President Emmerson Mnangagwa caused an internet mirth quake on Wednesday after participating in a ZOOM video call with 14 other leaders while wearing a mask – the only one to do so.
The wearing of masks is now mandatory in Zimbabwe when leaving one’s home – part of measures to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
Few, however, expected the dour 77-year-old to wear the face mask for an appearance before a camera, during an extraordinary intercessional virtual summit of the Organisation of African Caribbean and Pacific States (OACPS).
The Zanu PF leader soon became the subject of social media jokes.
“Does he know that the coronavirus is different from a computer virus?,” wrote one Twitter user.
Mnangagwa’s spokesman George Charamba later explained that the president was not alone in the room, hence he felt the need to wear a mask. Charamba shared pictures of a room full of journalists and Mnangagwa’s aides. That did not clear up the confusion, however.
“What’s the point of a virtual meeting if you are going to have 20 people in one room? That defeats the purpose. All those people should have called in from their separate locations,” opined another Twitter user.
The virtual meeting featured several African leaders including Rwanda’s Paul Kagame, South Africa’s Cyril Ramaphosa and Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya.
The leaders were in conversation with World Health Organisation (WHO) director general Dr Ghebreyesus Tedros, who said current tensions among major powers are deflecting world attention from uniting in the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic to the detriment of humanity.
Dr Tedros said global solidarity was key in defeating the outbreak which has infected over six million people and killed over 371,000 others across the globe.
“We have to quarantine Covid-19 politics and work together. If we don’t have effective solidarity globally, the virus will stay with us for a very long period and will continue to wreak havoc,” he said.
The summit ran under the theme, “Transcending the Covid-19 pandemic, building resilience through global solidarity.”
Major tensions between the United States and China over the handling of the coronavirus outbreak have resulted in Washington, a major donor, cutting funding to WHO, which President Donald Trump accused of siding with Beijing.
Dr Tedros said of the 79 OACPS countries, 12 have not reported any Covid-19 cases and 38 have reported under 500 cases.
“We mustn’t let our guard down, we still have a long way to go and many risks remain,” he warmed the grouping.
“Covid-19 is a brutal reminder of the need to ready ourselves for outbreaks and other health emergencies before the crisis hits.”
The OACPS was established in 1975 with the aim of promoting sustainable development and eradicating poverty within its member states, as well as pushing greater integration into the world economy.
OACPS chairman, Kenyan President, Uhuru Kenyatta said member states had taken a huge hit from the pandemic, which had seriously undermined economic performance.
“It is a challenging time for all of us but together we will overcome,” he said. “The Covid-19 pandemic has caused major economic and social disruptions across the entire globe and has caused serious health challenges and slowed down economic activity.”
(Additional reporting New Ziana)