We've been to hell and back, but the worst is yet to come

The ended year will be etched in world history as a terrible year. It has been the perfect Greek annus horribilis, a season rich in unending tragedy, pain and suffering. In the first instalment of this column in January last year, I doubted the euphoric wisdom of shouting away ‘old years’ and shouting in ‘happy new years,’ almost as if we had sacred covenants with time. I questioned the notion of inherently happy years and sad years. It would seem that I was wrong.  

The year 2020 was inherently tragic. It especially brought with it a strange bug, the new coronavirus (Covid-19), imported from the previous year. The bug has literally put the world on its knees. Even as we start 2021, the entire global community is in liminal space, bringing with it into the new year all the challenges of the ended year. Disease, fear, death, unemployment and loss of income, homelessness, domestic helplessness and unease, despair and sundry misery is the new year’s heritage from the past two years.  

It would seem, after all, that a year can travel on its own energy, especially in the harmful direction. Hence, as if some angel of mischief has been at work, we get into 2021 an injured and worried global community. Covid-19 has hit us like a thunderbolt. Everyone has retreated into their own space to see how best to deal with the fallout. In the international community, everyone has been left to their own designs and devices – and to their own God. If the devil gets hold of the hindmost, it is really up to them.  

It would seem that this is set to remain the global order for much of 2021, despite encouraging reports of rapid vaccine breakthroughs in the rich world. In these breakthrough spaces, we are reminded of the biblical words that Jesus Christ is recorded to have told a Syrophoenician woman who once sought his help, “First let the children eat all they want. For it is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.” (Matthew 15:27). It is the perfect case where the poor nations of the world must reflect with the Greek woman in the Christian writ, “Yes, Lord. Even the dogs under the table eat the children’s’ crumbs that drop from the table.”  

Everyone must lift themselves out of Covid-19 and related challenges by their own bootstraps. With nobody to pay keen attention to the poor countries of the world, each country must find the space to stand in, bend, get hold of its bootstraps and pull itself out of the mess. Yet we are witnessing the arrival of a new strain of the virus in parts of the world.

The countries where the new strain has been reported risk further isolation from the rest of the world. The UK has already had a taste of this. There is more to come in 2021. It appears that we have not seen the last, or worst, of Covid-19. The year 2021 could, accordingly, be another. 

Bootstrapping in 2021 means getting national priorities right. Tragically for Kenya and Africa, we live in the universe of Alice in Wonderland and in the deep sleep of a Rip Van Winkle. We seem to be lost to the reality that is the new global pandemic, despite the glaring daily afflictions.

We don’t seem to know what is happening, even in our own front yard. Not satisfied that the world sits in a bad place, we appear keen to generate unique challenges of our own. Leaders both in the National and County Governments told us in 2020 that Covid and allied challenges could wait. They germinated homegrown challenges to address first. For Kenya and Africa, it is another case of “feeding the children before the dogs”. 

In this case, Covid-19 is the dog. The toxic politics of the day are the children of the home. Health workers’ strikes over personal protection equipment against Covid-19 are more dogs. Signature verifications for the proposed BBI referendum are the children. Even as learners prepare to go back to school on Monday, they are also dogs, while intrigues around the supreme law of the land are the children. If the angel of doom has brought Covid-19 to humankind, Kenya and Africa might need the angel of benevolence to redeem them from another annus horribilis. 

Science has suggested that we live in a state of entropy. This is to say the world wakes up each morning closer to disorder than it was yesterday. In the end, some say, the disorder will win out. The universe will become a random mess. It will be a universe without pattern or structure. But, they say, this is still billions of years away.

Yet, do we seem to be already there, in Africa? The turbulent civic dramas that informed the year in such diverse places as Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Chad, Nigeria, Cameroon, Central Africa Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo – to isolate just a few countries – give the impression of a continent that is already a random mess. There are hardly any predictable patterns or structures that imbue you with the freshness of hope in a new year.

In Kenya, the ended year was informed by mercurial political dramas that spoke of a seamless annus horribilis. As in the years past, the more things changed, the more they remained the same. Yet, in keeping with polite behaviour, I am constrained to wish you a Happy New Year, in a season of anomie, with every promise of high-octane political drama. Have a happy 2021.

The writer is a strategic public communications adviser.