Ahmad Rizky Mardhatillah Umar By: Ahmad Rizky Mardhatillah Umar
Doctoral Student, Political Sciences and International Studies
View profile and Diary

13 Apr 2020 : Pandemics and Politics: A View from Below

At the moment I am supposed to be writing my Thesis as if everything is normal. I do write, of course, but obviously we couldn't ignore the global COVID-19 politics, which affects every inches of our academic life. 

Well, let me begin with the message: COVID-19 shows that global inequality is real. 

Yesterday, I was talking (by phone) with my family in my hometown Banjarmasin, Indonesia, where my parents (60+) and most of my family live. We update news, as usual, and no surprise if our topic enters about coronavirus.

But here my frustations come: the way COVID-19 is handled is far worse that I could imagine. 

Having been in Australia since early pandemic time, the rule that I pursue here is actually simple: trust government, trust scientists working on public health or related issues, and stay at home or do physical distancing. The Law is tough so nobody would dare to hangout unless they want to be fined by police. 

But things are going differently in other country. Physical distancing doesn't really work in a densely populated area, even in the rural area. Some community gatherings are not banned; people still want to do mass prayer even though religious and government leaders told people to stay at home. 

As a consequence, the province is now declared as having 'local transmission'. 

The problem is coupled with government's unresponsiveness in declaring 'large-scale physical distancing' in the country-wide. The national government declared public health emergency just in March 31, almost one month after the first case was announced by the Health Ministry. 

Now efforts have been made to implement 'large-scale physical distancing' policy, but it's not country-wide. Local government needs to apply to effectively implement the policy, and the priority, of course is given to densely populated urban area such as Jakarta.

Thus leaving areas in the outer part of the country - including my hometown, which is located in South Kalimantan - vulnerable for local transmission. 

It is indeed frustrating. It made some of us becoming highly critical and skeptical with our current policies. Social media is flooded not only with community initiatives for aid, but also criticism to the government. Which turned mostly a deaf ear. 

Back in Australia, nothing I could do but still connecting to family and friends back home while still staying at 'home'. Start organizing something. Start webinars; convince everyone to stay at home. Collaborate with fellow researchers to say truth to power. Find a way to organize. Give evidences about alternative policies. It might not work, but collectively it's something that we could do during the crisis. 

Well, these are perhaps unsurprising for IR scholars. Some people perhaps will quick to affirm an old saying, "great power do what they please; the weak suffers what they must". But this time it's different. Without effective response, good leadership, and strong scientific capacity, we would not survive the virus. Those with strong welfare system, strong state capacity, and early and effective responses might do what they please. Those who neglect science and preferring military or entertainment industry than funding PhD students will pay the cost of their negligence. 

But again things are going differently in the south. it's not all about leadership or science; it's also about dealing with culture; authoritarian legacy that prioritise military and economy over scientific development; also about stubborn government and ruling oligarch who don't care about the people.

And the global inequality is still there; and whilst everyone might be talking about a new international order that might emerge after the virus, it might worth to remind that tackling global inequality should also be in the table. Because it's real. 

© 2020, All rights reserved. Views expressed are those of individual contributors. Privacy Policy