No one is above the law when it comes to Covid-19
By Mohamed Guleid | July 30th 2020
The recent news that Nairobi Senator Johnson Sakaja was caught flouting the Covid-19 curfew orders came as quite a disappointment.
Until recently, Sakaja himself chaired the Senate Adhoc Committee on Covid-19. This means he was personally responsible for setting up the national guidelines for the public response to the virus.
And one of the main rules set forth by the committee, as we all know, is the restriction on movements after dark. This curfew has been put in place to prevent socialising that would stimulate the spread of the virus in closed environments.
Several global cases have occurred in which a country begins to lift the lockdown following reduced cases in virus numbers, following which the cases begin to rise again after people return to normal social lives, particularly in bars and nightclubs.
This happened, for example, in Seoul, South Korea. In June, after reopening following several months of closures, one so-called superspreader went to several nocturnal entertainment centres on a single night.
As an unknowing carrier of the virus, he spread it to hundreds of fellow citizens that night, and South Korea was forced to restrict movement again.
This is what the government is trying to prevent with the curfew orders.
They might be difficult and bothersome, but they also save lives and will enable us to emerge from this crisis faster than other countries being more cavalier about it.
But Senator Sakaja was caught outside of his house after 9 pm at a Kilimani bar. To be fair, his response to the egregious error is notable and commendable. He has already paid the cash bail following the offence and is stepping back from the committee.
In a statement to the public, Sakaja took responsibility for his mistake: “No one is above the law. I will be appearing in court tomorrow and the entire course of the law will be followed. If it is to be fined or to be jailed, the law will apply to me just like every other Kenyan.”
It is unlikely that we would have seen such a turn of events in the pre-corruption crackdown era.
Since President Uhuru Kenyatta launched the anti-corruption campaign, we have seen a marked shift in how people who break the law are treated and prosecuted, while it is also the first time in Kenyan history that politicians are forced to own up to breaking the rules, and take responsibility for their actions.
Most Kenyans are familiar with bribery - either we have bribed someone ourselves at the petty level, or we hear about it happening between high up government officials and shady businesses.
Part of this, in the past, would have been the ability for someone with power like a senator to have an instant get out of jail free card.
The incident would probably have been kept hush-hush while the senator was let out of jail without spending the night, and resumed his duties on the Covid-19 response committee.
But those days are far behind us. And it is a good thing too because our country and government do not have the time nor the resources to waste right now as we take on an international health crisis.
Corruption - whether that be power-grabbing, economic crime or in any other of its deleterious forms - is first and foremost a problem of developing countries.
It exists in Europe and North America as well, but it is most widespread and harmful on the African continent.
Before the pandemic began, we were thick in the throes of an anti-corruption battle.
Just because new problems have entered the mix does not mean that we will forego dealing with the pre-existing ones.
Uhuru’s development agenda can only be achieved if Kenya becomes a more transparent, fair place for all of its citizens.
And that includes holding the powerful accountable, even when there are lots of distractions to deal with right now.
While what Senator Sakaja did was unacceptable, owning up to it is a testament of how the president has come with cracking down on corruption.
Let this be an example for all those who think they are above the law - Kenya is too democratic to let that kind of behaviour slide.
- Mr Guleid, former deputy governor of Isiolo County, is CEO of FCDC Secretariat.
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