By last weekend, the countdown had begun. People were waiting for the speech that would “declare their freedom”. Online and off the Internet, talk was on the things that people wanted to do once the cessation of movement, put in place to contain spread of Covid-19, was lifted. It had been more than two months of restricted movement and curfew, and Kenyans were hoping for change as President Uhuru Kenyatta delivered his eagerly awaited speech from State House yesterday.
There were those who longed to walk into a bar in the darkness of night. There they would caress the frothy bottles of their favourite drinks and stagger out at the first strike of dawn like they used to before coronavirus struck. There were those who wanted to travel out of town to see their loved ones after the sudden separation that came a few days before Easter. Others craved for when they would not have to hurry home, their hearts beating with anxiety, hoping to beat the 6:59:59 stroke of the clock before falling into the hands of police for violating curfew.
The memes told it all. People were waiting with bated breath. A revised version of the Sarafina “Freedom is coming” song was created to reinforce the anticipation that awaited the President’s speech.
“Saturday the 6th feels like visiting day. You just don’t know if your father will show up with food or just a newspaper,” read one of the memes that went viral. In a hilarious attempt to sway the President’s mind, letters were written on social media to beg the Head of State to ease the regulations.
“Best performing President, fashion killer, your eight-year legacy unmatched, his Excellency, too young to retire, please do not disappoint us…” they teased on social media.
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The President’s speech was scheduled for slightly before midday, but Twitter lit up way before 5am.
“Wake up sir! Somebody should wake the President up and tell him we have already showered and waiting for him to release us,” was one of the memes that was highly circulated; a cheeky reference to how students in boarding school would wait for the gates to open after a speech by the principal on closing day.
By midday, the anxiety could be felt through the screen. The speech had been moved to 2pm, sparking a wave of more memes. In between were serious posts and comments from people who were desperately waiting for the president to open up the country.
“I am a salonist who had gone to do makeup on a client in Mombasa before the cessation of movement was announced. Then things happened so fast and I am now stuck at my client’s house for two months now. I have been watching television since 6am,” said Linda Achieng’ who was hoping to return to Nairobi.
And when the President stepped up to speak, a few minutes after 4pm, he had a different answer. The answer to those who wanted to hold a celebratory party about their “freedom” was ‘No’. Kenyatta admitted that he had seen the hundreds of memes on social media, perhaps smiled a bit at some of them, like the one that warned men from sending fare to their girlfriends to travel to the city, but he was not ready to ease regulations yet.
“I saw the memes talking about freedom is coming. This is not about freedom or independence. It is better to be alive than have a few days of leisure and die,” he said, deflating the hopes of those who had waited for something different.
“It has ended in tears! Those who had packed and were ready to travel should unpack. It is 30 more days,” read a post on Facebook.
The only glimmer of hope were the additional hours that had been added, pushing the curfew to 9pm in the evening to 4am.
“All is not lost. We can still eat mutura which is definitely tastier when eaten in the dark. 9pm is better than 7pm,” wrote George Wanjohi on Twitter.