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How to turn Covid-19 crisis into a blessing

By Ralf Heckner | June 28th 2020

We hear every day that owing to the Covid-19 pandemic, the world is facing a once-in-a-century global crisis.

However, it is also true that crises are turning points in the history of a country. They are a cause for reflection.

From this perspective we need to ask ourselves: What was done right in the past? What was done wrong? What are Kenya’s strengths and weaknesses? Which strengths can help Kenya to overcome the crisis? Which are the driving forces that will move Kenya in this or that direction?

Let me try to answer the question that was put to me: Kenya: Post Covid-19? How will Kenya look like after the passing of the current crisis caused by the spread of the coronavirus? What could be a possible scenario for Kenya after Covid-19? 

A global health hub

President Uhuru Kenyatta was spot-on when he declared universal health care as part of his Big 4 agenda. The Kenyan people want health care, education and jobs. Indeed, Covid-19 shows dramatically how important universal health care is for all of us.

Investing in universal health care means preventing the next pandemic. It means respecting a fundamental human right, which every government must strive to do for the people it serves, especially the poorest.

The more Kenya invests now and post-Covid-19 in universal health care, the more Kenya will be the regional health hub. Indeed, there is an economic opportunity in health when it is seen as a regional and even global service sector.

You can make your country an attractive destination so that foreigners from near and far will travel here routinely for treatment. The provision of advanced health services can be a major employer and a source of income.

Kenya post-Covid-19 has the opportunity to turn from a regional into a global health hub. Kenya could turn into the next India when it comes to medical tourism. In other words, this could be the new business model for Kenya’s tourism in post Covid-19.

Kenyans are impressively well educated, eloquent – it was one of the best decisions after independence to maintain English as a national language – and very humane.

Kenya’s climate is one of the best in the world. Kenya can be reached easily from Europe, the Middle East and Asia. These are important assets for a thriving global health hub. Why should people from all over the world not be willing to come to Kenya to seek modern health care? Why should Kenya not be the Florida of the world where rich people would like to retire – and look for good health care?

The next frontier for Kenya’s tourism will be medical tourism and attracting the retirees from all over the world to spend the sunset of their lives in Kenya.

Innovative and clean financial centre

Kenya’s banks have an important role to play especially during and after the Covid-19 crisis. They are the backbone to support and finance small and medium enterprises which create jobs.

Banks should invest in a greener economy. Together with the information technology sector they drive innovation. But for Kenya to thrive in future, she needs not only to have a thoroughly clean financial centre,  but also a clean government and a population that rejects corruption.

Corruption kills. Money that was stolen from the health budget over the last years is now not available at this crucial point when Kenya needs every shilling it can find to fight Covid-19.

A crisis in Kenya has in the past been an opportunity for many to steal. I say this as an ambassador from a country, Switzerland, in which such stolen money has been hidden in the past. I say this because right now, my country has no wish to be the repository of such stolen money. Covid-19 is an opportunity for Kenya to change track and turn corruption into something of the past. Kenya in post-Covid-19 will only be a bright one without corruption.

A visionary country

There is one more thing that is important when answering the question ‘Kenya: Post Covid-19?’

 In my last article analysing the current crisis from a historical perspective, I wrote: “What we need, once this crisis is over, is a new international consensus and structures that are able to maintain global peace and sustainable development – as the world community tried (and failed) after 1918 with the attempts to establish the League of Nations in Geneva; and again after 1945 with the successful creation of the United Nations in New York.”

What could this mean for Kenya Post-Covid-19?

The most important ingredient of 75 years of uninterrupted peace in Europe was the vision to create a united Europe, today’s European Union. After the Second World War ended in 1945, Christian-Democratic politicians from France, Italy, Austria, Germany and other European countries came together with a vision of a peaceful Europe. That vision – the so-called Schuman Declaration in 1950 – was to be a guiding light and reference point for generations of European politicians.

It all started with a plan ‘to place French and West German production of coal and steel under one common high authority. This organisation would be open to participation of other Western European countries. This cooperation was to be designed in such a way as to create common interests between European countries, which would lead to gradual political integration, a condition for the pacification of relations between them.’

European leaders all worked together to make that vision a reality. They succeeded. This success did not come all at once. It involved many interim steps and faced setbacks. But the European leaders who backed it never lost sight of their ultimate objective.

What I am trying to say is the following; Kenya as one of the most important countries of Sub-Saharan Africa could be what the Christian-democratic politicians were after World War II – one of the visionaries of Eastern Africa and the entire African continent.

Crisis is opportunity

Kenya together with other leading African countries has the opportunity to make the African Continental Free Trade Area a reality and quicker. Kenya also has the opportunity to make the East African Community a truly economically and politically integrated region. This is Kenya’s opportunity to make both visions a reality.

Now let us have a glimpse into Kenya’s future. I hope that future historians will record that Kenya in post-Covid-19 grew from a regional health hub for Eastern Africa and the Horn of Africa into the ‘India of Africa’ where people from all over the world fly to have medical treatment.

I hope that future historians will bear witness that Kenya in post-Covid-19 became the country where all the rich people of the world would like to retire because they will find well-educated and eloquent Kenyans to take care of them; they will find low levels of corruption and therefore high levels of security; they will bring their money to Kenya to be managed by trusted and skillful Kenyan bankers.

Digitalisation and innovation will be part of these retirees daily lives. They will live in a fully integrated East African Community and in a continent where trade and people flow freely.

Dr Heckner is the ambassador of Switzerland to Kenya

Covid 19 Time Series


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