Tag Archives: covid-19

COVID-19: Yet ANOTHER REASON FOR Kenya-Tanzania squabble

The spat between Kenya and Tanzania is the latest twist in the uncomfortable relationship between these two East African neighbours. The situation has always been tense and these countries merely tolerate each other despite the fact that they need each other and trade with each.

Tanzania is blocking Kenyan trucks at the Lunga Lunga/Horohoro and Taveta/Holili border points in response to Kenya’s demand that truck drivers be tested for Covid-19 before being allowed to cross into Kenya.

Tanzania has been charting its own path with regard to Corona virus with President Magufuli insisting on prayers, very doubtful testing and no reporting of positive cases for over 2 weeks . As a result, the neighbouring countries have been routinely detecting positive cases from Tanzanian truck drivers.

Trade between the two neighbours annually reaches Ksh 62 Billion. The people living near the borders routinely cross from side to side in search of livelihood. The Kenyan minister for East African affairs, Adan Mohamed is downlplaying the tiff:

We are aware that there are a few trucks of Kenyan registration that have been denied access and entry into Tanzania, but we have not stopped processing vehicles coming from Tanzania into Kenya

The Business Daily reports

Goods trucked from Tanzania – including fresh produce such as onions and oranges – last year jumped by more than half, growing 53.79 percent to Sh27.70 billion from Sh18.01 billion in 2018

In comparison:

Goods trucked into Tanzania by Kenyan companies and traders last year increased 12.99 percent to Sh33.86 billion, trade data from the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics shows.

Kenya and Tanzania can huff and puff as much as they want but it seems two truths will remain:

  1. The two countries need each other more than they are willing to admit
  2. Both countries are led led by idiots who place ego above national welfare and are too proud to talk to each other like grown-ups

Penniless KEMRI

It is official. The Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI) is broke and the Daily Nation has reported the same.

The research agency is so broke that it cannot replenish Covid-19 testing materials, protective gear and the much-needed reagents

The folks at KEMRI do a good job and even the Africa CDC recognises their dedication. It is a pity that the government of Kenya does not see value in them.

The institute has also been nominated by Africa CDC as a centre of excellence in evaluation of Covid-19 diagnostics in the continent

The Ksh 158 Mn Covid-19 funds that the government had allocated to KEMRI has run out. What a time to run out! The institute has now requested Ksh 950 Mn to hire personnel, buy equipment and fund other programmes. Of this amount Ksh 540 Mn will be used to buy coronavirus reagents and screening materials. Ksh 100Mn will be used to hire 62 more scientists.

It is now close to 2 months since Covid-19 was detected in Kenya and close to 6 months since the first case was detected in Wuhan. This was more than adequate warning for Uhuru Kenyatta and his team to get their act together. Yet, with all that time, the government of Kenya has not seen a need to ensure uninterrupted funding to an agency that is on the frontline of fighting this crisis. However, there has been time to take tea and snacks worth $40,000 in one month.

This is a country that has a new Minister of Health who spends his time in front of the cameras because he loves the spotlight but he cannot be bothered to ensure there is a proper program of response in the backend. Is it for this sparse funding that a top scientist at KEMRI who had stood firm in asking for funding, was demoted? He is surely vindicated by this turn of events.

If anything, this shows what value the government attaches to the lives of Kenyans – 0.

IMF Help- more money for looting

The IMF has approved a Ksh 78.4 Bn loan for Kenya to fight Covid-19. IMF deputy managing director Tao Zhang said:

Emergency financing under the Rapid Credit Facility (RCF) will deliver liquidity support to help Kenya cover its balance of payments gap this year

Being a Rapid Credit Facility (RCF) The terms are quite favourable:

Financing under the RCF carries a zero interest rate, has a grace period of five and a half years, and a final maturity of 10 years, according to the IMF concessional lending terms

Knowing the pilferage that is the lasting legacy of the Jubilee government, I am not holding my breath that this money will be put to good use.

We can expect the government to devise all manner of ways to loot. Soon we will hear claims that the government is taking care of 15,000 people in quarantine at a cost of Ksh 5000 per person per day. For a 14-day quarantine window, that is Ksh 1.05Bn meaning Ksh 2.1Bn per month.

