SPIKE IN COVID-19 CASES

Life in Eastleigh since lockdown 14 days ago

Residents pray that the strict measures will not be extended

In Summary

• Eastleigh and Mombasa's Old Town were locked down on May 6 after they became Covid-19 hotspots. 

• Eastleigh is both a business hub and a residention area populated mainly by Muslims of Somali extraction.

Eastleigh's First Avenue, one of Nairobi's busiest business thoroughfares, during the lockdown. Photo/Fredrick Omondi
LIFELESS: Eastleigh's First Avenue, one of Nairobi's busiest business thoroughfares, during the lockdown. Photo/Fredrick Omondi

 

Eastleigh's 15-day partial lockdown ends today, with residents praying that it will not be extended.

Opinion of those the Star spoke to was divided. Some said the lockdown was illogical and that it served no purpose.

 

Others believe that their community (Muslims) was targeted for punishment. Another lot said the government had good intentions when it imposed the lockdown. 

Eastleigh is both a business hub and a residential area, categorised as North, South, and Airbase. Residents are mainly Muslims of Somali extraction.

The arrival of huge numbers of refugees after the fall of Somalia's President Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991 transformed the once-quiet residential zone into "Little Mogadishu".

Dozens of malls and hotels have sprouted in the past 30 years, attracting thousands of shoppers across the country and the rest of East Africa.

The growth has, arguably, been funded by transnational Somali networks who bring merchandise - mainly clothes and electronics - from Dubai and China.

By yesterday, the malls had reopened and it was business as usual in disregard of social distancing.

Families trooped in, visiting shop after shop at Garissa Shopping Mall. Interaction was at close range as if to catch up with time lost in the past two weeks.

 

Hawkers were in their hundreds by the roadsides, displaying their merchandise on the pavements.

“I want money but I’m sometimes worried about my health. When these families come shopping, they simply flood the shop and when you ask them to keep distance, they walk away,” shopkeeper Faith Mwendwa said.

At a miraa base on the First Street, youths sat on stones and old tyres chewing the stimulant and drinking soda.

Roadblocks erected on Eastleigh border points were ignored, with residents saying that it costs only Sh50 for those manning them to let you pass.

“I have just returned from Gikomba market. The roadblocks are manned by police officers based here. Most people just move to the areas where they know a cop and are let to pass,” one of the residents who chose to be identified only as Omar said.

Those who cannot afford the bribes have borne the viciousness of the officers enforcing the lockdown.

“Eastleigh has many informal settlements and those are the groups that have suffered the most. In Airbase, we mapped at least 1,500 needy households living from hand to mouth. The government has not provided any aid to them and they survive on handouts and donations from well-wishers,” community leader David Odhiambo said.

Biafra resident Yusuf Ahmed said he gives his family of seven all the food he gets, which is barely enough.

“I fast every day not knowing if in the evening I shall have anything to put in my stomach. But being the month of Ramadhan, I find many people willing to share. I give that to my family. Sometimes I eat too,” Ahmed said.

Transport businesses, such as boda boda and matatu operations, were especially hard hit. Others who have borne the brunt of the lockdown are handcart couriers, laundry women and miraa sellers.

Boda boda rider Geoffery Omondi said the residents depended on motorcycles to take them out of the estate to estates like Kariobangi and California.

“Nowadays, if I’m lucky, I get Sh200 a day,” he said.

Community youth leader Javan Ochieng’  said about 500 young who touted at Eastleigh's 16 bus stages were out of work.

He regretted the upsurge of gender-based violence in the estate since the outbreak of coronavirus. According to him, the problem became worse soon after the lockdown.

“In less than two weeks, I have referred three cases to relevant organisations. Ordinarily, those are the numbers I refer in a month,” Ochieng’ said.

There also cases of police brutality, forcing some people not to venture out of their houses.

Michael Maina, a boda boda rider, lost an eye after he was allegedly clobbered by a police officer with a baton.

“He was hit on the eyeball as he left the 10th street headed to Melawa where he lives about 10 minutes to curfew time. He was taken to Mama Lucy Hospital, operated on but he never recovered his sight,” Odhiambo said.

Most residents have been reluctant to be tested for Covid-19, attributing this to " brutality" during contact tracing.

“When the team comes for you, it appears like a criminal operation. We witnessed one near Marie Stopes Hospital and I doubt the pain the lady was subjected to will go away even if she tested negative,” he added.

Covid-19 response team member Mohammed Ismael said only 1,684 people had been tested in Eastleigh by Monday. The estate has an estimated night population of 170,000.

When Eastleigh reopens, people from the rest of Nairobi will come for business and there are fears of a spike in Covid-19 cases if containment measures are not strictly adhered to.

Odhiambo fears that the extension of the lockdown will count for nothing without enhanced civic education on Covid-19 and humane but strict enforcement of prevention measures.

 

- mwaniki fm