Category Archives: Medium Reads

my birthday

For all the friends and family, thank you for the birthday wishes. One more year, 4 complete decades and still so many things to do and looking forward to good health surrounded by family and friends. 

Let me make a few mentions:

Kenya Revenue Authority – the birthday message/present I would have wanted from you is proper use of our taxes. We all know that won’t happen so let me move swiftly along. 

The insurance company that sent me a discounted offer on funeral cover. I am alive to the fact that I am mortal, no need to remind me. It is always good to do business with you, your sense of timing notwithstanding.

My neighbour who keeps us awake with loud hooting at night – I have grown up so much in the last decade. Suffice it to say I no longer have thoughts of wringing your neck, for now. When I turn 50 and I can plead senility in a court of law, now that will be a different game…you get the drift. 

The dry-cleaning company – it is good to see our love has not shrunk over the decades that we have known each other. I am so sorry about the pandemic. Nowadays I only need a shirt and a coat in order to appear on a zoom call and this has meant a lot of the business has gone down the drain.

The barber – sorry man, I am going bald. On the bright side (and I am not referring to the shiny scalp) hopefully this will save me money.  What can I say, it is genetics. I hope you get more clients elsewhere. However, if you have good offers on toupees, you have my number.

Member of the my old cycling club – the brotherhood stands strong. If it has 2 wheels and no motor, we shall ride it. And, if we break bones doing it, may God preserve the bike for future use.

Kenya Airways – what can I say? Every time I see how much of taxpayer money is being used to bail you out, I wonder if the stress will kill me before my next birthday. Hopefully, in my 40’s I will accept that it is what it is. On second thoughts, no, I won’t. 

The watchmaker – from now on I will not be using watches and clocks. I am taking a leaf out of Judge Marete’s playbook. I don’t wear a watch, I don’t ask for time, I decide the time.

Kenya Not At Ease

Right in the middle of the Covid-19 crisis, Kenyans are being treated to an example of how dimwitted and unfocused their leaders are. The battle between President Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy, William Ruto is gaining pace steadily. That senior members of our ruling elite have time for this, at this crucial time, shows how casually they take their duties.

Five senators who did not support President Uhuru’s move of “fumigating the Jubilee party” are to face disciplinary action from the Jubilee party. They include Iman Dekow, Millicent Omanga, Victor Prengei, Naomi Jillo and Mary Yiane. The ultimate plan may be to get rid of them from the party simply because they appeared to support the Deputy President by not showing up for a meeting with the President.

Kenyatta recently convened a Parliamentary Group (PG) meeting that ratified the controversial removal of Elgeyo Marakwet Senator Kipchumba Murkomen and his Nakuru counterpart Susan Kihika as Majority Leader and Majority Whip respectively. The two are perceived as allies of Ruto

The language being used is telling. Newspaper headlines carrying words such as “fumigate” show exactly what Uhuru thinks of Ruto and his supporters. In the president’s mind, they are not equal partners in this alliance – Uhuru feels he owns the house and can get rid of “pests” that have been enjoying the comfort of his shelter. His Secretary General, Raphael Tuju, in explaining what is planned for the senators is even more revealing as it seems the decision has already been taken.

They have to explain why they didn’t attend the PG. The object of the summons is to subject them to a disciplinary process that shall result in expulsion. Those with genuine reasons will be spared based on the outcome of the disciplinary process

Between 2003 and 2007, Kenyans witnessed the deterioration of the relationship between 2 coalition partners, Mwai Kibaki and Raila Odinga. Four years of infighting and mutual disrespect resulted in parting of ways and a disputed election that still haunts Kenya’s memory. It did not appear to be a big deal when the squabbling began but it built up slowly, tit for tat, until it was simply out of control.

Uhuru is not content to have Murkomen and Kihika’s heads on a platter. He is now combing through his backyard to identify MPs who support Ruto and will only rest when they lose their seats. In his crosshairs are Gatundu South MP Moses Kuria, Bahati MP Kimani Ngunjiri, Kiharu MP Ndindi Nyoro, Kandara MP Alice Wahome, Mathira MP Rigathi Gachagua and Kikuyu’s Kimani Ichung’wa 

In an unprecedented move, the head of state plans to pitch camp in select Mount Kenya constituencies to spearhead the removal of some elected MPs through the recall clause. This would be a Kenyan first.

