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Leaders have failed the Covid test

By Ken Opalo | December 12th 2020

The political class has become largely irrelevant. In almost every sector, they have shown inability to rise to the occasion. Treasury cannot manage the national budget – the counties have not received disbursements for two months, Covid-19 emergency funds were allegedly pilfered while the government’s bills are going unpaid.

Line ministries are unable to do their job properly – from the Education ministry’s shambolic management of school reopening to the Health ministry’s apparent failure to equip the public health system to effectively deal with the ongoing pandemic. 

The country was treated to the most tragic manifestation of this reality in the case of the late Dr Stephen Mogusu. Having been deployed to the Machakos Level Five Hospital, Mogusu had worked for five months without pay. And despite being part of 200 doctors deployed as part of the Universal Health Coverage programme, he did not have health insurance. After initially being admitted to a private hospital in Komarock, Nairobi, Mogusu was then transferred to the Kenyatta National Hospital where he succumbed to Covid-19. 

While we join Mogusu’s family in mourning his death, we should also remember that it did not have to come to this. We have less than 10,000 doctors, in a profession that has a very strong trade association through which we can track every doctor. We should have been able to ensure each of our doctors has access to personal protective equipment (PPEs). Instead, the usual suspects allegedly pilfered money meant for PPEs. Some of the equipment was left to rot away at government stores. We converted a straightforward logistical challenge into tragedies for multiple families and the country. The carelessness with which the government continues to handle the safety of our doctors is particularly shocking given how much time and resources it takes to train doctors. To make matters worse, we have a biting shortage of doctors. There is no other conclusion a reasonable person can make but to observe that we are led by a cabal of inept people who have very little regard for human life.

Ultimately, that is the reason why Mogusu is no longer with us. The official government reaction has been as tone-deaf as ever. President Uhuru Kenyatta has not effectively addressed himself to the plight of our medical workers.

His deputy William Ruto’s occasional statements highlighting individual cases ring hollow when juxtaposed against his holiday pictures from a Dubai restaurant. What exactly has he done about this as the second most senior public official? And former Prime Minister Raila Odinga’s call for doctors not to hold the Government to ransom was simply offensive. The tone deafness is the natural consequence of political careers built not on persuading the public and doing the people’s work, but instead on herding ethnic blocs like sheep. Many of our leading politicians cannot fathom a world in which they garner popular support through a good faith effort to improve the lives of Kenyans.

To them, public service is about amassing wealth and cultivating a coterie of ‘Yes’ Men and women who tour the country dancing on podiums. Our failure as a society is that for far too long we have played along to this circus. We never learn. 

The crises of the Covid-19 and a stagnating economy have tested the men and women leading us and found them wanting in every respect. They are bad at public administration and management. They are bad at crisis management. And perhaps worst of all, they lack heart and are unmoved by human suffering. We deserve better as a country. 

-The writer is a professor at Georgetown University

Covid 19 Time Series


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