GUEST COLUMN

Mudavadi: A total lockdown has dire consequences

It is akin to declaring a state of emergency where police will be overwhelmed by disorder and the army will have leave barracks to help maintain law and order.

In Summary

• Kenyans who were polled and suggested they want a lockdown had perhaps not thought through what a complete la total shutdown really means.

•  After the experience of the partial lockdown of Nairobi, Mombasa, Kilifi and Kwale, I doubt the same Kenyans will call for it again.

Empty streets in Nairobi on Sunday, March 29, 2020.
Empty streets in Nairobi on Sunday, March 29, 2020.
Image: DOUGLAS OKIDDY

A recent poll suggested that over 60 per cent Kenyans favour a total lockdown of the country as a countermeasure against Covid-19.

Kenyans should not tempt fate calling for such lockdown. They should rather anticipate, but do everything possible to keep coronavirus away. The instructions are simple – wash hands, keep physical distance and stay home, if you have nothing essential that you must travel.

If we don’t keep these simple precautionary habits, we are inviting contamination and therefore a lockdown of the country.

 

Kenyans who were polled and suggested they want a lockdown had perhaps not thought through what a complete la total shutdown really means. After the experience of the partial lockdown of Nairobi, Mombasa, Kilifi and Kwale, I doubt the same Kenyans will call for it again.

The lockdown of these four counties is a miniature of what could happen to the whole country, with one exception: A total lockdown will restrict all movement. You can imagine the social upheaval of 47 million people restricted to their homes without adequate food, water and access to healthcare.

Kenyans will be caught away from their residences, meaning family separation for a long time. The sick will not easily get to hospital. The dead will not be buried. The living will run out food and water. Anger will boil over.

Whereas Kenyans are already going through tumultuous times since the first Covid-19 case was announced in January, the application of stricter public health regulations and night curfew alone have already proved to be a nightmare to ordinary Kenyans. The economic meltdown, business closure, joblessness, customer desertion, price hikes, hunger and starvation, and loss of social networks leading to stress, add police violence have been harsh enough for Kenyans.

We are under a partial lockdown with public institutions closed, except emergency ones; air and land transport grounded; the lucky few still on the payroll working in shifts from home; social places shut down. A total lockdown will only aggravate an already worse situation, with dire consequences.

It is akin to declaring a state of emergency where police will be overwhelmed by disorder and the army will have leave barracks to help maintain law and order. We’ll be virtually under martial law and overzealous soldiers. Basic civil rights will have to be suspended.

Kenyans should thus not desire a lockdown. We must do all we can to prevent the spread of the virus by applying basic hygiene practices.

 

I am, however, not saying there might not come a time when it might be necessitated. The manner and speed in which the numbers are rising might lead to the decision. Under lockdown, there will be no rich or poor, able or vulnerable, young or old, sinners or the saved – we will all be dependent on the government for livelihood.

There will be equalisation in the manner Covid-19 has made it impossible for the rich to jet out for treatment. You may have money but it cannot buy you safety from the virus.

A countrywide lockdown that reduces total social upheaval and chaos requires; One, enough financial resources not only to fund the shutdown, but to also support the vulnerable.

At present, the Treasury is broke and we have exhausted our borrowing cap. We already have difficulty paying salaries on time. I doubt mopping up ‘excess liquidity” from government departments' budgets will fill the gap.  Neither will the proposed tax measures that are punitive to poor and jobless workers, and underperforming businesses, some facing closure.

Two, enough stocks of food and water access to last the anticipated period of the shutdown. I doubt we can raise enough to feed the country. As it is, the government can hardly raise Sh400 billion to secure food rations.

Three is a meticulously designed storage framework and distribution network. Here government will become the provider of everything – something that few countries can do.

Four, enough security forces to police the lockdown without compromise while observing basic human rights. But there are not enough officers to do this and KDF will have to supplement the police. But delicate and could create an opportunistic gap for terrorists. That also means security personnel should be undergoing drills with simulated scenarios on probabilities.

Five is a willing and cooperating population. About 37 million Kenyans are either poor or living in penury as extremely poor. Their loyalty is fickle and reserved on eking out a living. They will become restless at the slightest provocation – food scarcity. A nationwide lockdown will, therefore, have very few partners from a population that sees themselves as victims of the government. They will pour into every other cranny — shops, offices and schools — grabbing what they assume is theirs denied.

Developed countries have enforced national lockdowns by co-opting a citizenry that lacks want, and private sector that acts as its agents. I doubt Kenya has this kind of structure; a private sector that only occasionally and grudgingly chips in charity.

Already Kenya's private sector is demanding tax rebates indifferent to the fact every tax shilling is needed to fight coronavirus scourge.

A stimulus programme with a good dose of tax rebates across the board, especially SMEs, should keep business afloat until the pandemic recedes. That could keep part of the four million workforce occupied and able to feed themselves.

Mudavadi is ANC party leader