FORESIGHT

Kenyans never plan ahead

We seem not to have paid too steep a price for our lack of foresight.

In Summary
  • Proof of foresight would then have been revealed in the seamless continuation of trade between Kenya and neighbouring nations.
  • But instead we see truck drivers complaining of days wasted waiting for the results of their coronavirus tests to be presented to them.

The government’s response to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic has provided us with many examples of the failure to plan ahead which is so typical of our political establishment.

Consider the early days when top-level committees were being formed to raise funds, or to examine the national security dimension of this unexpected crisis.

That surely was the time when Kenya should have led the way in planning for how we were going to handle cross-border trade with our neighbours within East Africa – who are, after all, some of our most important trading partners.

For this is not a disease that was endemic to any country in this region. It invariably arrived from the Far East, directly or via Europe. And Kenya has the largest regional hub airport. And also, the biggest and busiest port. So, some of the coronavirus infections in neighbouring countries were more than likely to have originated in Kenya – just as any initial infections in Kenya were likely to be the result of recent overseas travel.

But only after those miles-long queues of trucks had formed on the Kenya-Uganda border; and only after accusations had been traded as to whose truck drivers were spreading the coronavirus in whose country; only then were steps taken to tackle the infection clusters that had been revealed to be forming near these border towns.

The number of trucks that cross both the Uganda and the Tanzania borders, coming or going, is no secret. And so, it should have been easy enough to figure out how many health workers would have to be deployed to cater for the testing of the drivers and other personnel at these border posts.

Proof of foresight would then have been revealed in the seamless continuation of trade between Kenya and neighbouring nations. But instead we see truck drivers complaining of days wasted waiting for the results of their coronavirus tests to be presented to them.

But if we have been spared the worst of the Covid-19 pandemic, this is not because of the measures taken by the government to rein in the infection rates. These efforts, after a promising start, turned out to be as violent, irrational, chaotic and short-sighted as we have learned to expect of our government whenever there is a crisis.

Now it is a basic reality of public health that in any resource-poor nation, a policy of proactive prevention is the only viable option. Rich nations may be able to keep thousands of their seriously ill patients alive through respirators and other intensive care devices. But for a country like Kenya, outside of an exceedingly small urban political and professional elite, the level of illness that requires a respirator is basically guaranteed to lead to death.

The average county hospital is neither likely to be equipped with comprehensive Intensive Care Unit facilities, nor the professionals who know how to put such expensive equipment to good use.

Anticipating the development of infection clusters at the national border crossing points would have been a perfect example of the kind of proactive prevention policy that saves lives.

But we seem not to have paid too steep a price for our lack of foresight. Consider a few statistics: The US has a population of about 328 million. Kenya has roughly 54 million people. At the time of writing, the US has recorded a total of about 90,000 deaths directly attributable to Covid-19. While in Kenya we have 50 deaths.

This suggests that the virus has killed about one in 4,000 Americans; but only one in a million Kenyans. And that seems to reveal a virus which is unusually selective in its most lethal impacts. If Kenyans had fallen to this disease in a pattern similar to that established in the US, we would have had about one in 4,000 Kenyans dead by now. That would be a total of 13,500 Kenyans dead over a four-month period.

This is far too big a number for any government to conceal. We would have been seeing dead bodies in our streets if that were the case, or a truly shocking increase in the number of funerals each weekend.

But if we have been spared the worst of the Covid-19 pandemic, this is not because of the measures taken by the government to rein in the infection rates.

These efforts, after a promising start, turned out to be as violent, irrational, chaotic and short-sighted as we have learned to expect of our government whenever there is a crisis.