• Covid-19 is the most catastrophic tipping point in my short life.
• The pandemic is more than a health crisis. It has wrought devastating social upheaval and mental anguish to hundreds of millions.
I come to another chronological milestone this week.
I was born before independence. My formative years were forged in the crucible of the Moi era. My career launched in the liberating and checkered decade of Mwai Kibaki.
Like with every generation violence, peril and pandemics have been omnipresent in my lifetime. My ancestors were ravaged by a double whammy of hunger and smallpox pandemic in 1900s. In the 1980s through to the 1990s, the HIV-Aids pandemic ripped at the heart of our communities. Men and women wilted in their prime. Unborn children were infected, millions born were orphaned. Children and grandmothers were installed as primary caregivers.
There have been exhilarating moments too. The fall of the Berlin wall, the release of Nelson Mandela and the return of pluralism in Kenya’s politics prefaced my senior years in college. I was enamoured by what I thought was an orderly ending of the cold war. Michael Gorbachev and George HW Bush were my heroes. I felt invigorated, confident that we were on the warm threshold of universal liberty and global solidarity.
In the 1990s the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and its successor the Kyoto Protocol catapulted the peril of climate change at heart of global socio-economic, health and environmental debate. But soon climate change denial and the absence of global resolve for action blunted my optimism about global collective resolve to combat climate change and advance shared prosperity.
The invasion of Iraq, the rise of al Qaeda and the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon changed the world. Terrorism became the biggest threat to global stability. Personal liberties, and especially global travel were curtailed. It seemed like rabid suicide bomber was always lurking in the shadows. Governments become paranoid.
Of course, the election of Barack Obama as the 44th President of the United States was truly consequential. It was immensely breathtaking to follow the entire primary contest and the general election as a resident of New York City. And on that unforgettable night of November 4th 2008, it seemed like America had launched into the post-racial era. Even Obama believed changed had come to America.
Confidence in the liberal world order has flagged. The European Union is creaking. Brexit happened. Globally xenophobia is on the rise and demagogues are ascending to power. The Philippines elected Rodrigo Duterte. And in America, Donald Trump has given voice to far-right white nationalist.
Just four months after the pain deep personal loss struck me to the core, the world came under a most deadly assault. The Covid-19 pandemic has killed more than 371,000 and over 6.2 million are infected. While infection rates and deaths are on the rise, a cure or vaccine is yet to be found.
But Covid-19 is the most catastrophic tipping point in my short life. The pandemic is more than a health crisis. It has wrought devastating social upheaval and mental anguish to hundreds of millions. It has ravaged economies. It has fractured global trust.
Alex O. Awiti is Vice Provost at Aga Khan University. The views expressed are the writer’s.