The bigger pandemic

The Ministry of Health in Kenya has released a breakdown of how it spent Ksh 1 Bn ( USD 1Mn). It makes for interesting reading.

  • Ksh 610 Mn to Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI) for procurement of laboratory equipment and kits: This funding is sorely needed but it comes at a time of uncertainty. Last week’s demotion of Dr Joel Lutomiah, the lead scientist in charge of Covid-19 research did not help. It was reported that he was demoted based on instructions from Minister Mutahi Kagwe because “he delayed the announcement of daily testing results”. That reason had a strong whiff of cow dung. His colleagues claimed that he was fired because he has stood firm in demanding funding so that his team can carry out their tasks properly. Specifically, his colleagues said Dr Lutomiah was in trouble largely because he championed the rights of the institution’s workers in regards to protective gear. Was this funding released before or after? It is not uncommon in Kenya for a principled person to be removed from his post so that he can be replaced with more pliable person, in preparation for looting in future.
  • Ksh 70 Mn for advertising: Without revealing the length of the advertising contracts signed, this does not tell us much. However, one wonders if the government did pursue the option of asking media houses to donate slots for mass outreach. Knowing Kenyan government, that would not be the preferable option.
  • Ksh 42 Mn to lease  15 ambulances: It starts looking murky at this point. That is Ksh 2.8 Mn per ambulance. One certainly hopes this is a lease with a good term. Actually, one dare not hope that.
  • Ksh14.4 Mn to maintain and fuel 30 vehicles: Even murkier. This has traditionally been an area of wastage of public funds.
  •  KSh13.5 Mn to accommodate 30 health care workers over a period of three months: More murk. That is Ksh 150,000 per worker per month. Government already has facilities that could be used for this purpose at a fraction of the cost.
  • Ksh11.8 Mn to set up call centres: These call centres have a history of not attending to calls and when they attend calls, information given is questionable at best. Fully working with telecom companies to host this service would have worked just fine. The additional cost in space and headcount would probably have been reasonable in the long term and telcos which are donating cash (that is used in dubious ways) would rather donate in kind. Again, one can guess that option would not be first on the list for the Kenya government because itchy fingers would not have a place to be dipped in.
  • Ksh 9 Mn printing of quarantine and travellers’ forms and discharge forms: This is pure wastage and even on the rough number of the quarantined people, something funny has happened here. Cabinet Secretary should answer.
  • Ksh 6.5 Mn for stationery: Yet more wastage and deforestation
  • Ksh 4 Mn for tea and snacks: It is our time to snack. That is a lot of tea, scones and mandazi for one month. It is just shameful.
  • Ksh 2 Mn for prepaid phones airtime: I find it hard to believe that Safaricom and Airtel could not have provided a special tariff (Closed User Group) for the government employees involved in Covid-19 program. Then again, that is not how our government reasons.

Kenya has the Covid-19 pandemic but the bigger pandemic is wastage of public funds. The only thing our public never wastes is a chance to loot. More than anything else, that is what will kill Kenyans. If and when we finally hire a new Auditor General, a review of Covid-19 funds management will confirm what Kenyans always expected: the leaders have no iota of shame and a global pandemic is a welcome opportunity for them to fleece the country.

Full Steam Ahead Inhalation as Tanzania Fights Covid-19

On 22nd April, Tanzanian President John Magufuli surfaced from his home in Chato, Geita region to provide some direction on the country’s fight against Covid-19. He has been holed up at Chato since 28th March as Covid-19 infections started rising in East Africa.

His address, live-streamed on Tanzania Broadcasting Corporation (TBC), was bizarre. To start with, the heavy presence of heads of security organs was curious, given that this is a matter that falls mostly in the domain of the Ministry of Health. This did not escape the notice of opposition stalwart, Tundu Lissu who reminded the president in an exasperated tweet:

Your Excellency, President Magufuli, The war against Corona cannot be fought using the police, intelligence service and other covert agents. This fight is won by following the advice of experts. Restrict mass gatherings. Perform screening. Acknowledge the reality of the problem. Come out of your hideout in Chato. Lead the country!!!