Such energy would have been very welcome in fighting Corona virus. It is admirable that the president wants this task done to completion and it proves that when he puts his mind to something, he can complete it. If only it was the right task. For a President and DP who were elected on a promise to unite the country, their score card is hardly impressive.

All in all, the tempo is picking up ahead of the 2022 elections. These machinations create tension in Kenya among the politicians and their supporters and they lead to more entrenched positions creating a dangerous attitude of “us versus them”. If unchecked, they can easily lead to the horrid post-election violence that was witnessed in 2008, leading to over 1500 dead and about 600,000 displaced.

While ultimately Kenyans must be accountable for their actions, the civil society, the members of the fourth estate and the international community must not keep silent when these early war drums are being played. The media, for example, must stop these incendiary and cheerleading headlines and instead call out the leaders for their irresponsible utterances and actions. When the music finally stops, it is the poor people who are left without a seat.

If it was possible to separate their actions and words from the wider interests of Kenya, Uhuru and Ruto could be left alone to humiliate each other as much as they like. Theirs, after all, is a convenient fellowship of thieves and as such we do not expect them to conduct their affairs in an honourable manner. However, we must ask ourselves if they are not already setting us up to be at each others’ throats in 2022. If they are and all indications are that this is the case, they must be stopped, at all costs.

We have paid the price before. The lessons remain with us.

Ndemo: The e-learning utopia

Dr Bitange Ndemo, former permanent secretary in the Kenyan Ministry of Information & Communication, has penned an opinion article in the Daily Nation whose main thrust is that Kenyan children would fare well in online learning if the people changed their attitudes.

As the government tries to get teachers to teach online, voices of resistance continue to rise. Parents are arguing that not every child has access to broadband or devices.

The parents are right. It is not an empty argument. Forget broadband, there are houses without any means to access the Information Superhighway. The good prof just needs to walk to slums that surround Nairobi. Even in the “well-to-do” families, some kids in the city have to wait for Mum and Dad to come home in the evening so that they can use the company-assigned laptop. What happens in a family that has 2 or 3 kids?

In my view, these parents are abdicating their fiduciary duty on their children. When in a crisis, the immediate reaction is how do we effectively deal with it? If we ask the right questions, we might solve a big problem

Very good. These questions have been asked many times. The answers, from the government are still not here. Ndemo then gives examples of the questions that we should be asking and it is good to see that he is at least addressing them to the right quarters.

Can government zero-rate broadband? Can we crowdfund laptops for the poor? Can those with extra devices donate to the poor? Can the syllabus be put online for parents to assist their children? Can we have a hotline for consultations?

However, he must have forgotten that there are places where even charging the laptops battery will be a problem because such places are yet to be connected to the national power grid. I was born in such a village and the situation is still the same. Perhaps the laptops he is talking about will be solar powered? Even then, some families who do not have food for tomorrow will swiftly sell those devices. When the people are steeped in poverty, showing up with a connected laptop will not fix their problems. E-learning does not exist in a vaccuum.

Ndemo also writes about the Fourth Industrial Revolution and why we need to get on with the flow.

Our attitudes towards anything that is not within the norm is wanting in this era of rapid technological changes. We are in serious transition into a new era called the Fourth Industrial Revolution that will change the world like we have never seen before.

Spoken like a person living in the affluent part of the city. The rich and the middle class can afford to think about the Fourth Industrial Revolution and “changing the world”. The downtrodden in the villages worry about their next meal. A child not going to school is not their urgent priority. Sad as that may sound, it is the reality within which they operate.

Ndemo talks about 3G and 4G, forgetting that coverage of the country is one thing. Including the population in having that access is yet another thing.

As it is, 70 per cent of the population, is covered by either 3G or 4G. At least 95 per cent of Kenyans have access to radio and 100 per cent can access television. The question is how do we get our children to access in any of these platforms but more specifically through broadband in the shortest period.

There have been countless opportunities for the government to help the people access these technologies. There just was never enough will to do so because of the shortsightedness of the leaders. We forgot to lift our people out of poverty because we were too busy deploying 3G and 4G.

He concludes.

In times of crisis, we need to project a positive attitude to solving the emergent problems like learning of our children. With determination, we can resolve the challenges.  We undermine the future of our children when use excuses to resist change that could likely be our new normal in the days to come.

I agree on the need to be positive and optimistic. However, the reality is that for a long time, the government has done little to enable the people. To harangue the same victims of the ineptitude of this and previous regimes is callous and will achieve nothing.

