Coronavirus has disorganised the world, exposed limitations of human effort, and created a global “new normal” that is replacing the “old normal”. Anxiety stalks national environments as the epidemic assumes sense of permanence, forces countries to accept new realities and rethink positions on Covid-19.
Institutions are tasked to be innovative in handling national challenges in the “new normal” environment. One of those institutions the “new normal” challenges to rethink itself in Kenya is the National Cohesion and Integration Commission (NCIC). It is not alone. This “new normal” is an outcome of widespread sense of fatalism and the downplaying of coronavirus seriousness. In part, this is because rising infections and death rates have numbed the collective sense of danger and people are learning how to live with the pandemic.
In some countries, medical charlatans encourage extensive hypocrisy and overzealousness to ignore the disease which then exposes them either to mathematical ridicule or serious credibility deficit. Unable to contain coronavirus, downplaying it becomes routine as governments concentrate on other problems. These include incapacity of some states to provide such basic things as food which lessens the public sense of coronavirus danger thereby making hunger good reason for countries to blend into the new normal. Downplaying the corona threat has thus become part of the growing “new normal.”
This “new normal” allows countries to revive other national activities; the economies and undercutting each other. The West has resumed its old normal “sanctions doctrine’ to “punish” other countries on account of differences. The doctrine assumes that the one imposing “sanctions” has all the cards and the supposed recipient is helpless.
In part, this is because the entire handling of the coronavirus saga was and is unclear. Its newness had the initial social value of scaring the public into conformity as some governments adopted lockdowns to restrict movements and curb the spread but coronavirus also proved defiant. The longer it lasts, the more normal it appears to be and it stopped generating panic.
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The restrictions appeared selective and to target the middle class, those with homes that can afford “social distancing” and may have some money to spare for trips. Restrictions made little sense to two groups; top leaders and those in the slums. In the slums, “hotels” and social interactions continued to operate normally.
Leaders compounded the situation being pre-occupied with political short-changing while showing inability to handle such disasters as floods, food shortages, and communal socio-land feuds. All this feeds into the “new normal”.
As Kenya struggles to come out of its corona mind-frame, those with bold national initiatives will carry the day. The “new normal” provides fresh opportunities for those with initiative.
Among the negatively affected are the operations of Samuel Kobia’s NCIC, since it could not easily move to zones of crises. With appropriate precautions, the NCIC can resume its work and go beyond speech policing. It can promote conflict prevention, use early warnings to detect and diffuse potential crises at the national and border levels. This is a function the National Steering Committee on Peace and Conflict Management, NSC, which SK Maina had created and used to promote his sense of national peace. SK took initiative and had, so wrote former NCIC Commissioner Wairimu Nderitu, a knack for bringing together the most unlikely of opponents and make them feel at ease.
With his ability to bring agencies together and tap into diverse resources, SK established strategic sub-district and local peace committees throughout the country. On top of his game when he died in 2015, the man left big peace vacuum waiting to be filled. The vacuum is, in the midst of rising politically induced temperatures, also big challenge to Kobia’s NCIC.
Roughly five years since SK departed and his NSC became virtually moribund, NSC functions are among those up for the taking. Similarly, NCIC is at that point, in Kenya’s “new normal” environment, where it can seize the moment, redefine itself in terms of mission delivery, and do the country good. To bring NSC functions into NCIC requires vision, initiative, and drive.
This would force Kobia’s team to think in unorthodox ways regarding every aspect of Kenya’s peace agenda. While it is unlikely that other organs of state would respond appropriately to the challenge that the new normal presents, either because of lack of desire or lack of capacity, the chance is too great to be missed by innovative minds that have been fashioned by global experience in crises confrontation.
-Prof Munene teaches at the USIU in Nairobi.