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We’re often a collateral damage in other people’s power games

By Daisy Maritim Maina | March 1st 2020

My MP is disgusted. Nelson Koech of Belgut told the Foreign Affairs Cabinet Secretary that her answers were sickening and painful to listen to.

The Cabinet Secretary was before a parliamentary committee to explain why 279 potentially ‘coronavirus infected’ people were allowed into the country. Perhaps what Koech found nauseating was that CS Rachel Omamo and others in charge seem unable to connect their negligence to their own, personal potential doom. 

This brings to mind a story. One day, a CID officer arrives at a farm and tells the owner that he needs to inspect his property. He says the old farmer is a suspected marijuana grower. The mzee agrees to a search, but asks the officer not to venture into the corner paddock. 

The officer gets really angry. He lectures the poor farmer about what the authority of the government means. 

He says: “See this badge? This is ‘serikali’, I hold the authority of the government!” He asks the farmer to look at the badge again, properly. The old farmer cannot argue with the intimidating badge. He lets the policeman search his entire property without restriction. After all, he is acting in the ‘best interest of the country’. The farmer retreats into his house, leaving the cop to begin his inspection. 

Ten minutes later, the farmer hears the government screaming, and he looks out the window. The police guy is running for his life, with the farmer’s big black angry bull chasing him at full speed. 

The farmer runs out of the house, goes to the paddock fence and shouts to the officer: “Show him your badge! Show him your badge!” 

Should the coronavirus find its way in, it will not discriminate. Once the paddock gate is opened, the thing will charge at everyone. Badge holders like Omamo and ‘raia’ like Koech’s people of Belgut will all have to run away screaming. 

Raging bull

But here is another thought. Are we being led to think that this coronavirus is a charging raging bull, when it is a far less aggressive animal? 

We must ask these questions because there are some jarring inconsistencies in the wake of this coronavirus story. The H1N1 Bird Flu of 1997 had a fatality rate of 52.8 per cent.

More recently, its cousin the H7N9 Bird Flu of 2013 had a death rate of 39.3 per cent. Not to mention Ebola, which killed 50 per cent of infected people. So far, the death rate for the coronavirus is 2.2 per cent. Despite this, predictions claim that if left uncontained, the coronavirus will wipe out 60 per cent of the world’s population. ‘Reliable voices’ like Bill Gates, have told the world that this is a “once in a century pathogen”. 

These projections of Armageddon are driven by mystery. When we understand a disease, we are at the halfway mark to conquering it.

We know cows gave us measles and TB, pigs gave us the whooping cough and ducks gave us influenza. We are are not yet sure who gave us the coronavirus, even though currently, bats are the prime suspects. They are among many other creatures that found their way to the Wuhan food markets.

The variety in the now closed markets ranged from scorpions, bamboo rats, squirrels and foxes to hedgehogs, salamanders, turtles and crocodiles. But the incessant focus on ‘global doom’ makes one wonder if there is an exotic animal to blame, or a ‘diseasemonger’ in a sinister laboratory. If the disease itself is not manufactured, the fear definitely is. 

Is the coronavirus part of a bio warfare arsenal in which fear is the deadliest weapon? Are we falling into the trap of crippling fear, the kind that is designed to destabilise economies, devalue companies and drop productivity? 

Who benefits from ‘virus hysteria’? As African countries, we are often collateral damage in other people’s Power Games. We are thrown into medical battlefields that are not ours, to fight diseases we do not understand, with infrastructure and defense systems that often cannot withstand the attack.

And will our country take political advantage of a medical disaster? What else will be happening under our noses as we are so distracted by coronavirus-mania? In her book Shock Doctrine, Naomi Klein tells us that ‘Big Time’ capitalism happens when there is a disaster. ‘Big Boys and Girls’ make ‘Big Money’ while the population is grappling with ‘shock’. 

Whatever the case with corona, we hold the government responsible for keeping us safe from the thing, whether it is a raging charging bull or manufactured fear. We chose to err on the side of caution. Should another plane somehow land at JKIA from a ‘Wuhan-like’ place, we demand video footage all the responsible ministers, without masks or gloves, lining up at the bottom of the aircraft steps to welcome each of the passengers with long, tight hugs. 

- The writer is a PhD candidate in political economy at SMC University. [email protected]

Covid 19 Time Series


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