Its 6.30 pm and the streets of Nairobi are virtually empty. The few people around are madly dashing to beat the curfew. This scene is similar in all major towns of Kenya. Businesses have ground to a standstill and the economy is rapidly shrinking. For the second time in Independent Kenya, a nationwide curfew is in effect. Heavily armed police officers patrol the streets enforcing the dusk to dawn curfew. Only essential service providers Including the police, doctors, and pharmacists operate past 7 pm.
Kenya is in the throes of hardship. COVID 19, locust Invasion and now deadly floods are hitting the East African nation hard. For a third world country, it is a gargantuan challenge.
The Kenya National Disaster Management Unit seems unable to catch up with the unfolding drama as tragedy after tragedy befalls the East African nation. President Uhuru Kenyatta’s government though trying seems to be losing the battle as more people succumb to the effects of these disasters.
Is Kenya’s health system failing?
COVID19 the viral infection first reported in Wuhan, Hebei province, China is spreading fast. Globally, confirmed cases stand above 3 million people with Kenya reporting over 400 confirmed COVID19 cases. Most African countries including Kenya have poor health services. With a doctor-population ratio of 1 doctor for every 6355 people, the epidemic is giving government officials sleepless nights.
Kenya’s health services are stretched thin trying to contain the runaway infection rates. The devolution of health services to the county level has further complicated matters. Few qualified health care workers, ill-equipped hospitals, Inadequate PPEs, and little or no testing kits means that the true extent of COVID19 is still unknown.
The economy is hurting.
Africa’s market-based economy is taking a beating. Kenya’s economy that was already struggling is facing even greater challenges. Kenya largely depends on international trade, which is currently almost nonexistent with most countries closing their borders.
Crippling and ballooning external government debts that stand at 60.15% of GDP spell disaster to the millions of Informal workers in Kenya. The Kenyan Informal sector contributes 35% of the GDP and supports at least 80% of the total workforce or 13.3 million people, with 60% of all employed youth falling in this bracket.
A dusk to dawn curfew has not made things any easier for the majority who live from hand to mouth. Kenya has over 80% of its workforce working in the Informal sector. These workers solely rely on their daily earnings to survive. Poor saving culture, low financial literacy, and an uncertain business environment mean that low-income earners are in a precarious situation. With 16.9% of the population living below the poverty line, the situation is critical.
Kenya’s biggest foreign exchange earners Including diaspora remittances, tourism, horticulture, tea, and coffee have all been adversely affected. Conservative figures from the Central Bank of Kenya has downgraded the expected economic growth from 6.4% to 3.6% or even lower.
Is society rebelling?
Kenya’s peculiar habits and total disregard for the government guidelines mean an acceleration of the spread of coronavirus. Reports of revelers locking themselves in pubs, house parties in abandoned train stations, church services, and quarantined COVID19 suspects scaling walls to escape quarantine abound.
Like many countries in the world, Kenya has set numerous quarantine facilities. These facilities house any number of people between one to hundreds of people at a go. Numerous reports of overcrowding and deplorable conditions in the quarantine centers have emerged. With forced quarantine, costing between $20 to $50 per day most Kenyans can’t afford it.
Free Government mass testing programs have registered very low turnouts. This is mainly due to fears that quarantine is too expensive for the common person and chances of cross-infection is high. There are no clear guidelines on contact tracing and many glitches have occurred.
The government of Kenya has announced a raft of measures to mitigate the spread of coronavirus including;
- Curfew from dusk to dawn (1900h to 0500h).
- Restricting all social gatherings (churches, mosques).
- Restricted movements in and out of major cities and towns.
- Working from home.
- Social distancing.
- Closure of schools.
Social distancing. The ghetto's worst nightmare.
In Nairobi and Mombasa where the bulk of the cases are, steps to mitigate the spread of COVID19 are failing miserably. This is mainly due to the social-economic conditions of the majority of the people there. Social distancing in Nairobi with a population of just under 5 million people is virtually impossible.
In Nairobi, over 60% of residents live in informal settlements. These slums cover only 6% of the available Nairobi land. The slums are congested and lack basic amenities such as clean water and toilets. Access to basic preventive interventions including gloves and sanitizers is very difficult for most slum dwellers.
The government of Kenya has set up a special joint Coronavirus taskforce that comprises of members from the Ministry of Interior, Health and National Treasury to chart a path on the handling of the global COVID19 epidemic. The task force has come up with new and more stringent measures that Include;
- Promotion of cashless business.
- Mandatory wearing of face masks.
- Suspension of all public gatherings and religious services.
- Forced quarantine of any persons displaying COVID19 symptoms.
These measures have gone a long way in reducing the spread of the virus. Government response although lackluster initially seems to be picking up. With the Injection of millions of dollars from the World Bank and WHO things are looking up, albeit slowly.
Most Kenyans are skeptical about the government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic. The high cost of basic services occasioned by the transport and logistic challenges has seen many households suffering.
The curfew and partial lockdown have caused massive job losses and closure of businesses. President Uhuru Kenyatta recently released a stimulus-package to cushion Kenyans financially against the effects of coronavirus. The package among others includes the following,
- Reduced VAT from 14% to 12%.
- 100% tax relief on a gross income of kshs 24000.
- Kshs 10 billion cash transfer for the elderly, needy, and orphans.
- Reduction of Income-tax from 30% to 25%.
Kenyans are facing life with a smile.
Thankful Kenyans have gone out of their way to hail their heroes, the frontline health workers who despite the enormous risk continue to serve their nation.
Kenya’s biggest mobile network service provider, Safaricom has given a free communication package to healthcare workers for three months. This is to appreciate their efforts during these trying times.
Meanwhile, students from Kenyatta University in Nairobi have developed a ventilator prototype. This is a positive, considering Kenya has less than 200 ventilators. A lack of ICU beds and few qualified health professionals remains a challenge though.
As the spread of the novel coronavirus rages on especially in Sub-Saharan Africa, the economic and social impact is mounting. Kenyans are earnestly praying for a miracle, the end of coronavirus.