- Proposed reform process is being undertaken in the shadow of a “once-in-a-century pandemic”.
- And no mere constitutional amendments can compete with that for media coverage.
Under normal circumstances, the national focus at this time would be on the constitutional changes being proposed under the Building Bridges Initiative.
But as it happens, this proposed reform process is being undertaken in the shadow of a “once-in-a-century pandemic”. And no mere constitutional amendments can compete with that for media coverage.
Making matters more complicated is that many Kenyans seem to feel a deep ambivalence towards this pandemic. The most common argument made here can be summarised as follows: “If this disease is so dangerous, how come I do not know anybody whom it has killed?”
And yet, if the situation were reversed; if we all knew dozens of our fellow Kenyans who had been struck down by this virus; then the general narrative would have been along the lines of “The government knew very well that there was a pandemic raging through the whole world, and did nothing to prevent it from killing our people”.
Indeed, with Kenya being a country in which tribal affiliations generally weigh more heavily than anything else, by now we would have had calculations circulating as to which region or community has been most affected.
And along with it there would have been loud accusations that “certain regions” favoured by the President and his inner circle had largely escaped this pandemic, while yet other regions, known to be electorally hostile to His Excellency, had felt the full wrath and unmitigated fury of the coronavirus.
Complicating this picture further is the fact that while many Kenyans will on the one hand express scepticism about the threat posed by this new virus, they will simultaneously subject those who admit to have recovered from this infection to the most extreme vilification and stigmatisation.
If there is any possibility that the creation of a broader and more widely shared executive power structure would help to eliminate election-related violence, then the BBI deserves all our attention, even at this time when the coronavirus threatens us all.
So, it is an odd situation we find ourselves in; one in which the mockery and doubts being tossed around by so many ordinary Kenyans is actually preferable to the alternatives. One alternative would have been, for example, the kind of mass graves we see most spectacularly in Brazil, where a camera mounted on a drone is needed if there is to be any accurate photo of the full acreage that such mass graves occupy.
A mortality rate of almost 1,000 deaths every 24 hours is not something that any government can hope to conceal. It signals an epic failure of public health policy. And yet this is where Brazil – a much richer nation than Kenya and one with far more advanced medical facilities – has ended up.
Be that as it may, at this point humanity’s long term prospects are decidedly much more favourable than they were just a month ago, with at least three separate biomedical research groups now at the very gates of what is the holy grail for any new vaccine: the Phase 3 trials (ie large-scale testing on humans) beyond which lies the glittering possibility of an approval for the widespread use of the new drugs.
The significance here is that very few new drugs get beyond Phase 1 and 2 of such clinical trials. So, it is definitely a huge step in this long twilight struggle between man and the coronavirus.
Under normal circumstances, the final development of any vaccine would still be years away. But these are exceptional circumstances, and apparently the focus of this huge global effort is to have a vaccine by early 2021.
Turning back to local politics, I think that the proposed constitutional changes deserve a very thorough vetting by all of us who worry about the future of the nation.
Terrible as this global pandemic may be, and with the full effects of its economic devastation yet to be revealed, I personally think that the 2022 general election poses a much greater threat to our national well-being.
And if there is any possibility that the creation of a broader and more widely shared executive power structure would help to eliminate election-related violence, then the BBI deserves all our attention, even at this time when the coronavirus threatens us all.