Crises provide opportunities and threats, often handled in two phases. The first phase tries to “contain” and the second phase tackles the aftermath; recovery and reconstruction. While some states handle the two phases well with the first blending into the second, others get stuck in a somewhat confused state. Covid-19 is one such crisis.
That the coronavirus hit the developed world harder than it did the developing world forces a rethink of global realities. Its rapid spread, being global rather than regional, provided an opportunity to rethink global responses to de-bordering unknowns. There are also those who instead of seeking global cooperation, will choose to engage in blame game. They try to fix and threaten the stability of others, impose their domination, and thereby increase global insecurity.
Most states adopted and concentrated on the first phase; response through containing and curing Covid-19. But the performance is mixed because of three reasons. First was the disbelief that such a thing could happen and that it was therefore probably not a big threat. Second were half-hearted measures to protect perceived interests by balancing possible loss of trade on one side and containing the spread of the disease and saving lives on the other. When the coronavirus afflicted the leaders of the west, however, the attitude changed.
Third, the rise of global “panic” that entailed emergency declarations, flight cancellations, a strange way of exchanging greetings, social-distancing policies, curfews and lockdowns. Many decrees were not well thought out, fomenting a clash with established norms and policies.
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In the name of fighting coronavirus, latent dictatorship showed up and inhumanity prevailed. Police brutality and cruelty became the norm, which tended to fuel the spread of the deadly virus in addition to alienating the public. Excessive pressure on people, and a sense of selective implementation of policies risked creating a backlash.
A cardinal rule of governance -- to not scare the people into losing fear of government -- had been violated. While there is always room for a “little fear” of consequences, there is no room for oppressing people into losing fear. Wanton harassment and beatings of people, therefore, are recipes for potential uprisings and paint negative images of the State. This is contrary to the original intent. When some government officials violate the same rules they are supposed to enforce and then and the police portray excessive zeal in beating citizens into “compliance”, some to death, they generate resentment and invite uprisings.
Kenya went through the first phase responses of containment and cure and is currently wondering whether to get into the second phase of recovery. Plagued by challenges of synchronising policies with ground realities, Kenya’s entry into the panic stage produced mixed outcomes; commendable and disappointing. The media campaign is successful, gives hope, and helped create new national “heroes”. It also temporarily sent pre-coronavirus political mischief makers into hibernation.
On the negative side, there was confusion and lack of synchronisation between policy pronouncements and implementation, which then necessitates constant policy and strategy reviews. For all their brutality, the police appeared ill-prepared for the job. Reviews and strategy adjustments should link policy objectives with the means for achieving them by fusing common sense practicalities with ground realities. It ensures authorities adopt a “common touch” and avoids uncivil confrontations with the citizens.
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With the “containment” and “curative” aspects working relatively well, there are signs of the second phase, the recovery, in which addressing the post-coronavirus “what then?” question takes centre stage. Already, power brokers have started behaving as if the country is in a post-coronavirus phase. They retrieved pre-coronavirus political mischief from hibernation and replaced Mutahi Kagwe and Mercy Mwangagi as the national daily news makers. They flout coronavirus rules, underestimate the threat, and make old style political chicanery normal again.
Besides the returning antics of competing politicians, however, the country faces the challenge of stimulating the national economy and strengthening social bonds. This calls for re-thinking Kenya’s political economy in the midst of global realignment in which each country looks for its survival niche.
In the aftermath of coronavirus, world realignment and power shifts are inevitable. Those seizing the moment find their niche, lead others and start blame games. Having ignored warnings of the virus, the US and China blame each other while posting worst-case scenarios for Africa. US President Donald Trump then blames Barack Obama, his predecessor and cuts off his links with the World Health Organisation (WHO).
On their part, the Chinese mistreat and blame Africans for coronavirus although the virus originated within their borders. Meanwhile, China collaborates with France on Africa.
These are realities that Kenya cannot ignore in its search for post-coronavirus recovery and a global space to play its game. It requires fresh “grand strategists” with ingenious minds.
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- Prof Munene teaches history and international relations at USIU