Ideas & Debate

Having healthy outlook amid devastating disease


A shopper at a supermarket. FILE PHOTO | NMG

An aspiring monk asked to enter a temple and attach himself to a guru. "Very well," said the guru, "but all students here observe the vow of silence. You will be allowed to speak only once in every 12 years. After the first 12 years, the student said, "The bed is too hard." After another 12 years, he said, "The food is not good." Twelve years later, after 36 years of hard work and meditation, he said, "I quit." "Good," snapped his guru, "all you’ve been doing is complain."

I think that I can conjecture, with some certainty, that we are fed up of bad news. It is all that we have been regaled with since the dastardly Covid-19 insinuated itself into our blissfully ignorant lives. If the weekday traffic in Nairobi at 4pm – which is now the new rush hour – is anything to go by, it would appear that folks are slowly resuming going about their lives even before the government has sent official indications that we should stop staying at home.

I picked up some information from the Kenyan Companies Registry on how private companies and sole proprietorships have been undertaking new registrations in the last two months. You would imagine that the average aspiring entrepreneur would be battening down the hatches and preparing to go undercover for the economic storm that is lashing its way globally. From an average of about 700 registrations of per week prior to Covid-19, registrations dipped to about 480 when the government announced the partial lockdown in March and are now ticking up to about 550 per week. Business names, which represent sole proprietorships, moved from an average of about 1,400 per week to a low of about 800 and is now ticking up to about 1,000 sole proprietorship registrations per week.

As any good accountant will tell you, the numbers never lie. This is a snapshot of what has happened in the last two months, but the implications are good in terms of indicating the mindsets of Kenyans who wish to plough through the negative environment and still make investments into a receding economy. This is not to say that existing businesses are not taking a beating, particularly in the tourism, hospitality and personal grooming industries. But our African spirit is one that is long accustomed to being assailed by a variety of diseases and natural calamities, building an inevitable thick skin of resilience that sees us shrug off yet another set of national problems, like water off a duck’s back.

I write this as I’m watching former Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf being interviewed by Christian Amanpour on CNN. She speaks about how malaria has caused far more deaths on the continent than Covid-19 has and that African governments are still struggling to deal with this endemic disease with no end in sight. At the time of writing this piece, the flooding in Kenya over the last two weeks has caused 237 deaths compared to 42 deaths since the first case was announced on March 12, which is eight long weeks ago.

According to a research paper authored by Francis W. Wambalaba, PhD, Barbara Son, PhD, and Anyang’ Nyong’o, PhD, the annual cancer incidence in Kenya is about 28,000 new cases with an annual mortality of 22,000 cases or 78.5percent mortality rate. Subsequently, cancer is the third leading cause of death in Kenya, after infectious diseases and cardiovascular diseases. If we are to apply the same weekly death rate, it could translate into 423 deaths per week, compared to the current 0.2 percent average weekly death rate of Covid-19 in Kenya today.

Look, I am no scientist nor statistician, but judging by the conversations I am reading on social media, the Kenyan psyche has already done this mortality math. Go out and look for sustenance, bearing in mind the risks of Covid-19, malaria, flooding or death from the boredom of watching the non-stop political bickering on the groaning national stage.

We will have to move from the thinking that this is a pandemic to adjusting to the reality that this situation will be endemic in the short to medium term. The much hackneyed “new normal”. We can’t complain forever. The bullish folks registering new businesses every week have a healthy outlook for the future. I think I’m going to join them!