From the outset, it was clear Magufuli is concerned that the statistics are being communicated in a way that does not reassure Tanzanians.

We also need to say the truth about recoveries. In the statistics shared, of 284 infections according to the prime minister, 100 have already recovered. We need to avoid panic in the citizenry. As far as I know, only 10 people have died. Not everybody who is infected with Corona virus dies.

It says a lot about Magufuli’s leadership style that he did not address that with his people, away from the cameras, right from the start of the Covid-19 crisis. Tanzania recorded its first case of Covid-19 on 16th March. Did it take Magufuli over a month to recognise that something was off with the way the statistics were being reported or is his new-found diligence triggered by the (credible) perception that the situation is steadily deteriorating? Perhaps it is not such a coincidence that the president showed up not long after Minister of Health, Ummy Mwalimu, announced 84 new cases in one day.

If the number of recoveries is accurate, that is encouraging and it needs to be reported. Still, the president misses the point by a mile. It is well known that not all infections lead to death. However, it can reasonably be expected that more infections, in a country that is not well equipped to deal with the pandemic, will logically translate into more deaths. It is a simple matter of proportions and that is the reason his East African neighbours are putting in place various measures to avoid the spread of infection.

If anything, 10 deaths are 10 too many. There are 10 families that have lost their loved ones and the president has a duty to protect all Tanzanian lives. One would imagine that the president and his government would be demonstrating all they are doing to ensure not a single additional death occurs, as opposed to downplaying the issue purely on statistics.

The president is very sensitive about any type of reporting that shows him in less than positive light. In 2016, he fired the Director General of the National Institute for  Medical Research (NIMR), Dr Mwelecele Malecela. Her offence – making public findings that showed the Ziqa virus was present in Tanzania. Three years later, Magufuli laid bare what transpired and the manner in which he handled the matter.

I didn’t want to delay. I fired that person at around 1AM…shortly thereafter, they gave her a job as a boss. They had sent her to announce we have the disease so that tourists would not come to our country…it’s a trick used by imperialists.

Dr Malecela has a stellar CV spanning over 30 years and had been in charge of research in Lymphatic filariasis, a debilitating condition that affects a number of areas in Tanzania. She is now Director of the Department of Control of Neglected Tropical Diseases at WHO. It did not cross the president’s mind that an official of such caliber would have certain professional and ethical obligations to disclose a matter of such magnitude. It is a crass policy of shoot the messenger unless the messenger has a message that makes the president look good.

In times such as these, it is all too easy to blame outsiders – a tactic the president is not shy to use. If it is not imperialists implanting Directors of research to publish findings that scare away tourists, then blaming the jealous neighbours will do. Magufuli believes that the panic about Covid-19 is being fuelled through social media and he also suspects the culprits are in neighbouring countries.

I have discovered that some of the people spreading panic on social media are not even Tanzanians. They are based in neighbouring countries. They are just messing up the Tanzanians…they are creating panic for their own selfish intentions.

He moved on to the quarantine processes and if there was one section of the address that showed that Magufuli is out of his depth, it is his remarks regarding isolation of people suspected to have been exposed to Covid-19.

On the issue of people quarantined in hostels, we need to reevaluate. There is no reason to isolate a person for 14 or 20 days when you can see he is OK. It does not make sense keeping the person in quarantine yet you know chances are that when he is finally released, he might just continue interacting with other infected people out there. Let such a person go. Instead focus on the ones who are sick…we are wasting our resources.

By that statement, Magufuli shows he has not grasped the essence of quarantine and thinks a person appearing OK is a green light of sorts. It is bewildering that he did not define what counts as OK. The concept of incubation period of the virus is essentially not in the president’s mind.

Secondly, if his argument is that the released persons will anyway interact with other infected people, that effectively amounts to an admission that his government has not got a handle on this, and is not willing to invest effort in changing that. If that charade is the approach to quarantining individuals, then it makes sense to just do away with the pretence and close quarantine centres. The president is anyway worried about wasting resources. By his logic, he will then have more than enough resources to deal with perceptibly sick cases if quarantine facilities are closed.