We can bring Google balloons to Kenya but we still have not found a way to make those balloons help the 10-year old girl in the deepest recesses of Kenya. When she is not going to school, she is fetching water and firewood or foraging for food. This has nothing to do with the attitude of her parents. It is all about the thieving and bad governance which is the government, in which Ndemo once served, is well known for. And, that is not an excuse.

Remembering Kevin Carter

There is a WhatsApp forward that shows the photo of the Vulture and the Little Girl – Kevin Carter’s Pulitzer Prize winning photo from the Sudan in 1993. It reads

This was the Circulated Photo of a vulture waiting for a starving Sudanese girl to die so it can feast on her.
It was taken by Kevin Carter, a prolific photojournalist, during the famine of 1993 in Sudan.

This photo later won Kevin the Pulitzer prize for an ‘exceptional’ caption. However, Kevin later got depressed and took his own life four months after his world wide celebration as a skilful photographer.
He fell to depression.

His depression began when during an interview (a phone-in programme), someone asked him what happened to the child. “I did not wait to see what happened after this shot as I had a flight to catch…. “And the person replied, “I put it to you that there were two vultures that day; one had a camera”. This statement sank Kevin and as he constantly thought of the statement, he got depressed and ended his own life.

In whatever we do, let’s consider humanity first. Kevin Carter, may still have been alive today had it been he helped that little child. We have not truly lived, until our lives have become the stars and sunshine of someone else. If there is that one person you feel you can help in this period, start now tomorrow might be too late.

The story (in that forward) is incorrect on several counts. I recall reading the book “The Bang Bang Club” that features Kevin Carter and his workmate Ken Oosterbroek. It was made into a film in 2010.

  1. Very basic point. The child in the photo is not a girl. It’s a boy named Kong Nyong.
  2. The boy survived and was rescued by the UN. His father confirmed it.
  3. The photo was taken in 1993. Kong Nyong lived for a further 14 years and only died in 2007 after suffering from fever.
  4. Kevin’s photojournalism work undoubtedly drew attention to the Sudan and unlocked international aid, thus helping save many more lives.
  5. It is true that Kevin Carter committed suicide but that was not until 27 July 1994 – more than a year after taking the photograph.
  6. In his life, Kevin was a deeply traumatised person because of the work he was doing. He was in a lot of trouble spots, wars and strifes. For example, he covered the core brutality of apartheid such as “necklacing”, prior to his work in the Sudan. Imagine if your work was to document wars, violent killings and injustice all year round.  
  7. To cope with stress, he was heavy into drugs and he was suffering from depression.
  8. The death of his friend Ken (shot and killed) in April of 1994 did not help. It is at this point that finally the depression took over his life and pushed him to suicide 3 months later. He was financially broke, his body broken and his soul lost in a world that was neither seeing nor responding to his pain. Yet, that pain was there in the photographs he left us.
  9. His suicide note, available online is stark:

I’m really, really sorry. The pain of life overrides the joy to the point that joy does not exist. …depressed … without phone … money for rent … money for child support … money for debts … money!!! … I am haunted by the vivid memories of killings & corpses & anger & pain … of starving or wounded children, of trigger-happy madmen, often police, of killer executioners … I have gone to join Ken if I am that lucky.

This is the maddening world we live in – fake news and unverified information in social media. We can question Kevin Carter for not picking up the child forgetting that he probably also died questioning himself. However, when we twist a story so grotesquely just to fit a narrative, we fail to see that Kevin himself was a victim. Even more tragically, we riddle a supposedly good message with inaccuracies that detract from the pureness of the lesson that was supposed to be imparted – sympathy.

The assertion that Kevin Carter, may still have been alive today had he helped that little child is interesting but neither here nor there. The truth is, we just don’t know. If I had to guess, he would probably have lost his life in any one of the meaningless wars that dot the planet – and we would still have found something to hold against him.

Rather than paint Kevin as a vulture by changing the facts of this famous photo to show what a horrible person he was, perhaps we should ask ourselves the human cost of photojournalism.

How much do some of the people who work in the media go through? Some are woken up to go to accident scenes, bombed out places and morgues so that they can bring us our daily dose of news. The cycle repeats every day – it never stops. The deadlines are tight, the visible human suffering is unrelenting and the journalists do not always have the right support mechanisms. They are traumatised, living on the front lines, hardly ever switching off from the madness of the news cycle, each day more tragic than the previous one. It is intense and sometimes they may not make the right choices, simply because they are human.

