LETTERS TO THE EDITOR

Kenyans can’t afford a lockdown, let’s go for herd immunity

The hard decision the government ought to make right now is to allow Kenyans to continue working.

In Summary

• It is evident that the government is having trouble balancing between saving its inevitably small economy and mitigating the spread of coronavirus.

• If the Kenyan government is thinking about imposing a lockdown, chances are it will backfire and even cause social disorder

in their midst: President Uhuru Kenyatta greets wananchi after addressing workers at Uhuru Park in Nairobi
in their midst: President Uhuru Kenyatta greets wananchi after addressing workers at Uhuru Park in Nairobi

In 1910, Theodore Roosevelt gave one of his most quoted speech ever — The man in the arena.

In this speech, he reminded his audience that the art of making decisions or practicing power or authoritatively allocating resources and values evokes both negative and positive reactions. But as much as the critics will always have something to say credit belongs to the man who sits in the room to make tough decisions.

Kenya is at crossroads. It is evident that the government is having trouble balancing between saving its inevitably small economy and mitigating the spread of coronavirus. At their disposal are only two options. They can either lock down the country and watch the small and already beaten economy crumble down or adopt a strategy towards herd immunity and allow Kenyans to continue eating life with a big spoon ― while building the economy ― as they spread the virus among themselves until they become immune to it.

If the Kenyan government is thinking about imposing a lockdown, chances are it will backfire and even cause social disorder, which might stretch to a proletarian revolution.

The hard decision the government ought to make right now is to allow Kenyans to continue working. This is what Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, decided taking in mind that the economic consequences of a total lockdown might be more severe than Covid-19. “DThe collateral effects of the measures to fight the coronavirus cannot be worse than the actual illness,” observed Bolsonarot.

It must be observed that a total lockdown is very expensive and only practical in developed or authoritarian states. If social distancing appears to be an option for the rich, how will a lockdown work? For many, it was preposterous when the government advised its population to observe social distancing. In fact, Kenyans on social media debated on the futility of this directive, considering it’s impossible to maintain distance in matatus and the bedsitter sized supermarkets where they shop. Bearing in mind we survive on debt and a majority of Kenyans are unemployed and others live hand to mouth, imposing a total lockdown might be inviting social disorder.

A good example of how a lockdown can backfire is India. A week ago,  Prime Minister Narendra Modi imposed a nationwide lockdown on its 1.3 billion population. This meant that operations in all factories in India, supermarkets, the construction works and public transport were suspended.

Three days after the lockdown, thousands upon thousands of urban residents and migrant workers in India woke up to embark on a journey to their rural homes. These migrant workers refused the government directive to starve in an attempt to avoid dying of Covid-19.

Added to that is the fact that a lockdown in any undeveloped or underdeveloped country ― for those who believe in dependency theories ― might only result in overwhelming our sorry health facilities causing a state of despair and in turn still cause social disorder. Our hospitals don’t have the capacity to handle this pandemic. And inviting people to stay home while at the same time when they are sick you can’t provide the treatment they need is tantamount to inviting chaos with a red carpet. Not unless we want to be like Uganda were they allocated the security department more funds (29 per cent) than the health department (22 per cent).

Finally, no one knowns when a vaccine will be found or when the virus might be contained. Many developed countries are preparing for a lockdown in the next three months. They are busy trying to streamline everything on to be available on the internet. Do we have enough resources to feed the urban poor? The 2019 census found out that 10 million Kenyans dwell in slums ― that is one in every five Kenyan. In Nairobi alone, 36 per cent of the population live in slums ― that is about 1.5million people. Beyond rhetoric, how does the government plan to take care of these people?

Bruno Otiato is a Political Science student, UoN