While it is just a few weeks of the coronavirus crisis in Kenya, it already feels like a lifetime. When it started the government made initial missteps including that flight with 239 passengers from China and the parliamentary appearance by Foreign Affairs Secretary Racheal Omamo, confessing a lack of knowledge on the technical aspects of the virus.
Kenyans looked to be on their own there but also to have little care for and preparation to deal with the oncoming challenge.
By the time President Uhuru Kenyatta addressed the nation on March 25, announcing economic measures to cushion Kenyans from the shock that the pandemic was causing to the economy and their lives and added on the 7pm to 5am curfew, citizens and the government had travelled a long journey.
They now knew what the virus meant and its effects on their lives. They had even coined the term ‘covidiots’ to describe people who fail to adhere to directives of public health officials relating to the virus.
During that same week, I engaged in an online debate on whether the government was doing enough and if lockdown was a responsible policy response or not.
We debated some very interesting articles on the options that countries have. One of those articles written by Tomas Pueyo published on March 19, 2020, and titled Coronavirus: The Hammer and the Dance summarises the options that countries have in confronting the pandemic into three, but essentially boiling down to two choices.
Option one of doing nothing is a false choice and not worth proffering in light of the effects of the virus on lives and society.
The first real option is the UK initial strategy, which is called mitigation — it is about hoping that taking slow but incremental measures you can have the virus run its course and the majority of the population develops immunity. You then will flatten the curve of infections.
The third option is that the suppression strategy which was applied by China. It front-loads the control measures including social distancing and even lockdown so that you can contain the virus and then gradually relax the measures. Which option to adopt depends on the government policy analysis, contexts and rationale.
While there is no one-size-fits-all, the article helps to outline the choices and their consequences. The debate with friends was which of the two realistic routes should the government adopt. In the end, we seem to have chosen a mix of both.
However, an issue that arose from the conversation and is worth reflecting was the concern that the government was either not doing enough or the right thing altogether.
Unfortunately, proponents of this argument forget the context under which we operate. While the government over the last few years has made many missteps and not demonstrated that citizens can and should trust them with decision-making, context matters.
A commentator wrote, for example, that where is the Huduma Namba to help us in the current pandemic yet it was launched with much fanfare and with great promise from the government on what it could deliver. It is normal, therefore for people to be sceptical of the government.
However, these are no ordinary times. We face a crisis of monumental proportions. One that has overwhelmed the more developed nations and whose solutions is not easy to arrive at.
In the face of this, the government and especially Health Secretary Mutahi Kagwe has done well thus far to try and respond to the crisis within our means.
Doing so in a context of a struggling economy, although this is largely due to poor government economic policies and a struggling healthcare sector, again their mistake. But that context could not be changed currently. It is what we must operate with.
It is important, therefore, that citizens start focusing in the coming days more on the words of John F Kennedy, the 35th President of the US, ‘Ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country.’
The constitutional provisions of citizenship envisage both rights and responsibilities. We must give greater meaning to uraia by starting to discuss more what we can do to help alleviate the suffering of fellow citizens during this crisis.
How can we bring out the Kenyan spirit of Harambee and togetherness by helping a brother or sister in dire need? The question of how those in informal settlements will make ends meet during this crisis is legitimate. So is that of those who survive based on daily chores be they in urban or rural areas. It is time for those with just a little bit more to be their brother’s keeper.