CIVIC RESPONSIBILITY

Road ahead likely disaster-in-waiting

Phased reopening of the economy prudent. but Kenya is likely to overrun its health facilities in the process

In Summary
  • Kenyans are unlikely to cooperate in flattening the curve.
  • They appear fatigued and feel that unforeseen consequences of prolonged partial lockdown could be worse than the virus

The coronavirus pandemic is a health issue and that is the reality. The solutions should be dictated by the capacity of health facilities and equipment to cope. They should also be informed by outcomes of modules used by the medical scientists and researchers to package information for public buy-in. The World Health Organization guidelines should be customised to make citizens feel the government is in control and they are safe.

The need to contain the spread of the coronavirus is a worldwide challenge to governments and people they serve. World leaders are expected to make decision amid uncertainty. Kenyan leaders are facing an even bigger challenge. This is because Kenya is not a strong state with powerful institutions within and outside of the government and political system.

Also wanting are healthy communities with strong social support and strong moral foundation, and a robust set of social institutions to enforce discipline and ensure that society functions even when the citizens do not trust the government in power. The best practice for Kenya to adopt to manage the pandemic is for the leadership to pause, assess and anticipate any human tragedy as a first priority. Waiting for a full set of facts to emerge to determine what to do is a fatal mistake and should not be an option.

In this regard, the phased reopening of the economy was a prudent decision. However, Kenya is likely to overrun its health facilities in the process.

I therefore wish to pose the following questions to interrogate whether the national call to civic responsibility and changing of mindset during the ninth state address on the coronavirus will or will not protect lives and improve livelihoods.

First, will the phased reopening serve general good or only advance the interest of special members of the community? Second, is it an ineffectual option – nice to cool political pressure with no chances of actually flatten the curve and helping the people?

Third, given Kenyans weak moral foundation and indiscipline will they voluntarily adhere to the President’s call to civic responsibility and mindset change?

Sadly, we the people of Kenya do not trust our national leaders to the same level we trust our community leaders. Therefore Kenyans are unlikely to voluntarily cooperate in flattening the curve.

And lastly, what are the measures put in place to ensure that the phased reopening will not accomplish very little today in exchange for great cost tomorrow in terms of lives and livelihoods? If these questions are not addressed seriously and truthfully, then the phased reopening could be a disaster-in-waiting.

In my opinion, we, the people of Kenya have lost the staying power to remain on course. We could not wait any longer to flatten the curve, reach the peak, and achieve a series of irreducible minimums before reopening.

Under these circumstances, implementing phased reopening was the best out of lose-lose options. Sadly, we the people of Kenya do not trust our national leaders to the same level we trust our community leaders. Therefore Kenyans are unlikely to voluntarily cooperate in flattening the curve. They appear fatigued and feel that the unforeseen consequences of a prolonged partial lockdown could be worse than the coronavirus.

According to Dietrich Benhoeffer, an anti-Nazi theologian and pastor, “The blessedness of waiting is lost on those who cannot wait, the fulfillment of promise is never theirs. They want quick answers to the deepest questions of life and miss the value of those times of anxious waiting, seeking with patient uncertainties until the answers come. They lose the moment when answers are revealed in dazzling clarity.”

The way out is civic responsibility among citizens, and for the lawmakers and political leaders to stop being preoccupied with personal political survival and interests.

They should spend more time participating in measures being taken by the government to flatten the coronavirus curve; and effectively oversight the government to ensure budget discipline and use of voluntary incentives, not coercion, to achieve compliance.