FIGHTING CORONAVIRUS

To save Old Town and Mombasa from Covid-19, we must change way of life

If we choose culture over safety, we will have no population to continue that culture in a few weeks.

In Summary

• The Covid-19 pandemic now presents the challenge of social distancing and treating those you’ve considered to be family as suspects who might infect you with the virus.

• But it calls on us all to be individualistic and consider ourselves first before others – a total turnaround of the Old Town hospitality culture

Police officers patrol Mombasa Old Town on October 6, 2016
Police officers patrol Mombasa Old Town on October 6, 2016
Image: JOHN CHESOLI

According to Covid-19 statistics by the Ministry of Health, Mombasa is the most affected towns in Kenya.

With well over 160 infections in a population of just over a million, it has the highest ratio of infection anywhere in the country.

Although the number of infected persons in Nairobi is higher than in Mombasa, it must be remembered that the population in Nairobi is almost four times that of Mombasa.

Therefore, while Nairobi has roughly 75-85 infected persons per million people, Mombasa has around 150 cases per million people. This makes the situation in Mombasa more complicated an in dire need of saving.

The most affected area is Old Town.

The name Old Town is derived from its ancient beginnings in the 10th Century. Since then, it has hosted various communities for centuries including the Persians, the Portuguese, the Arabs, the English and Indians. Of these, the Arabs left the most lasting legacy, which has rubbed on to the native communities and remains a strong part of the now local Swahili culture.

Key among this culture is the hospitality of the people and their desire to freely and openly welcome and mingle with everyone. This culture is now costing lives in the wake of coronavirus disease.

Having been born and bred in the narrow and winding streets of Old Town myself, I know all too well why this area and Mombasa in general is finding social distancing a challenge.

This is a community where no one is ever a stranger and your neighbour is considered a member of your family. Social structures are founded on the belief that all are one and eating from the same plate is considered a joy and blessing.

A child will never go hungry in Old Town as long as there is fire under a pot or sufuria somewhere in the neighbourhood. This is the culture and tradition of the locals here and they have practiced it for centuries.

The Covid-19 pandemic now presents the challenge of social distancing and treating those you’ve considered to be family all along as suspects who might infect you with the virus. The present situation demands that you keep in your home and not attend social gatherings in mosques, madrassas or maskanis.

It calls on us all to be individualistic and consider ourselves first before others – a total turnaround of the Old Town hospitality culture. It is this clash of culture and reality that is now posing a challenge and threat to the local communities and in the process costing lives of many from the area. Clearly all is not well in Old Town and Mombasa.

Assessing the situation, one clear fact is the virus kills. Thousands have lost their lives globally and here in Kenya, 26 as of Wednesday have died. The disease is spreading fast and numbers are soaring by the day. Simply looking at Tanzania, where they initially disregarded safety and social distancing measures, social media reports show the people there suffering, with incidents of some dropping dead in the middle of streets becoming a common scenario.

All over the world, the disease is causing havoc — shutting down malls, halting travel and distancing loved ones. What is clear is that those that refuse to heed the directives end up paying a costly price. Old Town should not go down this road.

To survive the coronavirus pandemic, as Old Town and Mombasa general, we must change our way of life. While this is no mean feat to accomplish overnight, nevertheless, it is the only way left for us.

The alternatives are too costly in human lives for us to even consider them. We must practice social distancing, even during the month of Ramadhan. We are not doing it because we want to but rather because we must.

Numbers don’t lie. If we choose culture over safety, we will have no population to continue that culture in a few weeks.

Let’s be wise and change our way of life.