Time for citizens to act on virus

Government policies on the healthcare system and economy are making us poor.

In Summary

• Don’t listen to these motivational speakers: They will motivate you to your painful death.

•  The catastrophe is here already. It is medical in nature.

Health CS Mutahi Kagwe.

Accurate information to inform our hopes and actions during the Covid-19 crisis is vital.

We need the TRUTH. Some are downplaying its dangers, while some are overstating its impact. Both could lead to untold deaths that could have been avoided had we sought accurate facts. If we are to seek God’s help and speak his word, it ought to be in factual information. Otherwise, we give people false hope. 

Don’t listen to these motivational speakers: They will motivate you to your painful death. We must embrace this calamity, and pray with prophet Habakkuk: “Lord, … in wrath remember mercy” (Hab. 3:2). For God has spoken to us, although the calamity is furious overshadowing us: 'the just person will live by his faithfulness” [faith] (NIV Hab. 2:4b)'.

This is our hope. Because God is faithful to save. And just to those who do right and act justly. Those who have faith in God can depend on His salvation in the centre of the storm. We must listen to this voice. 

The catastrophe is here already. It is medical in nature. It is spreading at a high rate but not to the scale of China, Italy or Spain yet. Many will be affected and die because of our healthcare system's inadequacies.

The Covid-19 crisis has exposed the fraud that is government. Fifty-seven years of Independence have yielded a fragile healthcare system unable to cope with the medical needs of all Kenyans. For this reason, the government has resorted to preventive methods of personal hygiene — wash your hands with running water and soap or use sanitiser, observe social distancing, avoid congregating, stay home and observe curfew. So far it is working. 

But the medical challenge does not compare to the social and economic devastation awaiting us. This will spare no one. The rumbling of its wheels has thrown into panic governments across the world. We will have basically no help from outside.

Government mitigation measures have been suspect. It has bent to the rich corporate group, while ignoring greater challenges of poor Kenyans. It’s a catastrophe to be poor in Kenya. The poor have been brutalised, terrorised, traumatised and stigmatised for 57 years and have come to terms with their plight.  

There are three ways in which we can act towards the government.

First, we can ask the state whether its actions are legitimate and in accordance with its character as a state. We must demand the state takes its responsibility seriously. The majority of the poor in the cities depend on casual work for day-to-day supply. They have not worked now for a week, and another coming. I doubt we have food in the national reserve to feed them. And now that we are in the planting season, who is guiding planting to provide for us by August?

The children of the poor are also at home. not in school. We just learnt that four million youth willing to work are unemployed.

Government policies on the healthcare system and economy are making us poor. The state has a responsibility to better the lives of all Kenyans, including those of the poor. 

The response has been to protect the rich and the powerful and most important in our society and the foreign markets. A total lockdown was suggested but done in half measure through a 7pm to 5am curfew, and only vital services will be allowed. The poor were not considered.

Second, we can aid the victims of state action. As citizens, we have an unconditional obligation to the victims of any orderly society, as we have often shown in times of crisis. Act towards helping the poor, provide for those who have lost jobs and means of living without waiting for the state to act. 

The third possibility is to put a spoke in the wheel. Such action would be direct political action and is only possible and desirable since the state has failed in its function of creating law and order and prosperity for all Kenyans. 

We fear that our existence as a nation would be threatened if we, as those affected by these policies, do not participate in shaping them. We have learnt the hard fact that if we citizens do not get involved in the political process, we will either die of sickness, brutality or poverty. 

In embracing the present terror of Covid-19, we will heed the advice of MF Weiner, who in 1976 wrote in the journal Medical Economics an article titled 'Don’t Waste a Crisis — Your Patient’s or Your Own.' We will, like Weiner, appreciate that such a medical crisis can improve aspects of personality, mental health and lifestyle.

Canon Omondi is a priest of the Anglican Church of Kenya, All Saints Cathedral Diocese.  The views are his own.