Leave no Kenyan behind, bring back Kenyans in China

We have all witnessed on social media the horrors they have suffered.

In Summary

• In a recent press briefing, Foreign Affairs PS Macharia Kamau ruled out any evacuation from China because, in his wisdom, you cannot evacuate from one country and not from the other.

• This is an extremely lazy argument.


A photo of some of the Africans let stranded on the streets in China following discrimination claims
A photo of some of the Africans let stranded on the streets in China following discrimination claims


Nemo resideo.

This is the Latin phrase that means ‘leave no man behind’.

A scene from the movie Black Hawk Down depicts this nemo resideo principle with such passion in the Battle of Mogadishu. A group of a hundred elite US Delta Forces were dropped by helicopters in the heart of Mogadishu. They only had one job. That of abducting two top lieutenants of Mohamed Farrah Aidid, one of Somali’s warlords, and return to base.

However, the operation did not go as planned. The ground convoy was attacked by the Somali militia, two US Black Hawk helicopters were destructed by rocket-propelled grenades, and 18 American soldiers and hundreds of Somalis died in the intense exchange of gunfire during the rescue mission by additional Delta Forces.  

Once back at base, Captain Mike Steele told his men that they were going back to Mogadishu to bring back the fallen soldiers. One of his soldiers protested at this crazy idea. In response, Captain Mike told him, “it doesn’t matter, no one gets left behind, you know that.”

And this is what responsible soldiers do. They leave no man behind.

Make no mistake, Kenya is at war and the enemy is the coronavirus. We have all been conscripted as soldiers into this war, and are expected to use the weapons at our disposal to defeat the enemy. And the weapons are sanitisers, soap and water, social distancing, masks, obeying the curfew, and quarantine requirements.

Unfortunately, as conscripted soldiers, we are in a war without any military orientation. We have brought our laissez-faire civilian culture into a tightly controlled command structure. Resultantly, there has been a constant clash of culture labelled as indiscipline.

In this war, we have had casualties that need to be brought back to base. These are our fellow Kenyans living in China. We have all witnessed on social media the horrors they have suffered. And just like Captain Mike, we have reminded our leadership, nemo resideo - that no matter what, no man should be left behind.

In response, they have told us that this is a near-impossible Ask. In a recent press briefing, Foreign Affairs PS Macharia Kamau ruled out any evacuation from China because, in his wisdom, you cannot evacuate from one country and not from the other. This is an extremely lazy argument.

Ambassador Kamau needs to orient himself with the concept of triage and apply it to prioritise the Kenyans in China. Triage is the assignment of degrees of urgency to decide the ranking order of treatment or interventions to a large number of patients or casualties.

Elsewhere, Kenya Ambassador to Beijing Sarah Serem said the Kenyans in China could be evacuated, but at their own cost. The irony is that this week, Treasury CS Ukur Yatani, informed us that Kenya has allocated Sh40 billion in Covid-19 response.

Kamau estimated that there are 3,000 Kenyans in China. Now, estimating that a ticket from China to Kenya would cost Sh100,000, nobody thought that they could allocate Sh300 million, which is equal to a paltry 0.75 per cent of this amount?

If Yatani’s pot of gold is sacred and cannot be used for nemo resideo purposes, I submit that there are several other sources available. The Kenyans in China all hail from a county and constituency in Kenya. This means they all have representatives in the forms of MPs and governors. Isn’t it possible to reallocate evacuation monies from their CDF and county budgets, respectively?

A study led by Dr Leonard Wong, a Professor of Military Strategy in the US Army War College sought to find out what made America unmatched in raw combat power, what motivated American soldiers to continue in battle, and risk their lives in the face of extreme danger; and what inspired tired, cold and muddy soldiers to keep advancing forward, with the bitter dryness of fear in their mouths, towards a determined enemy.

As a counterfactual, the study interviewed Iraqi prisoners of war. Their main findings were that the Iraqi soldiers were motivated by coercion from the ruling Baath Political Party. They were driven by fear of retribution and punishment, if they avoided combat. They related stories of being jailed or beaten by the party representatives if they were suspected of deserting their units.

They also described their leaders as distant and detached, arising from their Sandhurst model military training, where there was a chasm between the ranks of officers and soldiers. In this model, the officers were politically appointed, and not regarded as tactically competent by their men. This resulted in little mutual respect. Subsequently, the soldiers felt little to no concern in letting their comrades down since they had no allegiance to them or their leaders.

Does all this sound familiar?

Surprisingly, ideology, patriotism and fighting for the cause were not listed as major motivators by the American soldiers. The primary factor was knowing that they could trust their leaders to look out for them. Their loyalty to each other was unquestionable. They were driven by the notion that you couldn’t give up because to do so would be to let the other men down.

What kept them going was the near presence of a comrade. Their bravery was sustained by fellow soldiers primarily, and their weapons second. In combat, the primary thing they worried about was achieving group success and protecting the unit from harm. This desire for success emanated from the assurance that everyone had each other’s backs. This was not simply about trusting in each other’s competence, training or skill. It was knowing that their personal safety was ensured by others, which freed them to focus on the war without worrying.  

Each time Health CS Mutahi Kagwe and President Uhuru Kenyatta address the nation, they do so with the expectation that we will embrace the coronavirus dogma, and fight patriotically in this war together. But like the Iraqi soldiers, many Kenyans have been coerced into this war by fire by force. Others have been beaten by the enforcers, some to the point of death. Similarly, our ranking soldiers are politically appointed and seem quite detached from present realities. It is no wonder that they ask the Kenyans in China to pay their cost for evacuation.

Yet they are baffled when soldiers desert the cause and break out of quarantine facilities, fraternise without masks or social distancing, and even misuse essential vehicles such as ambulances to attend parties, and transport drunk youths home after curfew.

Begs the question, why would they expect soldiers to be motivated in fighting this war, when they have clearly demonstrated that they do not have our backs? When they will not do whatever it takes, to ensure that no Kenyan is left behind in China?

Finally, my unsolicited advice is to President Kenyatta, as the Commander-in-Chief. In war, you do not ask is it fair, you ask is it possible. Likewise, your generals should not pontificate to you on the fairness or not, of evacuating the Kenyans in China, and not those in all the other countries. Their role is to advise you on the best winning evacuation strategy. Because that’s what responsible soldiers do. Bring back the Kenyans in China, whatever it takes – nemo resideo.

We sleep safely at night because rough men stand ready to visit violence on those who would harm us - Winston Churchill