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In wake of COVID-19, there isn’t a better time to stay united

By Yvonne Kageha | March 15th 2020 at 00:00:00 GMT +0300

Around the world, due to the coronavirus outbreak, citizens are being asked to take extreme measures to prevent its spread. One of the most often recommended measure is not to have unnecessary body contact with another person.

We saw over the weekend in the English Premier League the strange sight of players from opposing teams passing each other before the match began with mere nods exchanged rather than the usual handshakes.

In Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called on his people to clasp hands together using the Namaste greeting rather than the usual perfunctory greeting involved with the shaking of hands. Worldwide, as of writing, there have been well over 100,000 cases and almost 4,000 deaths, and while this might not seem like the largest numbers in the general scheme of things, it is the speed of the spread of this virus and seemingly innocuous contagion that has the world scrambling for answers.

Some nations have simply closed their borders or quarantined whole populations.

The effect on the economy, especially in the field of tourism, which account for some 10 per cent of Kenya’s GDP could be catastrophic.

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Thankfully, the coronavirus is hitting Africa later than other parts of the world giving us time to learn more about the spread of the virus and adopt best practices.

Even so, while some nations on our continent are woefully unprepared, the Kenyan Government has had preparations underway for some time, long before a single citizen has become infected.

Cascading training

“We have trained over 1,100 health workers, we have deployed them in Jomo Kenyatta International Airport and other areas. We are also sensitising and cascading this training all the way to the community levels. We have procured sufficient personal protective equipment,” Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe said on a recent visit to Mbagathi Hospital in Nairobi.

There are already over 100 hospital beds prepared for those infected around the country.

This is a strong and robust response, but in this era of endless politicking, everything can be used as a hammer to hit an opponent over the head with. In the US, with presidential elections taking place later in the year, many Democrats are using the coronavirus threat to question President Donald Trump’s credibility and competence in responding to this public health emergency that has also caused a sudden downturn in the US economy, as elsewhere.

It is difficult to say if this is legitimate discourse or not when there are potentially many lives at stake.

However, what we do know is that a handshake shared two years ago will hopefully spare us of these spectacles. What is clear is that the more a government has to deal with responding to political attacks, the less time and resources it will have to respond to the real threats emanating from the disease.

The focus of our decision-makers should be on ensuring the health and safety of our citizens and not engaging in blame game. There will be plenty of time for that afterwards, if necessary.

For now, our political harmony in Kenya can be our greatest shield in fighting off this new threat causing so much panic. In Kenya, perhaps it is the political shaking of hands that might actually save lives.

Two years ago, President Uhuru Kenyatta publicly shook hands with his arch nemesis ODM’s Raila Odinga and entered a unity pact that breathed a new life into our nation. At this point, we seriously need unconditional political harmony. Our leaders, in government and opposition, need to be on the same page as we wage war against coronavirus.

Since then, the Building Bridges Initiative was formed, and a spirit of collaboration and unity was felt across tribe, region and political party. We should be thankful that the ‘handshake’ which took place two years ago created accord and a unity of purpose Many of our challenges are now being met because of the lack of traditional adversarial and ethnic politics.

While there are of course differences in opinion on among and between the various entities, including political parties, it behooves us to prioritize public interest in every discourse. Those seen to be adversarial to the national agenda and are being less than constructive are proving to be the outliers and should be ignored. With corona threat here, there is no better time to be united as country and a people.

-The writer is a specialist in development outreach and communication.

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