Will COVID-19 Garner More Support For Nationalist Sentiments?

Before COVID-19 took center stage, the issue of borders was central in many of the world's political arenas, from the West to Africa to Asia. While Donald Trump was preaching about "building the wall" to keep out the illegal aliens and bringing industries and manufacturing back to America, Julius Malema was preaching pan-African style nationalism which included the dismantling of the "white monopoly capital" which is mostly a result of the stealing of land by the "settlers" and Kim Jon-Un was still insisting on keeping North Korea far from foreign economic activity. Then came the Coronavirus.

At the beginning of the year, before the novel virus spread throughout the rest of the world like wildfire, it was considered solely a China problem, a punishment somehow for "eating snakes and bats". Fast forward a few months and the virus had found its way out of mainland China and embarked on what seemed like a globe-wide world tour. As it became clear that the virus was going to become much more than just a China problem, countries started closing borders to keep the scourge away, but it would appear to be too little too late.

The virus ravaged the world and in some other parts of the world, nationalists like Trump were quick to let the world know who, in their opinion, was to blame for the pandemic by referring to the disease as the "Chinese virus", even going a step further by fueling conspiracies that the novel virus was purposely made by the Chinese in a lab. When it became clear that America's ability to keep the virus contained, Trump turned his blame to the next target, the World Health Organisation, who he accused of failing to efficiently handle the virus and even halting America's financial aid to the organization.

In the following weeks, Trump made it clear that he believed the American way of handling the virus, which included advising the citizenry to ingest and inject themselves with bleach, was the best route to take. The results, as expected, were disastrous. Trump's America was however not the only place where nationalist sentiments created bizarre and sometimes purely illogical dynamics during the COVID-19 crisis.

When the virus came back to China after the initial wave which they pretty much managed to swat, the Chinese were not very friendly to foreigners, especially those of African origin. Mirroring Trump's stance of the virus being a "Chinese virus", the Chinese became hostile to Africans, accusing them of bringing the virus back to the country, basically implying that it was now an "African virus".The irony.

When looking at the aforementioned cases of nationalist response to the pandemic, one common factor becomes apparent and that is, according to the nationalists from both the East and the West, "it is always someone's fault and never ours". Be it Trump blaming the WHO and China or the Chinese blaming Africans for "bringing back the virus", It seems like the nationalists' mantra is always to defer the blame to someone or something.In a time where the world needs to come together in the fight against this crisis, it seems like nationalist sentiments, which comprise mostly of pointing fingers, are taking hold instead. COVID-19 has given much-needed ammo to the "close the borders" brigade.

For pan-African nationalists like Julius Malema and the EFF who were advocating for open borders in Africa, the fact that the closing of borders has been essential in controlling movements and hence significantly slowing down the spread of the virus is pretty much in conflict with their ideology and as a result, Malema has not been his exorbitantly outspoken self and has chosen to focus his energies on telling his followers to follow the government's health guidelines and fighting the "white monopoly capitalists" who are lobbying for the reopening of the economy despite the apparent danger to the mostly disadvantaged black populace.

When the COVID-19 crisis encompassed the entire world, the optimists, myself included, thought it would be a chance for the world to come together, not literally of course, against a common enemy. The crisis seemed like the perfect opportunity for ideological differences to be put aside for the good of all humanity, a chance for humanity to work together once for a change, but it wasn't to be.

Despite some remote instances of countries coming together to tackle the crisis like Jack Ma sending much-needed testing kits and medical equipment to some African countries and Cuba sending medical doctors to help with the crisis in South Africa, what has taken center stage has been the nationalist sentiments of who is to blame for the mess the world finds itself in and who will be the first to rescue the world from it and be proclaimed the savior of humanity.

A post-COVID-19 world will be interesting, to say the least. The pandemic has shown that even in a crisis when working together is much needed, nationalist sentiments still manage to permeate and take hold in most societies. It remains to be seen if the crisis will fuel electorate support for Trump-like nationalist principles like stringent border control measures or Malema-like nationalist principles of pan-African socialism or Kim Jon-un like nationalist principles of seclusion. What is clear however is that if nationalism can survive a crisis that required humanity to be one against a common enemy, then it is clearly here to stay.