Trusted and Influential: Religious and Traditional Leaders can be Assets in COVID-19 Fight
In late March, the Ghanaian government locked down parts of the Greater Accra and Ashanti regions to slow the spread of COVID-19 and deployed security personnel to enforce the restrictions. In announcing the measures, President Nana Akufo-Addo said he was aware that many citizens operate in the informal sector, depend on their daily earnings to survive, and rely on essential services not readily available in their homes or compounds. He asked key stakeholders from the private, informal, and religious sectors to support implementation of the partial lockdown. Three weeks in, the public’s initial cooperation with lockdown directives, including a ban on public gatherings, began to wane. There were reports of people going to the beach and organizing parties, wedding ceremonies, and traditional rites. Traffic began building back up in some parts of Accra. More than 400 people from 13 of the country’s 16 regions were arrested for flouting the lockdown orders as security personnel intensified efforts to enforce compliance. Another worrying trend was community resistance and protests against the siting of isolation centers in some areas. With the number of COVID-19 cases in Ghana rising, and the government’s recent decision to lift the partial lockdown, there is an urgent need to scale up the sensitization of Ghanaians on the pandemic and steps – and very real sacrifices – needed to contain the virus. And government may need all the help it can get. Results of an Afrobarometer survey conducted in late 2019 suggest that religious and traditional leaders could be an important asset in this effort. They enjoy greater popular trust and more contact with citizens than most other leaders. A broader consultation with traditional and religious leaders who have close interaction with the people they lead might be an effective way to court public cooperation in the implementation of anti-COVID-19 measures.