CORONA TALKS- a conversation with Professor Hauwa Ibrahim

As students, we have started this section trying to give as much information as we possibly can being obviously limited by our young age and our limited knowledge. This has brought us to the decision of involving in this project professionals who can help us understand better the situation in many different fields, starting from our professors. In this article, we give the insights and opinion of Professor Hauwa Ibrahim, a human rights lawyer from Nigeria who teaches human rights and social justice in Global Governance.

The first question was of course how she had been holding up with the situation. She said she has been coping very well and she is actually busier than before the lockdown, adding to her schedule and interests the writing of two manuscripts and having the possibility to finish everything she had left undone before because of her many different errands. She spent the month of March in Boston, from which she arrived in Italy on the 13th of April and self-quarantined with her family for two weeks in her house in Piemonte. While she was still in the United States, she received a lot of questions about the situation in Italy, because in the USA Coronavirus was not yet a reality they thought could get to them. More importantly, she started creating cotton masks with her sewing machine in order to send them to the health workers so that they could be somehow protected. This because TPE protections for health workers were not assured in the United States, for example in New York doctors and nurses started using rubbish bags to try being safer.

When asked what she thought about how the situation had been handled around the world, she stated that no country was prepared for COVID-19, so many issues were put into light. She considers herself, and I quote, a “news junkie”, because she tries to be as informed as possible on how the situation everywhere is developing and creating her own thoughts on the various situations. She does not have an answer on which country has dealt best with the virus, also because many countries do not have reporters who can show what the situation is like there, but she believes Germany handled the situation very well, whereas countries such as the United States could have done a much better job fighting the virus, because, “when politics plays a key role in an issue of life and death, we find a situation of failure of leadership”.

In fact, Professor Ibrahim believes that In Italy things were better after a while because the government decided to use only one strategy, establishing a lockdown to ensure people were as safe as possible. In contrast in the United States, things are not getting much better because there is a general denial of the situation, both by the people and by the President itself, who chose to focus on the economy; and if the situation keeps this same pace in the United States, it will take much more time to slow down compared to Italy. Another problem concerning the USA at the moment is that people cannot afford medication, so even if they have symptoms they avoid going to the hospital, or many avoid going because do not want to risk being identified and deported.

In Nigeria, her home country, the first case recorded was of a man traveling from Italy to Lagos, who was treated and recovered. After that Lagos was under the radar for contact tracing, isolation, and treatment. At the time of the interview, there were 200 deaths over two hundred million people, so the situation can still be considered under control, although the number has now raised to 329 deaths. The rate of infection is now of 10,819 (data of 04/06/2020)  cases, but the numbers are probably given by the fact that there are not enough testing kits, so the real numbers are surely higher than the official ones. The fatality rate must be contested, because there is also the fact that people have died without getting a test first, so it is unknown if they died because of the virus or for some other issue or disease. The main problem in Nigeria is not in the numbers but in the capacity of testing. In her city there has been only one death, the doctors supposed it was for Coronavirus (because the person had some of the symptoms), but this person has not received a test before dying.

In Africa the culture is focused on finding natural remedies, for example in Madagascar they have now found something that might work both as a cure and as prevention. The ideal solution she believes would be to try some of these natural remedies before focusing on a vaccine which “brings a baggage with itself”. She shares this idea because she knows it is deeply rooted in African villages. She demonstrates it by remembering her childhood: in the villages there were no pharmacies or doctors, so her grandfather identified trees in the mountains to collect and use ingredients to cure discomforts such as headaches or stomach-aches. It is simply normal to use natural resources and benefit from them, without relying on medications.

Professor Ibrahim believes that the world after the pandemic will have to adapt to some changes about its order. This change starts from the biggest powers in the world, such as the United States, China, and an European Union which should forget about the fragmentation and regain strength in unity. One of the main issues will be money. The dollar was considered the global currency, but China is developing very much, also trying to establish a cross economy even in some African countries. With these preconditions, how valuable will the dollar be 10 years from now, post COVID-19, with China gaining power economically, morally, and in other fields?

When asked if she thinks there will be some permanent changes in the way people interact with one another, she says she does not believe so, because human memory is not very long, we are now acting like we are because we are captured by the moment. She realised how much humans need human contact from spending the quarantine with her family, when she witnessed the joy of being able to be all together and being in contact, something that might have been taken for granted by each and everyone of us but that we now crave. She has also had time to do some self-reflection, reaching the conclusion that our lives are full of superficial things we do not actually need. The Professor used as an example the various houses she has around the world, full of clothes and other commodities. It is not necessary to possess all of this. She believes it would be better to use the superficial things we have to help those who cannot even have things that would be considered necessities.

When she first arrived in Italy, being quarantined she could not go anywhere, so the town needed to buy groceries for her and her family: her family would leave a list and money outside and after a while people would leave in front of the door food and the change. She says that this experience made her feel connected to the people, also because she could not actually choose what to buy but she could only trust the choices of the individuals who were helping her. She hopes that this humanity will continue to be inside of us even after this situation will have toned down. As an example, the Professor speaks of the situation of immigration in Italy, where there have been many examples of unacceptance. She points out that if the immigrants had opportunities in their own countries, they would not risk drowning to reach Europe. Her hope is that developing countries post Coronavirus will be able to become better for their populations, to ensure that everyone in every country is treated with dignity and respect, something that should have happened long ago.

In conclusion, Professor Hauwa Ibrahim focused on many different aspects of the pandemic which may have gone unnoticed. She stated at the end of the interview that she hopes people will change also in their priorities and thoughts: humans have this need for money, for a name, for power, but we only have one life and by focusing on superficial things we forget what is more important about the life we were given the opportunity to live: the love we leave behind. People who believe in something afterlife get accountability for the love left behind, and it will be the fundamental point of our life. It must become the purpose of what we are doing here: give love and do something good to create change and have an impact.

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