virus, many people will survive, yes, but some people will die!

Remember, a pandemic is made up of many small family tragedies – a wife loses her husband, children lose their father, a mother loses her son, a sibling loses his brother and it goes on and on.

Take again the issue at St Augustine’s College in Cape Coast. The teachers were up against using the school as an isolation centre. Same story at Effutu; the community would not let their senior high school be used as an isolation centre. During the Ebola crisis in Liberia and Sierra Leone, some communities burnt down isolation centres that were set up in or near these communities to treat victims of the disease. We do not want to get there.

Lessons

One thing I am learning from this COVID-19 period is that it will test the quality of our education. Knowledge and understanding are related, but they are different entities. There is already a lot of good information about COVID-19 out there, but I sense that bad information travels faster.

When you view a post or receive a message, video or voice note about the coronavirus, please remember my brother’s story.

Check it against the facts first because what you are sharing could kill someone. Make sure it is true before you share and save a life.

Finally, to those who have the privilege of knowing more about COVID-19, please share that good knowledge with the rest of us in ways we can understand.

It would help “kill” false information before it “kills” us.

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