President Uhuru Kenyatta issued the second public order of 2021 on Friday, March 26th imposing new restrictions in the wake of the third wave of Covid-19 that is currently ravaging the country. In his fifteenth address on the Coronavirus pandemic, the President ordered a lockdown on five counties; Nairobi, Kiambu, Machakos, Kajiado and Nakuru which he termed as the ‘zoned area’ that have attributed to 70% of the positive cases reported in the country.
He further adjusted the curfew hours for the zoned area to now begin at 8pm while the rest of the country still operates with the 10pm curfew. To manage the rising cases of Covid-19 in the country, the president also directed that food establishments operate on take-away basis, banned gatherings and traveling in and out of the zoned area.
Coincidentally, his directives come exactly one year since his first address on the pandemic. The country at the time had to adjust to a 7pm nationwide curfew, wearing of face masks and hand-washing upon entry into establishments. In the process of adjusting to this new way of life, human rights violations were reported as police used brute force in enforcing these new rules. On reflecting on the last 12 months of the country’s fight against Covid-19, one is left wondering whether we have made progress in restoring normalcy in the country or in fact, took many steps back.
During his first address, the President not only issued safety protocols to be observed by Kenyans but also gave tax reliefs to cushion economically vulnerable Kenyans. This move was much welcome as thousands of Kenyans had been reported to have lost their source of income following the restrictions imposed locally and globally. The tax reliefs would later be reversed by Parliament that cited the need to cater to the revenue shortfalls. Tax reliefs were, however, not provided this time around with many Kenyans online, particularly those in the zoned area, expressing concerns over their ability to put food on the table following the new restrictions.
Unlike last year when the state’s priority was acquiring PPEs for healthcare workers, the state is presently mainly focused on acquiring vaccine doses for its population. Both instances have brought to the fore matters of allocation of funds, procurement of the items and oversight of the spending. In the midst of the fight against the pandemic this past year, a scandal brewed as Kemsa, the agency tasked with acquiring medical supplies, could not account for Sh 43 billion. The reality for the country is that the fight isn’t just against the pandemic but also the corruption that is threatening the wellbeing and lives of Kenyans.
Several Parliamentary committee investigations later and not one person has been charged for the looting that took place in the midst of a pandemic. The concerns raised by whistleblowers within the media and civil society remain valid as the country sets out to procure more vaccine doses for Wanjiku. Will the government guarantee transparency and accountability this time around?
Parliament proposed the altering of the calendar for their sittings to reduce the risk posed by the third wave of Covid-19. Coincidentally the legislature also went on recess a time like this last year causing legislators to receive a lot of criticism. But with the incorporation of virtual sittings for both plenary and committee, it would be safe to assume that Parliamentary business will carry on effectively. Once again, attention will shift to the August House to see whether Wanjiku’s representatives will propose any cushioning measures and carry out their oversight mandate as the country actively undertakes vaccination for Covid-19.
While a post-Covid future currently remains bleak, it would be key for leaders to reflect on the past year and pick lessons to have better informed decisions even as the country works towards a recovery plan.