This article addresses some of the potential challenges likely to come up with respect to compliance with the suspension of public gathering, observance of social/physical distance and wearing of face masks after the lockdown. The behavioural issues involved have been discussed from psychological perspective.
Experience with lockdown
For most Ghanaians who are less than forty years of age, the March 30 to April 20, 2020, partial lockdown in greater parts of the two most populous regions (Greater Accra and Ashanti) in the country and the Ewutu Senya East Municipality in the Central region was the first time they have officially experienced something akin to curfew. Though there have been some isolated cases of curfews in parts of the country over the years, none of them comes close to what Ghanaians experienced in the 1980s. During that period, a prolonged dusk to dawn curfew became an integral part of everyday life, and by default there was completely no nightlife outside homes. Unlike the 1980s curfew however, the immediate past restrictions on movements were as a result of an unwanted and uncourteous visit paid to Ghana by a micro-organism referred to as coronavirus or COVID-19. The lockdown, among others, was to ensure that Ghanaians within the affected areas stayed home and close their gates and doors to COVID-19. It was also to facilitate contact tracing, quarantine and testing of those who have had contact with persons tested positive to the disease. The overall objective was to limit the spread. The incarceration was lifted on Monday, April 20, 2020, with a stern warning from the President that if the need arises, the lockdown will be restored or imposed with more restrictive measures.
As expected, some were happy (some privately while some young men openly jubilated) that they have ‘regained’ their much-cherished freedom of movement while others were of the view that the prevailing conditions were not conducive enough for the lifting of the lockdown. To ensure that the lifting of the restriction of movement does not create the impression of unfettered freedom to do just anything we like, the President, Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, reiterated the critical importance for all Ghanaians to religiously adhere to the protocols of regular hand washing, the use of hand sanitizers and the observance of the recommended social/physical distance of two meters apart. Other measures he reminded us of are: the wearing of face masks, avoidance of handshake, avoidance of crowded places, suspension of church services, funeral activities, wedding ceremonies, and the closure of beer/drinking bars. Although there has been a general agreement that there was a high level of compliance with the partial lockdown and the accompanying directives, some unfortunate recalcitrance behaviours which occurred during the period give reason for some level of concern for the days ahead, especially when more persons are expected to be out in the communities, offices and market places such as malls, shops as well as the open streets.
Matters arising/Issues of concern
Based on the violations of some of the dictates of the lockdown, with particular reference to movement, some of the questions bothering the minds of many well-meaning Ghanaians are: ‘what is likely to happen during this period of ‘freedom of movement’. ‘What is the level of risk (in relation to COVID-19) the individual will be exposed to especially when the number of security personnel in town is not likely to be high (compare to the lockdown period) to exact compliance from the citizens?’ In other words, will the citizens adhere to the regulations in the absence of a high presence of the security in the communities, streets and crowd prone areas? As we have been made aware, COVID-19 is an infectious disease hence even if a single positive person decides to lead a ‘careless life’, he/she is a potential threat to the rest of society. In the light of this, how do we ensure high-level compliance for the general good? A genuine and legitimate concern I guess. Logically, and from a common-sense point of view, the orders/recommendations are in the interest of each and every one of us hence compliance should not be an issue. Unfortunately, from experience and the perspective of the psychology of human nature and human behaviour, not everyone will go by the directives – some will violate them for reasons that may be termed external while for others, it is the result of their predominant deviant nature and personality.
What should we anticipate?
From the perspective of psychology and experience, human beings have the propensity to be both selfless and selfish, to love and to hurt and to demonstrate care and to exhibit callousness as well as be law-abiding and deviant. As normal and rational human beings, the expectation is that we will all engage in choices, decisions and actions which will at least protect our lives to ensure happiness and general well-being. Regrettably, even though the majority of Ghanaians are likely to do the right thing by following the recommended protocols, whether as a result of self-discipline or to avoid sanctions, few others will not do as expected and as deemed appropriate. Based on the above and the lessons from the lockdown, we should expect both rational and irrational violations in the areas of wearing of face masks, social and physical distancing in our market places, malls and shops in particular. We should also anticipate isolated but potential violations on restrictions of social gatherings by churches, especially those that are referred to as one man churches as well as holding of wedding ceremonies, funeral programs (beyond the permissible numbers) and also from commercial drivers, their mates, commercial motor riders popularly referred to as okada riders and some passengers. The other places to keep an eye on are the communities especially the crowded suburbs, the streets eateries, beer/drinking bars and the beaches.