In the final analysis, these journalists are also casualties of a horrible world and they work in the aftermath of selfish local and global interests that maim and kill the innocent, starve whole populations and leave newspeople to document their evil deeds.

EAC post COVID-19: This is Hardly the Time to Postpone Decisions

State bureaucracy can be irritating. Regional bureaucracy in “matters of mutual interest” can be downright maddening. The Business Daily reports that the East Africa Community postponed an important session that was to discuss regional response against COVID-19, including the fiscal, economic and social consequences on the EAC. The postponement was at the request of South Sudan.

In a statement to newsrooms, the regional bloc said the meeting convened to discuss the coronavirus pandemic via video conferencing had been postponed to a later date at South Sudan’s request

One can only hope that the new date for the meeting will be set soon and the meeting will actually happen this time and quick decisions will be taken and the decisions will be implemented uniformly and the progress will be tracked and that there will be constant and prompt changes if needed.

Too much to hope for? I am afraid so.

However the challenge ahead is grave and the secretariat has correctly identified things that need to be decided upon, quickly.

Ahead of the meeting, the secretariat had proposed an array of incentives aimed at boosting resilience of firms and cushioning low income households.

I suppose these are not high on the priority of some countries in this region. The assumption that EAC still has time to deliberate and take action is dangerous. Even at the best of times, our economies barely inch forward. That our fragile economies will be affected negatively is not a risk at this point in time – it is already a certainty and the EAC secretariat has already identified the areas that need solid actions.

The secretariat wants countries to institute stimulus packages to boost local production and promote imports substitution. It also wants them to apply monetary and fiscal measures to counter inflationary pressures

Whatever decisions are taken, partner states typically need more time to implement. That time is what we, collectively, just do not have. Each day that passes without clear decisions means prolonged suffering within EAC boundaries. The time for proper leadership is now and as expected, our leaders are failing us.

Kenya’s Economic Stimulus Package – The Devil in the Details

It is one thing to announce an economic stimulus package. It is quite a different thing to implement it. It is yet another different thing to measure the impact. With the COVID-19 starting to bite, President Uhuru Kenyatta announced a stimulus package as March drew to a close and a very uncertain April started. It aims to shield Kenyans during these tough times and also ensure that the economy grind ahead slowly and that when the dust settles (or reduces), we can still forge ahead.

100% per cent tax relief (monthly gross income of Ksh 24000/USD 225)

Kenyans in this category will save Ksh 1,414 (USD 13) and this should help them in purchasing essential supplies such as food. This should be enough to purchase 1 litre of cooking oil, 2 kilos of rice, 100 grams of tea leaves, 2 litres of milk, 4 kilos of maize flour, 2 kilos of rice, 1 kilo of sugar, 1 kilo of beans and 1 kilo of green grams. Work out how long a family of 4 will take to eat through that.

PAYE from 30% to 25%

A 5% reduction is better than nothing and that is where we shall leave it. To place the reduction in context, half of employed Kenyans earn less that Ksh 30,000 (USD 280) according to the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics hence a 5% reduction is a couple of dollars for the month. The Kenyans in this range also happen to be the ones who need the relief most. The relief will however be perceptible for those who earn top-dollar. Well, those who have much will have more added unto them. Those who have little will have even the little taken away from them.

Resident Income Tax from 30% to 25%

Here, the effect will be felt. The income brackets are typically higher so a 5% reduction should be material. Again, it will go to those who do not feel the pinch too much. Perhaps the government was just balancing the optics to give the impression of fairness across board.

Turnover tax reduced from 3% to 1%

The moneyed political class that also controls the economy should be happy about this. It is a significant drop in tax and the president, his deputy, ministers and members of parliament have protected their enterprises well in this regard. This is where the big bucks game is played and shaving off 2/3 from the tax rate is sure to be appreciated wherever the rich and powerful congregate. The gap between the haves and the have-nots will remain…or even increase.

VAT from 16% to 14%

Some items were already VAT exempt and these are the ones that people need mostly for basic survival. Items such as milk, eggs, meat, rice, maize, bread, beans, unprocessed vegetables, tubers, infant food formula, medicines, fertilizers and sanitary towels do not attract tax. Utilities such as electricity fall into the VAT-able bracket so there would be some relief there. Essentially, this reduction is a feel good cut and it seems the more things change, the more they remain the same.