The economy is never far from Magufuli’s mind as he has built his whole reputation on “unparalleled” economic growth. Perhaps that is what has blinded him to the human cost and causes him to wince when resources are used for the welfare of the people. This address also presented an opportunity for him to contradict himself. While he has been painting Covid-19 as a needless panic, manageable through prayers, now he admits he needs help.

Let me also address international financial institutions. This disease has affected the whole world. It has also affected Africa. I would like to advise you and also to make a request to the likes of World Bank. Instead of lending us money to deal with the disease, cancel our debts so that we can redirect the amounts that were set aside for repayments to the fight against Corona virus.

For example, here in Tanzania, our loan repayments are TZS 700 Bn per month and of this, about TZS 200-300 Bn goes to World Bank….now would be a good time for the World Bank to provide cancel repayments, even if just by a certain percentage…This will be a good gesture towards poor countries.

Magufuli has previously insisted that Tanzania is not poor. Barely a year ago, in this clip for example, he says that he has commissioned over 352 health centres all financed from internal revenue sources. He promises the audience that during his presidency, Tanzania would be known as a rich country and would in fact be in a position to be a lender to other countries. He further says the notion that Tanzania needs assistance should be discarded because begging is a major disease and the country has borrowed too much since independence. Now we see him begging for a good gesture towards his poor country.

The president’s thin skin would not let him ignore the criticism on social media that has escalated over the past few days. He circled back to the matter, giving an indication of how much the criticism is rankling him.

I am calling on security organs. IGP [Inspector General of Police], you are here. Deal with [those who are misusing social media] by working with TCRA[Tanzania Communications Regulatory Authority] and other security intelligence services

As is his nature, he failed to understand that one cannot fully deal with perceived disinformation by deploying security organs. The flak he has been receiving was naturally triggered by a combination of his noticeable absence at the helm, a sore lack of preventative measures in the face of the pandemic topped off by a weak and uncoordinated communication strategy.

Tanzanians have been treated to a circus where health experts, the Minister of Health and the Regional Commissioner of Dar es Salaam, for example, have been talking at cross purposes. The people are also aware of measures being undertaken in neighbouring countries to stem the spread of the virus. Yet they do not see similar efforts on the part of their leadership. To assume that arresting the people behind the voices which are calling out this state of affairs would deal with the problem go away is naive.

The time for solutions was nigh. Magufuli called on Tanzanians to use traditional methods, for example steam therapy.

I am calling on the Ministry of Health to emphasise steam therapy because it is scientifically clear. The water vapour is at a temperature higher than 100 degrees centigrade. Since the virus is fat-based, it will melt. All the viruses in the nose and mouth will be melt.

Steam therapy is carried out in many African households. For example if one has a cold or flu, some eucalyptus leaves, mint plants and lemon will be boiled in a pot. The person huddles over the pot and covers himself with a blanket so that the steam does not escape. This is simply a makeshift sauna and the inhaled steam helps to alleviate symptoms by clearing the air pathways. The effect is largely palliative and buys time as the body fights the infection.

There is no way the person is inhaling steam at 100 degrees centigrade – that would simply result in serious injury or death. There is a temperature gradient between the release of the steam from the pot and the time the person inhales it. Logically, the inhaled steam will not be at the same temperature as boiled water. While some relief is provided, that is not necessarily evidence of “melting viruses”.

Morever, as to whether this works just as well for Covid-19 symptoms, it is unclear which research the president was using to back his assertions. He would need to establish the temperature at which the virus melts and the steam inhaled would need to be at that temperature – and safely so. In any case, this would only work if the virus is contained wholly in the areas that will be reached by the steam. This is quite a stretch. The president is given to flying by the seat of his pants but he would do well to draw the line on public health during a pandemic.

In fact, claims that steam therapy can cure Covid-19 appear to be wholly unsubstantiated. This fact-check article, which examined claims of healing corona by steam therapy, quotes the American Burn Association and the US CDC. It concludes:

These posts claim that inhalation of steam from boiling water, sometimes with various infused ingredients, will kill the coronavirus. This is false. While it may help ease symptoms like congestion, steam inhalation also carries the risks of burns.

