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Anxiety, fear as reality of dusk to dawn curfew sinks

By Amos Kareithi | March 28th 2020 at 00:00:00 GMT +0300

Police officers along Tom Mboya street, Nairobi during the night curfew. [Boniface Okendo/Standard]

Life changed drastically last night when a government-imposed nationawide curfew to contain the spread of the coronavirus took effect bringing the country to its knees.

As the sun set yesterday, it was impossible for anybody in Kenya to hail a cab or board a matatu, bus, boda boda or any other means of public service. And in the event of an emergency such as heart attack during the curfew hours, the victim of the relatives will have to dial a toll free number, to be rescued by medics.

Although a number of Kenyans have been egging the government to institute total lockdown across the country, the curfew will complicate life for millions of workers, who commute to their posts but do not have their own means of transport. It will also affect ordinary people’s lifestyle for they must be in their homes before 7pm and are not supposed to venture out before 5.am.  By invoking the curfew by President Uhuru Kenyatta on March 26, this year, Kenyans were ushered into a new world where there will be no movement at night except for people engaged in essential services.

National Police Service Commissioner General, Hilary Mutiambai yesterday said that road blocks would be mounted all around the country to ensure that there was no movement of vehicles at night.

“The curfew applies to the entire territory of Kenya. No public gatherings or movement is allowed between 7.00pm and 5.00am. The implications of the curfew is that all persons in Kenya shall remain indoors. Only those offering essential services are exempted,” the police boss added.

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According to the police, those who violate the curfew will be arrested and prosecuted as they have committed a crime. 

First of its kind

According to the Public Order Act, “any person, who contravenes any of the provisions of a curfew order or any of the terms or conditions of a permit granted to him shall be guilty of an offence and liable to a fine not exceeding one thousand shillings or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding three months, or to both such fine and such imprisonment.”

Unlike past curfews, which were imposed by successive administrations to deal with an enemy of the people, this time round all the 47 million Kenyans are the enemies, who are being confined to protect them from spreading the deadly virus.

Veteran administrator, Joseph Kaguthi explained.

“During the 1952 state of emergency, the government perceived Mau Mau as terrorists. During the Shifta War, again there was an enemy just as in Lamu where Al Shabaab were treated as the enemy. In Mt Elgon, the military was after Sabaot Land Defence Forces but this time the citizen is the enemy.”

Although many Kenyans have been agitating for implementation of a lock down, Kaguthi reminded those who have never been under a curfew law that it is not a piece of cake.

“You are going to be locked up like animals. You must not break the curfew law for if you do so there will be consequences. This is what Italy, Spain and United States should have done but never did. You are being locked up for your own good,” Kaguthi explained.

The former PC said he had lived through the colonial curfew law, which lasted for almost a decade and described life then as quite traumatising because, state agents had the right to punish offenders.

Kaguthi, who said he was now living in a self-imposed lockdown as he was retired, old and vulnerable added:

“In 1953, we were locked up like goats. Our freedom of movement was curtailed from dusk to dawn and those who breached the curfew could be shot. It is a very nasty experience and Kenyans must respect it for our collective good.”

Commuters caught up

But hours before the curfew started, there was a cloud of uncertainty across the country yesterday as Kenyans mulled the implications of the curfew and what this partial lockdown will mean to people who must travel.

“Public transport has not been categorised as an essential service. This, means that in the event there is an emergency, one will have to wait until morning. There will be no boda boda, matatu or taxi to take you to hospital,” observed Matatu owners Association chairman, Simon Kimutai.

The chairman also wondered what will happen to passengers travelling long distances who might be caught by the curfew before reaching their destination.

“Some travelers will be forced to park midway and sleep out in the open so as not to disobey the curfew law.  Since public transport in Kenya does not have dedicated lanes, there will be traffic jams that will delay vehicles reaching their destinations on time,”  Kimutai added.

Yesterday evening, hundreds of commuters were caught up in the Nairobi city centre, with only a few matatu available about an hour to 7pm. There were long queues on most stages. Some commuters feared they could face the wrath of police officers out to enforce the curfew.

However, some operators had already prepared their timetables indicating when their last buses would leave Nairobi and the estimated time of arrival at the final terminus.

One such company, Rembo Shuttle, which plies between Nairobi and Kitengela indicated that its last bus to leave the city will be at 5.30 pm every evening.


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