KSh 10Bn (USD 94.4 Mn) cash-transfer for Elderly and Other Vulnerable members of the Society

This is a good move. Hopefully the funds will be disbursed in a timely manner and will reach the intended recipients in a manner that makes a difference in their lives. In November 2019 it was announced that USD 87.4 Mn was transferred for the elderly and orphans. As such one would hope that the processes have already been fine-tuned to ensure that this wave of disbursements goes smoothly given the urgent purpose.

Pay Cuts for President, Deputy and Cabinet Secretaries

The President and his deputy will take an 80% pay cut while Cabinet Secretaries will take take a 30% pay cut. Past experience has shown that these declarations sometimes do not materialise. In any case, even if they come to pass, they are a drop in the ocean when we put government expenditure in context.

In summary, we should ask ourselves who feels the biggest pinch in a time like this. Conversely, who is getting the lion’s share of of the goodies in this package.

The informal sector (jua kali) that does not fall into the PAYE system and lives day to day is suffering. The low-wage earners are also in this boat. The jua kali artisans, for example, need to go to work every day otherwise they do not get to feed their families. They also happen to be the people who do not have fridges and such conveniences to stock up on supplies hence life for them is extremely difficult and they bear the brunt of this lockdown in a deeply personal fashion, much more than well-fed government mandarins can appreciate. Their food, transport costs, rent and other utilities largely remain unaffected by this package. Their flexibility in earning is curtailed. They truly are between a rock and a hard place.

There is thus a lot to say but little to celebrate.

Do we Still Need WHO?

The World Health Organization (WHO) has just celebrated its 72nd birthday but this septuagenarian is not aging in grace. The 72nd birthday has been “celebrated” in the midst of a crisis, a crisis which WHO handled in a manner that hardly reflected readiness and responsiveness. A cursory review of WHO’s past shows the organization is not set up to succeed in such a mission anyway and perhaps it is time we asked ourselves how important and relevant it still is.

#1 Little More Than a Bystander

In its own words, WHO aims to:

…address the underlying social and economic determinants of health through policies and programmes that enhance health equity and integrate pro-poor, gender-responsive, and human rights-based approaches

Secondly

…to promote a healthier environment, intensify primary prevention and influence public policies in all sectors so as to address the root causes of environmental threats to health. 

Everything mentioned above falls in the realm on national/global politics and the relevance and importance attached to them is dependent on the person/party in power. On the international stage, the global powers determine the priorities directly or indirectly. There is little that WHO can do if governments tell it to piss off. It should not surprise us that WHO Director General Tedros was praising China even when the prevailing sentiment is that China may not have been entirely open about COVID-19

We appreciate the seriousness with which China is taking this outbreak, especially the commitment from top leadership, and the transparency they have demonstrated

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General, WHO

#2 An Expensive Affair

In 2018, the budget for WHO was USD 4.4 Bn. Between 2019-23, WHO is asking for USD 14.1 Bn.  Despite budget slashes, WHO is a costly outfit which has 8500 employees scattered in 147 countries. It also runs 6 regional offices in Brazzaville, Copenhagen, New Delhi, Cairo, Manila and Washington. The levels of bureaucracy in such a monstrosity do not help much and they invariably result in unnecessary costs.

For example, the amount of money used in travel and related expenses has come into sharp focus in the past. Over USD 200 Mn is spent on travel and this is more than what WHO spends on mental health problems, HIV-AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria combined. Aljazeera reported in 2017 that the then Director General, Margaret Chan spent USD 370,000 on travel – she was fond of traveling first class.

It seems the lack of fiscal discipline was right from the top.

WHO declined to say if it paid for director-general Margaret Chan’s stay earlier this month at the 1,000-dollars-per-night Palm Camayenne hotel in Conakry, Guinea, but noted that host countries sometimes pick up the tab for her hotel stays

WHO vehemently denied, stating that Chan “strictly abided by WHO travel policies and less than half of its travel costs were on its staff”.

#3 Seven Decades Later,World is still Sick

Among the achievements in WHO’s portfolio are eradication of small-pox in 1979 and “near” eradication of polio in recent times. These are no mean feats but one would hope for more – we are talking 7 decades after all. With malaria still killing 400,000 annually and 90% of this is in Africa alone, these achievements pale in significance.

Whilst all the blame cannot be laid at WHO’s doorstep -African governments for example are not investing in public health as much as they should – such deaths are not exactly an indicator of success in global healthcare.

