Is continued lockdown necessary?


A section of Nairobi. FILE PHOTO | NMG



  • The UN, again this last week, said we were moving to a global food crisis on broken supply chains.
  • So now for the joblessness, collapse of taxes and famine.

Benin, in West Africa, has had fewer than 100 cases of coronavirus, and it has no lockdown, not technically. Early on, its president declared his people would simply starve if they stopped earning daily wages, so the economy carried on.

The World Bank is helping Benin scale up its laboratories and treatment facilities with some $40 million (Sh4 billion) of extra finance. Only essential movement is allowed around the country and face masks are compulsory.

But wearing masks can reduce transmission to little more than one percent, so maybe that is where Benin has got it right. For it has no curfew, and no closed businesses.

In sum, it is not on the journey we are on, of waiting to see if the coronavirus prevention measures will kill us.

For, with our own closed businesses and closed Nairobi, even I finally had to consider, yesterday, the fact that if these measures continue for more than another two weeks, my own 13-year-old business in Kenya could close for ever.

The stare into the abyss came as one more email arrived from another client suspending all work for three months and letting us know our point of contact was being made redundant.

Last week, we got notice of a 40-percent fee cut from our smallest client.

The sum of postponements, and so many lovely emails and calls about picking up ‘afterwards’ is a revenue stream now reduced to a level that cannot keep my staff - pinned in Nairobi and unable to return home to family upcountry - in food and rent for the duration of this now month-after-month ‘wait.'

Of course, I know, rationally, as I go without sleep, my anxiety levels spiking to ridiculous levels of tension, that it makes no difference, really, whether I sleep, or not, in this equation. I suppose the outcome will be the same: and panic gets me nowhere.

I have accelerated all remaining works to make sure we deliver on every commitment, as most of my clients prepay: and of this part I am confident. All is mapped, nothing has been booked that will not be delivered.

But without more bookings, 10 more staff in Nairobi will be left with nothing with which to pay for their food and rent, and nor can they leave. I just don’t know where this all goes now.

I also know my team were among the lucky ones, their full salaries covered until now. They remain on form. But as stress mounts, everyone’s behaviour shifts.

With some of the contacts now out of jobs, the sudden deterioration in their focus was so clear: they must have known they were about to step out over that precipice.

One also sees the true calibre and nature of people emerging starkly. There are greedy people, who spotted an opportunity for extra members and personal glory and pressured us into countless free services for the general good, while withholding genuine paid work.

There are (well-meaning) deniers, who talk of how those made redundant will be re-employed later, when things go back to where they were.

There are those who send letters cutting pay rates and one sees the entire absence of any line saying they will restore rates later: they don’t even pretend it’s a plan, because it isn’t. Of course, there can actually be no ‘return’ to normal that suddenly comes when people are allowed to go to work and go out again.

The real famine lies ahead of us. Yet, of this one thing I am sure, I used my small space in this one newspaper to try in all ways to get any policy maker anywhere to consider how many more people will now die of joblessness and starvation versus any number that would have died of coronavirus based on Kenya’s youth profile and the world’s evidence on recovery rates.

The UN, again this last week, said we were moving to a global food crisis on broken supply chains. These did matter. No one heard, of course. So now for the joblessness, collapse of taxes and famine. But I guess if we all did everything we could, then we tried. Over the cliff it is.