As a man of science (PhD in Chemistry), it is possible Magufuli disagrees with the conclusions above, as is his right. The appropriate thing to do would be to draw lessons from reputable research to counter the prevailing view on steam therapy before offering it as a safe remedy to his people in the midst of a global crisis. Certainly it would save the world a lot of money if we could all turn to steam therapy and vanquish Covid-19. There would be little (or much reduced) need for vaccine trials.

Hopes of anybody correcting the president’s pedestrian approach to public health medicine are dim. The shrinking democratic space in Tanzania is not helping and fear pervades all spheres of the society. Since Magufuli took over in 2015, intellectuals have been cowed and some are falling over themselves in order to be seen to agree with Magufuli. A surprising supporter of Magufuli’s steam therapy doctrine is Anna Tibaijuka.

Tibaijuka holds Doctorate of Science in Agricultural Economics from the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences in Uppsala. She is a former under-secretary-general of the UN and also held the position of Executive Director of the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-HABITAT) until 2010.

Between 2010 and 2014, she was an MP and also served as Minister of Lands, Housing and Human Settlements Developments. That she is highly accomplished is not in doubt. Her education and experience aside, Tibaijuka enthusiastically agrees with Magufuli and praises him effusively.

In this matter, the president has truly done something very good and I think he has reiterated our views. Now that he has spoken, people now know about the matter. With regard to steam therapy, it is possible for some people to get hurt but that would only result from failure to standardise steam therapy practices….steam therapy is scientific and was used mostly for the children and the elderly…if there are people ridiculing this, I would like to assure them that this is high school chemistry. The practice of our traditional medicine is not sorcery or witchcraft. It is science.

If truly science is a systematic enterprise that builds and organizes knowledge in the form of testable explanations and predictions about the universe, then Tibaijuka has loosened that definition somewhat specifically with regard to the element of steam therapy in curing Covid-19 or alleviating its symptoms. How does Tibaijuka expect people to “standardise” steam therapy? It seems she has confused hallway banter with high school chemistry. Tibaijuka would definitely know that even the science community allied to her former employer also does not view steam therapy as the cure. Stamping it with the label of “African heritage” does not make it more effective.

Neither the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) nor the World Health Organization (WHO) suggest steam therapy with any ingredient as a cure for the coronavirus.

As if that is not enough, Tibaijuka took time to demonstrate how to use the various herbs, including some that need be stuffed into the nose. 

This should not surprise us much. Even in Magufuli’s cabinet, at various points , there have been ministers who are eminently qualified but  completely unable to rein in the boss’ madness. Since 2015, the Tanzania cabinet has been one of the most erudite in the East Africa region. Magufuli has enlisted distinguished academics who hold PhDs in Law, Psychology, Geology, Economics, International Relations, Forestry and Marine Engineering. At one point, there were 8 PhD holders in a cabinet of 19 ministers. The president’s leadership skills have not been able to bring out the best in these people or he has simply hired weaklings who cannot stand up to him and guide his agenda.

Suffice it to say that on Covid-19, Magufuli’s claims are long on unfounded hopes but short on testable explanations and predictions. As such the whole matter seems to be about believing the president simply because he knows best. He has made wild claims. They have not been tested and people who should call him out on this do not have the courage to do so.

It should not surprise many that Magufuli is given to cultic healing practices.

Barely ten years ago, hordes of people started visiting Ambilikile Mwasapile, better known as Babu wa Loliondo. Mwasapile, a retired pastor, is a medicine man who rose to fame by offering people mugariga. This was a concoction of herbs served in a cup, costing TZS 500 (equivalent to 21 US cents) that was rumoured to cure AIDS among other ailments. Mwasapile described how he started the practice of traditional medicine thus:

God appeared to me in a dream and told me people were dying of AIDS. He told me he would give me medicine which would treat AIDS. Then he showed me a tree. I was very surprised that God shared this with me. The white men had pursued a cure for this disease for so long, to the point of despair. I wondered how this tree would cure the disease.