#4 Slow to Mobilize and Slow to Decide

A big organisation, which cannot speak truth to the powers, dependent on voluntary contributions and walking a myriad of tightropes in global politics cannot be nimble. This is the predicament that WHO finds itself in and the bigger it grows, the more rigid it becomes yet the threats it is supposed to address keep increasing in number and in speed.

COVID-19 has shown how slow WHO is. The first COVID-19 case in China was detected around 17 November 2019. Tedros deferred the declaration of COVID-19 as a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC) until 30 January, but he stressed that there was no need to “unnecessarily interfere with international travel and trade”.

#5 Slow to Learn and Adapt

Roughly 6 years ago, Jeremy Youde, commenting on the Ebola crisis, wrote:

The current Ebola outbreak in West Africa has caused more illness and death than any previous one, and we all hope that the World Health Organization is able to quickly and effectively coordinate a response to the current Ebola outbreak. We must remember, though, that many of WHO’s shortcomings in responding to this outbreak are the result of limitations placed on the organization. If we want a WHO that can respond more quickly and with more resources, the international community has to be willing to support such an organization

Between then and now, clearly the international community has not seen the need to free and reinvigorate the WHO and neither has WHO learnt how to adapt to the status quo i.e. that it is is not seen as an organization worth being given the reins to drive real improvements in public health. Strongly shackled, WHO is as reactive and as uncertain as ever.

COVID-19 Long Road Ahead for Kenya

In January, Kenya’s economy was projected to grow at 6.2%. The first case of COVID-19 was announced in March – on Friday the 13th. It has been a month of learning and unlearning and it looks as if we shall be in this state for quite some time. When the dust settles and it is time to take stock, we can almost certainly say 6.2% is not possible. The economy will take a big hit. More areas of our lives will also be affected, during the lockdown and in the aftermath.

Agriculture

Agriculture accounts for about 21% of Kenyan economy. Whilst some activities in farms will continue, the supply chain is suffering. Supermarkets, greengrocers and open air markets are all operating for shorter duration. Hotels and eateries all have reduced clientele and schools are closed hence bulk food orders are at all time low thus the income of farmers is affected. Many farmers rely on the sales of a season to prepare for the next season. If the cash flow is affected, reduced production can be expected.

With reduced activity on farms, food sufficiency is already a concern. The Strategic Grain Reserve is already running out at a time when we are not even sure how long these uncertain times will last. The Kenyan government is not known for good planning so it remains to be seen how well the needs of the country will be anticipated and met.

Horticultural exports already started suffering weeks ago. The Kenya Flower Council already announced that the industry was losing KSh 250 Mn (USD 2.4Mn) per day and about 170 horticultural farms were running low on cash hence laying off workers at flower plantations in places like Naivasha. Understandably, consumers are only worried about immediate needs such as food and safety in terms of health. Flowers are just too much of a luxury at this time.

The “Hustler” Sector

All businesses will be affected. The large businesses are getting some concessions from the government and although it is doubtful the impact of the measures announced by the president, some relief will nevertheless be obtained. Businesses were facing tough times even ahead of COVID-19 to such an extent that large corporates were announcing layoffs. The government had failed to create a conducive environment and now with the attention take up by this crisis, much less effort is being expended in fixing old issues.

The small businesses will take a harder hit. There are many Kenyans who run side hustles that may not even be registered or in the radar of the government. They however provide employment to their owners and a few employees. Whatever help the government is giving to big businesses will not get to these small businesses. Additionally, some of these hustles require flexibility in operating hours and with the ongoing curfew, those that cannot be done online will not last.

Travel and Tourism

Tourism is the third largest source of foreign exchange inflow. It is estimated that Kenya earned USD 1.6Bn last year from tourism. We can pretty much estimate it will not recover for much of 2020. Actually, make that 2021 and beyond. By the time the global economy picks up and people start traveling for leisure, this sector will be on its knees.

The post-COVID-19 travel arrangements are not clear at this point. Will countries require that travellers undergo mandatory test before/on arrival? Will there be requirements to quarantine? If there will be requirements to self-quarantine, how intrusive will such measures be and will they be to an extent that people will restrict travel to essential things? Also unpredictable is how long it will take before people feel comfortable to criss-cross the globe especially if new waves of COVID-19 pop up in different parts of the world at different times.

Education

The school calendar is already in tatters. Primary and Secondary school pupils went home right with a good portion of first term uncovered. Attending school in second term is looking unlikely and even if it happens, it might only be for the tail-end of second term.

