• Kenyans living under a dollar a day are wont to resist measures that disrupt livelihood
• The threat of sleeping hungry for them is more imminent than that of a deadly virus
The aftermath of the announcement of the first Covid-19 case in Kenya has been a chaotic rolling stone. Getting bigger, scarier and more dangerous with every passing day. From panic buying to nonchalance, we have done it all in the last couple of weeks.
As the news keeps reporting an increase of quarantined patients who have tested positive for coronavirus, we seem to be steadily losing our senses. It has been a revealing time, watching Kenyans reacting to the coronavirus pandemic in the country. If there has ever been a time in history that has shown that Kenyans will pick death by foolishness over death by a life-threatening disease, it is now.
Days after the government announced the increasing number of coronavirus patients, there were reports on social media platforms of bars and clubs being full. Even with recommended social distancing, matatus vehemently refused to impose the recommended spacing between passengers. Matatu owners are taking to the streets to lament the losses they would make.
On Twitter, one person posted a picture of his hoarded-up supplies for the family. His supplies included several boxes of milk, bundles of flour and three 18kg tanks of cooking gas! It makes one wonder, “In the presence of chaos, does all our sense leave us?” How does someone not see the looming danger of keeping three full-unused tanks of gas stored in the house as dangerous? This, too, in an urban setting, where the person probably lives in a flat in an apartment building with his children.
In Mombasa, I witnessed the police forcibly remove beach hawkers. The hawkers tried to fight back by throwing stones and causing chaos along the Bamburi beach road. As I watched the scene unfolding in front of me, I saw the big gap between the government initiatives and the people’s will to live. You see, the threat of sleeping hungry tonight is more imminent than the threat of a deadly virus to some people in Kenya, especially those who live under a dollar a day. How do we reconcile the idea of making a living in the face of a dangerous pandemic?
As I drove past the ruckus, I realised that aside from children being home from school, everything seemed normal. The hawkers sold their wares, the people packed themselves in matatus, and at the supermarket, shoppers gave an air of composure as they filled up their trolleys with supplies. All this time, coast residents believed the disease was far away in Nairobi under quarantine.
However, this past weekend, shock hit coast residents when they discovered that one of their own, a senior government official, had tested positive for coronavirus after he flew in from Germany. The deputy governor of Kilifi county had refused to isolate himself and had been wandering across two counties for almost two weeks, exposing everyone he came into contact with…. And suddenly, the threat has become real.
However, the threat is not real enough to force people to retreat to our houses and wait out the incubation period. Alas! People are still going about their daily business. Even government officials keep calling for press conferences, packing journalists and professionals in small rooms as they give their ‘important recommendations’. The Health CS himself does not seem to be able to give a press briefing without eight people standing behind him!
Kenyans seem to respond better to chaos than to caution. We are subconsciously putting our faith in curative measures since we refuse to take preventive measures. We claim to have learnt a lesson on how to deal with the pandemic following the devastating outcomes of the coronavirus from countries like Iran and Italy. Yet we respond ignorantly in the wake of this destructive force. If developed countries with better resources than us have been brought to their knees by this epidemic, then what hope do struggling Third World countries have? If we do not change our ways now, the resulting chaos will be our demise.
Edited by T Jalio