Prior to COVID-19 outbreak and taking into account the advances in the medical field witnessed in the recent past, never had mankind thought that a mere virus would threaten the world. Doomsday prophets envisaged a scenario where a demented megalomaniac in the Middle East or East Asia would deploy nuclear arsenal on civilization in a vain attempt to assert dominance.
Subsequently, the Group of Five: USA, UK, Israel, Australia, and New Zealand thought this scenario was all covered up. Through real-time intelligence sharing gathered dubiously through spyware technology, they ensured they were ahead of their rivals. In a fit of paranoia, the intelligence community, particularly in the US, employed developed and employed tools of mass surveillance, leading to a condition named by whistleblower Edward Snowden as “immortality of data.”
Trapped in this hubris, they failed to monitor the mutation of pathogens that have time and again threatened to wipe out mankind from the face of the earth. Towards the end of the last millennium, Spanish Flu decimated over 50 million persons. It’s estimated 675,000 of those were from the USA. Plagues or what they have christened as ‘the invisible enemy’ killed times more than all wars that have ever been fought.
In the COVID 19 fight, a new paradigm has emerged. The global community is not only fighting a biological enemy but an agent that has turned their political, economic, and social life topsy turvy. Nobody will emerge out of this fight unscathed; we are only praying that the wounds will not be fatal.
Responses by governments have been based on speculative information given that very little is known about the virus. Most are involved in nail-biting, hoping that the mass imprisonment of billions will yield fruits praying it’s not another knee-jerk response by amateurish bureaucrats.
So far, results have been mixed. China allegedly succeeded after enforcing a lockdown in Hubei Province. Sweden, Burundi, and Tanzania have gone the herd immunity way refusing to shut down their economies, allowing the healthy to mingle freely while monitoring the unhealthy.
In Kenya, as of now, four counties are on partial lockdown or containment on top of 7 pm to 5 am curfew. Our infections have grown arithmetically rather that geometrically contrary to what some pessimists and conspiracy theorists predicted.
As the media bombards us with images of thousands who have succumbed, we have failed to acknowledge the slow and looming death hanging above us emanating from the economic disruptions wrought by the virus.
With 49% of the people living below the poverty line and the absence of social safety net, the majority of Kenyans are now faced with the real threat of dying from hunger, particularly in the informal settlements.
The informal nature of our economy compels the majority of Kenyans to go to work to put food on the table. In most parts of Nairobi, businesses record most sales after 6.00 pm when the majority of workers are heading home from work. The mama mbogas, maize roasters, mandazi, chapatti, chips ‘mwitu’, fishmongers, kiosk owners, second-hand clothes sellers record peak sales from 6.00 pm. Nighttime curfew has disrupted all that.
It’s quite hard to quantify the suffering that is being borne by these vulnerable Kenyans. A talk with a few acquaintances reveals that around 90% have been unable to honour their rent obligations. Food appeals have dominated social media conversations where well-wishers have been organizing some disbursements.
In a clear case of double jeopardy, politicians jeered on by the faux middle class have insisted on total lockdown. In an ostentatious display of callousness, Nakuru Governor is quoted as saying, “we would rather deal with hunger later.”
The pandemonium that was witnessed in Kibra is a clear indication of the desperation and desolation that afflicts Kenyans. There is no dignity in hunger, and our leaders have decided to make maximum capital out of our indignities.
This one size fits all approaches not accompanied by food distribution programmes for the poor, relief fund for employees who have been rendered redundant, and small businesses that have closed will turn out to be counterproductive.
To quote H.L. Menken, “For every problem, there is a solution that is simple, direct and wrong.”