The Ministry of Education is yet to provide guidance on the outlook for two final examinations i.e. the Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) and the Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE). Possibly, they are watching to see how things unfold. Either way, there will have to be changes on the school calendar and that will affect new classes in 2021 as well as university entry.

Politics and 2022 Effect

If there is one thing Kenyans have enjoyed for the past few weeks, it is the near 100% absence of our politicians arguing on TV, exchanging slurs on during funerals and generally irritating us all. When the dust settles, will they emerge out of the woodwork and start their games all over again?

One would imagine the politicians are sorely missing the spotlight and they will try to make up for lost time, what with the 2022 general elections around the corner? It does not portend well for us if a national leader is already saying they will resume the music. If we get caught up in their din, the road to recovery will be even longer.

A Tale of Two PhDs

Angela Merkel in this clip is what one would expect of a leader during a time like this – a firm grasp of the issue, a clear appreciation of her country’s capacity in tackling the issue, measurable indicators that would warn her if her government is not handling the threat well and a way forward that she can be judged against. The elegance is clarity of approach and confidence in understanding the numbers. There is benefit in approaching a problem that is rooted in science in a scientific way this way. Angela Merkel holds a PhD. Her thesis was on Quantum Chemistry- obtained from Germany Academy of Sciences at Berlin.

In Tanzania, we find Dr John Joseph Pombe Magufuli. His ardent supporters refer to him using his full name and prefixed with “Dr”. Actually, that is not complete. The first prefix is His Excellency. In response to COVID-19, he has asked his countrymen to continue praying. He will not shut churches because the virus “cannot exist in the body of Jesus Christ”. He is in a comfortable position – whatever he claims cannot be interrogated and anybody who calls out his nonsense will land in problems. Citizen TV has been taken off air for a week and is running an apology to the president. For the past few days, anybody switching to Citizen TV is met with a screen pouring out a heartfelt apology to His Excellency. The TV station made a grave mistake of of referring to Dr Magufuli’s tactics of fighting COVID-19 with faith as “defiant”.

I doubt Angela Merkel insists on being called Dr Merkel. One would imagine that she is secure in her credentials so it does not matter whether we call her Dr or not. That is what happens when you are busy defying limits in an excellent manner.

Back to His Excellency Dr John Joseph Pombe Magufuli, President of the United Republic of Tanzania (see, I am learning fast). He holds a PhD in Chemistry, obtained from University of Dar es Salaam. The title of his thesis, in all its heavenly glory is “The Potential of Anacardic Acid Self – Assembled Monolayer from Cashew Nut Shell Liquid as Corrosion Protection Coating“. It is a pity that he obtained a PhD in a scientific field without understanding the importance of scientific methods but that does not stop his alma mater from writing glowingly about him.

It is true we cannot hold Europe to be our example in everything because to do so would mean losing the context of our issues and there are definitely matters in which Africa needs to chart its own approach. However, that is the beauty of science. It is based on laws and principles that can demonstrated and we test our theories against them. Principles are timeless and they apply universally. Beliefs and superstitions, even when masked as devout religion, simply fail to measure up. If we are to deviate from doing things in an objective manner, then we must have a good reason and we must be able to live with the consequences.

There is a place for faith and those who seek help through their faith should do so (preferably in the confines of their homes) as other measures are being taken. However, 17 days after the first case of COVID-19 was detected in Tanzania, one would hope the good president would be doing much more than just calling for prayers.

There is another thing that does not lie – data. When all this is over, let us look at the data and evaluate these two leaders who both hold PhDs in Chemistry. We will see if it possible to defy science and when one does so, what sayeth the data? 

Fighting COVID-19: East African Community as Disjointed as Ever

Tanzanians attend Easter Sunday Mass – tweet from Mwananchi Newspaper

COVID-19 is bringing to the fore, once again, how differently the East African states of Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania and Rwanda tackle the problems confronting their people.

Kenya

Kenya is effectively in some sort of  lock-down. There is a curfew from 7pm and this is enforced, rather violently by the police force. Coincidentally, the new Minister of Health was appointed just in time for this crisis. This docket has been dogged by massive corruption in the past.

Kenya has failed to come to the rescue of Kenyans stuck in places like China and very weak border control was witnessed until late in the crisis. Flights from China were still coming into Nairobi as late as 26th February and the government offered a half-baked justification when the last flight raised uproar on social media.

All 239 passengers were screened onboard, cleared and advised to self-quarantine for the next 14 days

How the government was enforcing “self-quarantine” remains a mystery.