Why non-compliance? Survival
Non-compliance with laws and directives of any kind is a result of several reasons/factors. In the case of the issues under review, the reasons will include genuine need to make ends meet especially in the case of a large number of petty traders in the market and those hawking, some artisans and other ‘hand-to-mouth’ self-employed such as head porters popularly referred to as “kayaye”, some motor riders, commercial vehicles drivers and their mates and many others you can think of. Also included in this category of low income earners are a significant proportion of those in the formal sector whose income is very meager but in their case, they are assured of receiving it for the period of the lockdown and beyond. A good number of those in the informal sector indicated above earn their income/wage on daily basis which is usually not enough for basic needs hence a sizeable number of them may have very little or no savings for emergencies such as the lockdown period. For these people, not working for three weeks is likely to have made life very difficult to endure, hence the lifting of the restrictions on movement was a huge relief and they might have even misconstrued it as the end of the pandemic and the time to do everything possible to recoup their spent savings and/or monies borrowed.
For others, non-compliance is the result of ignorance and lack of appreciation of the issues at hand and the implications of their actions on themselves and others – you might have heard of the popular saying ‘ignorance is a disease’. In this context, I like to add that ignorance is the cause, the disease and its consequence, Such ignorance may arise from an unwillingness to learn – to listen to educative radio programs and news, view educative television programs news and updates, read newspapers, magazines, journals, books and/or listen to and learn from those who are more informed or the pieces of information made available by the various state institutions, private organizations, non-governmental bodies, faith-based institutions and many others. Ignorance also arises from those who deliberately tuned-off from the relevant information because they are either not ready to make the necessary cognitive/mental adjustment or they are so much preoccupied with other issues they consider to be more or most important.
A typical instance of a high level of ignorance was exhibited in one of the numerous social media posts in which a man in a passenger vehicle popularly referred to as ‘trotro’ proudly taunted other passengers wearing face masks as worrying/bothering themselves unduly. Ironically, he referred to them as stupid. Hmmm! This behaviour is what one of my former headmasters, Mr. Gyasi-Appiah of St Augustine’s College, used to refer to as ‘stupidity at its intensity’. Mr Gyasi-Appiah, best regards to you. You inspired us and made indelible marks on a lot of us – I still recall your general paper lectures especially, the logic. For the likes of the man in the video I have referred to, unless by strict enforcement and the threat of sanctions, it will be extremely difficult to convince him/them to wear a face mask and by extension, get him/them to engage in any of the recommended behaviours – he does not seem to know its importance, neither does he seem willing to learn from those who are well-informed or take advice and follow simple instruction. In that context of what he said, I will say that he is ignorantly ignorant of his own ignorance.
Closely related to ignorance, are the beliefs held by some persons. For instance, some people believe that COVID19 is a form of punishment from God/gods for the sins committed by humanity hence no human protection or intervention can save anyone. A typical example of how our belief system affects behaviour is manifested in a fisherman’s response to a JoyNews Cape Coast correspondent’s interview on COVID-19 with particular reference to social and physical distancing. The fisherman told the reporter that the salty nature of the sea will protect them from the virus hence they do not need any other measures to stay safe. He added that the COVID-19 disease affects only the educated (akrakyifo) and not ordinary persons like fishermen. Similar beliefs were expressed by some of the people who trooped to the chokor beach in Accra on Easter Monday to swim. The predominant reason given by those who were interviewed by reporters was that bathing/swimming in the sea protects individual from COVID-19 infection. Several of such beliefs have been reported on radio, television and newspapers as well as on some social media platforms and have been discussed in homes, offices and on the streets as part of the everyday conversation since the pandemic emerged.
Curiosity and rights
Humans are one of the most curious animals among creation so to some extent some persons violate rules out of curiosity – ‘why shouldn’t I do this and/or that, I will find out’. Humans are generally curious hence even when we have explicitly been told not to do certain things or go to certain places, the instruction in itself may whip-up the curiosity and interest of some persons to find out what will happen if they do otherwise. Interestingly, during the lockdown, when a young man who had apparently violated the stay-home order was asked why he was loitering around, he said in response to the law enforcement officer that he wanted to find out if indeed the security personnel were in town and in his areas as was announced. Certainly, curiosity does not kill only cats but humans as well. Furthermore, some persons perceive directives as a violation of their rights and therefore will resist them with all their might on any given day and time. Such persons will usually refer to the constitution and other laws to invoke their right of freedom of movement, association and the others without juxtaposing and taking into accounts the right of others and the prevailing circumstance or any other condition thereof.
Wiafe-Akenten, C. Brenya, PhD
Social Psychologist and a Senior Lecturer
Dept. of Psychology, Univ. of Ghana.
The second part of this article puts in perspectives how curiosity, personality type, ‘machoism’ and emotions may also feed into recalcitrance behaviours in relation to COVID-19 protocols and directives. The article suggests assertiveness and enforcement as part of the way forward.