This is the time for President Uhuru Kenyatta (pictured) to hate public love. The desire for presidential popularity at this time will cost him dearly. Take Pedro Sánchez, the Prime Minister of Spain, for instance. His desire to be loved by the public cost him terribly.
When the coronavirus first hit Spain, Sánchez was more worried about being popular than containing the raging epidemic. According to him, his ‘political situation’ did not allow for immediate drastic actions.
After getting into office in 2018, the PM considered himself weak after forming a minority government. He did not want to risk his fragile hold on power. So in the name of public love, football matches continued as scheduled.
On March 7, 120,000 people marched on the street for International Women’s Day as planned. Even government officials participated.
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Covid 19 Time Series
Sànchez let this happen even though Spain had 430 coronavirus cases at that time. He let it happen because he valued the love of the public. Just 18 days after the Women’s Day parade, on March 25, Spain confirmed 47,610 cases. The country had a death toll of 3,434.
This was more people than had died from the coronavirus in China. To put it bluntly, Sánchez had sacrificed 3,434 of his Spanish people in exchange for affection. Makes sense? Of course not!
It fell on Sánchez to protect Spain. He knew the virus was already in the country. He knew that his Spanish people are passionate about merry making.
He knew that on a normal Spanish day, streets are vibrant even up to midnight in the cities.
He knew that Spanish people inherently distrust their government because of years of oppression during the dictatorship of Francisco Franco.
He knew that because of this, Spanish people are rebellious towards the government and all directives therefore have to be enforced and policed. But, because he craved public love and affection, he did not act on what he knew.
Eventually Spain was overwhelmed by the coronavirus. Sanchez, whose wife also contracted the coronavirus, finally ordered a lockdown enforced by the police and backed by the military. Too little, too late. People lost, Love lost. Hasara!
Here at home, the question is this: is the President acting on what he knows? But even more worryingly; is he going to act on what he knows or will the desire for public love stop him?
Like the Spanish Prime Minister, our President knows that while the coronavirus count is comparatively low, there are many untested, infected people roaming Kenya unchecked.
Like the Spanish Prime Minister, Uhuru knows many things. He knows that out of 10 households in most Kenyan towns, 3 live in informal settlements. He knows that social distancing is impossible in these spaces, and once one person gets it everyone else will.
He knows that 62 per cent of people in Kisumu live in informal settlements. He knows that his Kenyan people do not respond to unenforced directives. Will he act on what he knows?
Or will he, like Pedro Sànchez, crave public adoration?
If we Kenyans survive this coronavirus because of President Kenyatta’s decisive leadership, our love for him will be forever. If we survive it by a whisker, losing many along the way, Uhuru will receive the opposite of love.
If in addition to the coronavirus we have to survive social chaos and disaster, it will be an ugly blot on his legacy. Public condemnation will be collective and definite.
You see, public love is fickle. Factoring it in decision-making is folly. Will a total lockdown be uncomfortable, intolerable and painful? Yes! Will it cause temporary hate? Absolutely!
If we do not have a total lockdown, we will we take the viral attack worse than Spain, given that their facilities are better than ours? No doubt!
Benefit of foresight
So why lockdown later after thousands of infections, deaths and chaos instead of locking down now?
In a time of tough decision-making, the President has the benefit of foresight. He can see weeks ahead. Other countries are presenting a real life model of what will result from certain decisions.
If President Kenyatta can see the horrors of a delayed decision, he should not delay the decision. He should act on what he knows, brave the hate, and the public love will come later.
- The writer is a PhD candidate in political economy at SMC University. [email protected]