I did not do anything for the moment. I waited until 2009. God appeared to me again and told me the time was ripe for me to begin the work he had assigned me.

Complying with God’s instructions, Mwasapile began his medicinal practice and people traveled from far and wide to partake of the miracle cure that was billed to be the silver bullet for all types of ailments.

Among prominent people who visited Babu wa Loliondo is John Magufuli and Babu wa Loliondo proudly shows journalists a picture of Magufuli drinking the miracle cure.

At the time, Magufuli was Minister of Livestock and Fisheries Development. He took time off his busy schedule to join the masses flocking for a cure. Outside, queues formed for kilometres and the sick were waiting by the roadside for days.

Before Tanzania put a stop to the sojourns for miracle cure, it was recorded that 52 people died as they waited for the cure – no doubt the tribulations of their journeys to Loliondo were too much. At one point, there were 4,000 vehicles snaking their way up to Mwasapile’s homestead and an estimated 24,000 people were in the queue for the miracle cure. Some died on the queue, waiting for a taste of mugariga, so near, yet so far.

However, these pilgrimages resulted in riches for Mwasapile. When Citizen TV visited him in 2019, his homestead had received a complete transformation: “from the mud and wattle single room house that used to be his house to a newly constructed three-bedroom self-contained bungalow. Parked in the compound is a truck and a four-wheel-drive land cruiser…”

It is unclear for what ailment Magufuli was seeking mugariga but it seems his belief in alternative medicine is unwavering.

Back to the president’s address, in delivering his final instructions, it was clear the prominent role the president has given to security teams at the expense of objective measures grounded in principles of managing a pandemic.

To my heads of defence and security, as I spoke to you and in accordance with the briefings you gave me, I am happy with the steps you are taking. You have informed me that you are treating Corona as a battle. Go and fight it so that you can save Tanzanian souls. Let us use all might and expertise so that no external enemy can ever use Corona as an entry point.

The Ministry of Health came second and essentially, Magufuli sees the role of this ministry as purely public relations.

Ministry of Health, continue driving cooperation. Continue educating the people. I have made a few organisation changes in the ministry in order to improve response and this will be fruitful.

As the president, Magufuli holds a position that makes people (want to) believe him. In a matter of life and death, he has chosen to be absent for 3 critical weeks, leaving his government rudderless. When he finally shows up, he offers solutions that are dodgy at best and potentially dangerous. He uses the same event to show where his focus is – using State apparatus to crush those who dare to hold him to account.

As if Covid-19 is not enough threat for Tanzania, the country has to deal with a pandemic whilst under the yoke of an incredibly shaky leadership. It is Magufuli’s private right to experiment with mugariga and steam therapy in his free time. Tanzanians however need to draw a line when his experimental approach sneaks into the policy for dealing with a pandemic that has so far claimed over 200,000 people worldwide. For now, if he does not abandon his (un)stable genius tactics, he remains a clear and present danger to himself, his country and the East Africa region. In the final analysis, this region can ill afford a black Donald Trump.

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.

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.

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.

Kenyans Facing Tough Times in China

The Daily Nation newspaper reports that Kenyans are among Africans facing difficulties in China.

As China eases limits on the movement of people, a dark side is emerging from its numerous cities, where residents of African descent have been kicked out of apartments on accusations of spreading the virus.

When the Wuhan lockdown happened, the Kenyan government took little action to help the Kenyans who were affected. Even at this point, as the suffering continues, we see less and less concern from the government.

This website reports that the Ambassador is even requesting to be removed from the WhatsApp group that Kenyans have been using to share their frustrations.

Ambassador Sarah Serem has requested me to remove her, but I have been informing her about the needs spelt out in this group. If she offers any assistance, I will communicate promptly

There is a reason Kenyans travel to foreign lands. They seek a better life, better education, more business opportunities – things that are hard to come by. Some of them form run a vital supply chain delivering goods to Kenya. To abandon the same Kenyans at their time of need is needlessly callous.

However, it is precisely what we have come to expect from the Kenyan government.