As always, the media can be expected to do everything except hold the government to account. Instead, on Easter Sunday, one of the leading dailies, the Daily Nation, saw it fit to remind Kenyans of the long running tiff between President Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy, William Ruto. The headline, “Ruto Edged Out in Battle for Jubilee Party”  completely missed what was keeping all Kenyans awake. 

A stampede occurred in Kibera slum as thousands of people scrambled for food that had been donated by a well-wisher. This further shows the sore need for government to provide ways of people to access food during this lockdown. One would expect that beyond scolding Kenyans who do not stay in their houses as much as they should, the government should be aware that there are Kenyans who cannot eat unless they go out every day and engage in some sort of manual labour or other.

People arriving in the country are quarantined. There has been complaints with regard to the quality of the quarantine facilities managed by the government. This report quotes some of the quarantined individuals claiming 30 individuals have to share 3 toilets and 3 bathrooms – some of the sanitation facilities are faulty. With such crowding, the danger of turning quarantine facilities into infection hotspots is real. Those who opt to stay in hotels are supposed to meet their bills and there has been some controversy about this, especially after the initial quarantine period at some facilities was extended.

Uganda

In mid-March, Museveni had urged Ugandans to stay at home but stopped short of ordering a total lockdown. There were restrictions on transport and as expected, police brutality was witnessed in enforcing the restrictions on movement. Two men were shot by police for violating restrictions on transport. On 30th March, President Museveni finally announced 14 days of lockdown. 

The president was also featured in the media showing his country men how they can exercise indoors in order to keep fit. He was seen jogging in a spacious and tastefully furnished room in Statehouse and also doing some 30 (poor quality) pushups. His handlers could have informed him that the space he was was using for his indoor exercise typically fits 30 housing units in Katanga slum. Of course most of the people “wandering” the streets instead of staying safe in their houses are actually engaging in whatever economic activities they can find, to feed their families – counting calories is the least of their concerns.

Rwanda

Rwanda was the first African country to order a total lockdown on 21st March. President Paul Kagame took measures early and he has sustained them, leveraging on technology where possible. Rwanda is using drones to broadcast health messages. Not to depart from Kagame’s usual high-handedness, the police shot two people who broke curfew rules early on. The police spokesperson claimed the two men engaged in a tussle with police officers.

Social protection in Rwanda appears to be much better coordinated. The lockdown is to run until April 19th and the government has set up food distribution centres. Some hotels are designated as quarantine areas and the government picks the tab for the people in quarantine. To avoid crowding, for the first time in history, Rwandans had to commemorate the 1994 genocide indoors.

Tanzania

President Magufuli of Tanzania is charting an entirely different course. He declared that there would be no shutdown because 8 countries depend on Tanzania and if he closed the borders, those countries would be in problems. Tanzania only announced cessation of flights on 12th April. In a short clip that was widely circulated on Twitter, the Minister for Health, Ummy Mwalimu actually chuckled as she admitted Tanzania was unprepared for COVID-19. 

As he prepares for reelection in 2020, Magufuli seems to be attempting all tricks to ingratiate himself to the voters. He has declared that churches and mosques would remain open ostensibly to cast the image of a devout leader who places God first. Attending church, he declared church services would continue because COVID-19 cannot survive in the body of Jesus Christ.  

These Holy places are where God is. My fellow Tanzanians, let us not be afraid of going to praise Him

President Magufuli

There is no doubt that freedom of worship is important and all people who practise one faith or the other will have deeply personal attachment to their religion. However, experience in other countries has shown the need to exercise caution, for example social distancing, even in places of worship. In some countries, gatherings in places of worship have been replaced with streaming services or meetings outdoor with appropriate distance. To advise people to continue mass gatherings is hardly responsible.

Magufuli’s government has been talking at cross-purposes and sometimes the statistics provided by one office (ministry of health) do not tally with the statistics provided by another (government spokesperson). No clear view exists as to the amount of testing being carried out.

When all is said and done, East Africa has very porous borders. If one neighbour is taking such a casual approach in fighting this scourge, the neighbouring countries will suffer just as much. This is hardly the time for lone ranger tactics.

The common theme of delayed response, police brutality in enforcing lockdowns and a leadership that is not in tune with the needs of the citizenry runs across East Africa. A regional (harmonised) approach that coordinates the fight against COVID-19 is lacking. Tanzania, as usual, is charting its own course and will neither consult nor cooperate.