UBUNTU

Rebuilding unravelling social fabric in Covid-19 new normal

We should have promoted physical distancing — not social distancing -- and restore oiour ties

In Summary

• Closure of recreational centres, social and entertainment joints widened the rift between people.

• Shutting of mosques and churches and other places of worship further exacerbated the situation.

Congregants distanced at Holy Family Basilica in Nairobi on Sunday, March 22.
SPIRITUAL DISTANCING? Congregants distanced at Holy Family Basilica in Nairobi on Sunday, March 22.
Image: MERCY MUMO

It has been months since Kenya announced the outbreak of Covid-19 pandemic .

As we approach the end of the year, we have so far recorded more than 84,000 infections and more than 1,450 deaths.. The disease has spread to all corners of the country, with the national government working with counties to control the pandemic.

While the spread of the disease was initially considered imported through flights, it is now being transmitted within communities.

Just a few months ago, Kenyans were asking themselves if they know anyone who knows anyone who has contracted coronavirus. That is no longer the case for the majority. Many Kenyans now know a relative, a neighbour or a friend who has contracted or died of the disease.

To mitigate the spread and flatten the curve, the government has announced protocols to guide Kenyans on best practices and what they should do to avoid the disease. Key amongst these are staying at home, wearing masks, washing hands and observing social distancing.

Considering that the disease has killed and greatly interfered with people’s day-to-day lives, many have continued to heed the call and strictly adhered to the rules and regulations. This included the call to observe social distance.

With the Covid-19 second wave proving deadlier, strict enforcement of the rules has been demanded. The government announced the formation of the Special Enforcement Unit to ensure the public fully adheres to the protocols of containing the spread of the virus.

From the onset, when Kenyans were asked to social distance, unfortunately they took this to mean isolation and staying away from others. They shunned those who caught the virus and declared them as outcasts.

Families and friends feared being associated with victims and this drove many to keep their distance from one another. Social distancing, particularly from those affected with the disease, was so emphasised that it led to massive stigmatisation and stereotyping.

The situation translated into keeping away from social life, which disintegrated the social fabric of communities and saw many individuals and nuclear families becoming islands on their own.

Closure of recreational centres, social and entertainment joints widened the rift between people. Shutting of mosques and churches and other places of worship further exacerbated the situation.

Social distancing has led to social disintegration and is directly linked to issues such as increased radicalisation, gender-based violence, early pregnancies, teenage delinquency and high rates of suicide during the pandemic.

As a result of Covid-19, what was before a social Kenyan way of life has degenerated into an individualistic society where keeping away from others is the new norm.

No one is to blame for the deteriorating situation. While it is true from the onset that we should have promoted physical distancing — not social distancing — the fact is that the distancing was necessary to contain the spread of the disease.

However, now that we have come to learn and seen the effects of distancing in our communities, it is imperative that we act to reintegrate the social fabric before it is too late. There is urgent need to find safe and effective ways of rekindling social ties and rebuilding broken communal relations. This can best be done by promoting nationhood through encouraging inter-religious and inter-ethnic cohesion from the community to national levels.

It is time for Kenyans to take up the concept of Ubuntu where an individual appreciates others well-being as necessary for their own. This will restore the love and care between families, neighbours and friends.

Freedom of religion and culture, which have been the strongest drivers of social cohesion in Kenya, should be promoted and utilised to bring the society together again. While Covid-19 is still with us — and we must take all caution not to spread it — we should also not lose our nationhood and sense of belonging. Kenyans must uphold our unity and encourage social cohesion across all communities.