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  • Ameya Pratap Singh

No NYT, True Leaders Look Like This.

On April 30, the Editorial Board of the New York Times published a list of leaders who they believed had most capably responded to the Covid-19 pandemic. Unfortunately, the list is a popularity contest of sorts, and fares poorly in the face of empirical scrutiny. For instance, the NYT defines great leadership as “demonstrating resolve, courage, empathy, respect for science and elemental decency, and thereby dulling the impact of the disease on their people.” The use of “courage” or “dulling” instead of more quantitative indicators such as “per capita mortality” or “stringency indices” lays bare the lack of respect for science in NYT’s approach. More importantly, the sheer brazenness with which the outlet has left out countries in the Global South—who are doing markedly better than their Western peers—is appalling to say the least. As one commentator observed, “It is just racism, so structural that the Editorial Board cannot even see it. It is built into the edifice of the paper itself.”

In response, NWO has decided to highlight the great successes of states in the Global South. Instead of choosing an arbitrary yardstick like the NYT, we use the number of total confirmed Covid-19 deaths per million to determine the strength and character of leadership. After all, the litmus test of leadership and governance during a public health emergency should be saving lives, and not effective media communication or politicking.


In Asia, if one excludes China where the virus originated, there have been 18,228 confirmed deaths until May 13 despite sheltering roughly 41 percent of the world population. During this time, Europe has had 155,405 deaths and North America 92,605 deaths. This success has largely been down to initiatives taken by leaders in countries like Vietnam, who despite sharing long borders with China and having large populations (95 million), have shown remarkably low infection rates. The United States recorded its first Covid-19 infection in late January—the same week that the virus officially reached Vietnam. But, there have only been 288 total confirmed cases in (252 recovered) Vietnam and zero deaths. When the country had only six confirmed cases, Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc signed declared Covid-19 as a national epidemic. Through aggressive and “low-cost” preventive action, Vietnam managed to prevent any community transmission of the disease. For instance, effective April 1, an executive directive called for national isolation, banned gatherings, and encouraged staying home, closing borders, and implementing quarantine policy, among other measures. Still, Vietnam’s leadership found no mention on the NYT list.


In South Korea, to flatten the curve President Moon Jae-in heavily relied on the use of information and communications technology to “test and contact-trace” along with widespread social distancing. At the end of February South Korea had the most number of Covid-19 patients outside of China. But, at the time of writing, its total number of deaths had not exceeded 260. Within two weeks, the government’s use of “a combination of interviews and cellphone surveillance to track down the recent contacts of new patients” and encouraging them to self-isolate produced a massive change. South Korea has recorded 5.05 deaths per million compared to 248.9 in the US or 91.11 in Germany—that too without having to lockdown entire cities. Similar methods – based on border control, identification, containment and resource allocation – were successfully deployed in Taiwan. It has 0.29 deaths per million.


India’s leadership has also demonstrated a lot of resolve in tackling the spread of Covid-19. It has imposed the largest nationwide lockdown in human terms—even at great costs to its economic growth. Also, between 23 March and May 4, India’s measures – such as “school closures, travel bans as well as measures such as emergency investment in healthcare, fiscal measure and investment in vaccines by the governments” – were considered the most stringent of any lockdown across the world. Despite its doctor per 1000 citizens ratio being a paltry 1.34, it has only endured 1.75 deaths per million so far; well below New Zealand at 4.36 and Australia at 3.8. Kerala has outperformed other Indian states in this respect. It had 524 confirmed cases with 489 (91.76 percent) recoveries and 3 deaths in the state (mortality rate 0.59 percent).


Even in Africa, which many assumed “would be engulfed in death as the virus ripped through its weak health systems”, there have been no signs of community spread in large parts. Countries such as Senegal have devised a cheap test for Covid-19 and are also using 3D printing to manufacture ventilators.


Using nationalism to mobilize public support has also been a big part of the success story in the Global South. For example, Minh Vu and Bich T. Tran argue that in Vietnam, the government successfully framed the virus as “a common foreign enemy and called on the unity of the population to defeat it, echoing the enduring history of a nation always threatened by foreign invaders.” Similar collectivizing efforts – such as the “Diya lighting” campaign – have also been organized in India to coral public support. These cases stand in sharp contrast to polarized populations in the US or UK, who have protested stringent lockdowns and openly defied government pronouncements.


Thus, the mythology of “white” and “first-world” leadership competence being peddled by the NYT is patently absurd. In fact, it is the Global South that has upheld multilateralism, as systemic great powers have acted irresponsibly or withdrawn from their internationalist roles. By saving more lives, these states have outdone their Western peers (despite in some cases with grossly poorer public health infrastructure). In the process, they have also demonstrated their ability to build a new world order.



(The author is a DPhil Candidate in Area Studies (South Asia) at the University of Oxford, and the founder of Young Bhartiya, a Mumbai-based think tank committed to bridging the gap between academia and popular media consumption).

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