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Ensure the poor have access to basic needs

By Elias Mokua | July 15th 2020 at 00:00:00 GMT +0300

Many Kenyans are finding it increasingly difficult to meet basic needs. Those of us who are able, have a chance to use our resources charitably to support those in need.

With coronavirus resulting in job losses, some families find themselves at the mercy of Good Samaritans for survival. In Kenya, thousands of people have lost their jobs. From media establishments, manufacturing to the severely affected hospitality industry, job losses continue to rise.

Job losses mean livelihood security is threatened. Families that cannot feed themselves face an existential nightmare. The number of people migrating back to rural areas following the lifting of the cessation of movement into and from Nairobi and Mombasa attests to the nightmare. As we learn from Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, even people who had moved to the third level of love and belonging will drop down to the basic level of achieving physiological needs such as food, shelter and clothing.

Incidentally, according to our Constitution, the Bill of Rights in Chapter Four Article 43 provides that the government has a mandatory obligation to ensure every Kenyan has access to basic needs including food, shelter and clothing. The Article states that (1) Every person has the right — (a) to the highest attainable standard of health, which includes the right to health care services, including reproductive health care; (b) to accessible and adequate housing, and to reasonable standards of sanitation; (c) to be free from hunger, and to have adequate food of acceptable quality; (d) to clean and safe water in adequate quantities; (e) to social security; and (f) to education. Further, it says that (2) A person shall not be denied emergency medical treatment. (3) The State shall provide appropriate social security to persons who are unable to support themselves and their dependants.

Landlords are throwing out fellow Kenyans who are unable to pay rent. Hospitals detain people who cannot pay their bills. Transport charges have doubled. Online education is increasing the knowledge gap between the rich and poor. In brief, there is considerable degree of suffering for people who have lost jobs as well as people who cannot generate income because of Covid-19.

On the one hand, we can empathise with these people without necessarily offering them material support because Covid-19 is not anyone’s making. However, that does not take away the suffering. We have a moral obligation to help those in need. As per the Constitution, the first door the suffering should knock at is the government’s. Chapter Four contemplates situations in which some Kenyans will find themselves outside their ability to be free from hunger, have adequate food of acceptable quality, provide shelter and social security for themselves and have access to safe water.

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Many NGOs and religious institutions have done a commendable job providing for families that cannot meet most of the basic needs. They have done this quietly and away from the media. They have lived the Good Samaritan spirit in the most humbling ways. Just as we are deeply and forever indebted to the frontline medical staff, some of whom unfortunately have paid the ultimate price saving our lives, we must not forget these heroes offering food, shelter, clothing and medical care to families that have become victims of the pandemic.

The government announces support to the families in need using photo opportunities to show its commitment to realising the Bill of Rights. However, it is not easily evident where or how this is done given the billions that have been received for mitigating the adverse effects of the pandemic. We see State action to ensure compliance with curfew hours, but we don’t see similar swift action in providing for families affected by the pandemic.

Maslow’s second level of human needs is safety. Personal security, employment, resources, health and owning property are categorised here. Again, these needs fall in the Bill of Rights. With many people losing jobs, their personal security and that of their families or close relatives is at risk. Recently, a friend of mine was literally bitten on the chest by a gang of muggers. The act got me thinking how someone can resort to bite their victim whom they have under control. Could this be a deeper expression of hunger? I hope we don’t degenerate into a “man east man society” as Mwalimu Julius Nyerere spoke of us many years ago.

Many Kenyans are finding it increasingly difficult to meet basic needs. Those of us who are able, have a chance to use our resources charitably to support those in need. This can happen in a limited way but still makes a difference in someone’s life. Supporting fellow Kenyans at this time brings out the best of humanity who believe in each other as aspiring for the same goals in life. We are interdependent as human beings, the way civil society organisations and religious institutions have shown us.

Dr Mokua teaches Media and communication studies

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