Quick and Practical Interventions Needed to Protect the Future of Our Children

Posted by on 15th May 2020

Categories: Uncategorised

Coronavirus is slowly proving to be the factory reset button that systems have needed for a while. There are two sides of this crisis’ coin; the apparent bleak reality and the potential awakening of people who now know to demand better. It has taken only 7 months since the confirmation of the first Covid-19 case in China for nations to realize that the systems they have had in place are not fully efficient and undoubtedly not capable of adapting to change.

Two months into the pandemic, Kenya is already dealing with a crumbling economy, a hunger crisis, a health crisis and now an education crisis. The latter especially risks being overlooked as the government struggles to ensure that her people do not die of COVID and non-COVID related illness or starve to death as they’re confined in their homes.

The problem with not addressing the challenges ailing the education system with urgency is that we might be looking at long-lasting effects of COVID19 on the education of Kenyan students. Press briefings by the Ministry of Health continue to share rising numbers of infected cases in the country proving that this crisis will be here for a while longer than we anticipated.

This uncertainty, therefore, means that the reopening of schools still hangs in the balance and therefore e-learning is the route to go in order for students to stay on track with the syllabus. The problem with this, as is with almost every other public system currently, is that the country was ill-prepared and is now playing catch up. The Cabinet Secretary for Education, Prof. George Magoha admitted that not every student is able to access virtual learning when he appeared before the National Assembly Committee on Education and Research.

“When schools open, the syllabus will start from where it stopped, therefore those who did not have the benefit of e-learning will catch up. The process will be all-inclusive,” he said.

This approach will only widen the gap between economically advantaged and economically disadvantaged students. In addition to this, CS Magoha has stated severally that the Ministry would not cancel the national examinations scheduled to happen at the end of the year. As it were, the KCPE and KCSE exams have been critiqued as being an inaccurate assessment of students since the nature of the exams do not factor in the various socio-economic challenges that students from different social backgrounds face. Throwing in the inaccessibility to e-learning into that mix simply makes education a luxury.

The government is placing undue pressure on economically disadvantaged students and their parents. It, therefore, calls on the Ministry to adapt to change that would benefit many if not all as opposed to only those with the privilege to thrive under the current circumstances.

With this in mind it might then be necessary to amend the Basic Education Act, 2013 as it was proposed by the Kenya Private Schools Association (KPSA) when they made their submissions to the Senate Ad-hoc Committee on the COVID19 situation in the country.

Section 28 (1) of the Act states, “The Cabinet Secretary shall implement the right of every child to free and compulsory basic education.” The prevailing circumstances do not mean that this right is waived. The onus is on the government to develop inclusive and practical strategies to carry on with education even us the country fights coronavirus. It is high time to include virtual learning in the definition of schools under this law.

A quote by renowned Japanese Author, Kakuzo Okakaura reads, “the art of life is a constant readjustment to our surroundings.” Our surroundings are far from normal and being rigid to change will truly be an easy route to our downfall. The government should indeed put the best brains to good use to achieve a balance.

Kenyans on the other must now know the importance of holding leadership to account. It is remembered that one of the ambitious goals spelt out in the Jubilee manifesto when President Uhuru Kenyatta and his Deputy William Ruto ran for office the first time was the provision of laptops to all class one students in the country. This, of course, rubbed off the wrong way with a good section of Kenyans who termed it as misplaced priorities. In hindsight, this might have been a smart move that would protect the education system from any sudden changes like COVID19.

Had the government implemented this project we would have seen technological advancements across the nation. The ripple effect would have been the installation of masts for connectivity, private-public agreements and partnerships between the government and e-learning gadget manufacturers and internet service providers and ultimately the digitization of the syllabus for seamless remote-learning countrywide.

The problem with kicking the can down the road is that sometimes you do it so hard that it goes beyond your line of sight. This is the case for Kenya now as e-learning today remains a far-fetched dream. The government now must work to make true their promises to avoid compromising the futures of our children.

Create Room for Soundness in The Fight Against Covid-19 to Avoid Flip Side Effects

Posted by on 5th May 2020

Categories: Uncategorised

As the government seeks to mash up efforts to flatten the curve on the spread of the coronavirus, it is becoming unclear whether these efforts are working for or against this goal. The directives issued by the government to protect the health and lives of Kenyans appear to achieve less than intended in the grand spectrum of things. From the onset, the tone that the government has used while addressing and updating the country on the status of the virus in the country has birthed fear and fueled the stigma surrounding this virus.

In recent weeks, citizens have come to experience the flip side of the seemingly rash decisions made by the government. To this extent, the public has been reacting casually to the directives. Where an individual chooses to adhere to the directives issued by the Ministry of Health not to protect themselves but to avoid risking arrest and mandatory quarantine. Also witnessed is the reluctance by residents in hot spot areas to participate in the free testing of the virus. The poor coordination of efforts between the government and citizens given the unprecedented times the country is in are all a recipe for disaster. When we actualize the mass testing initiative, the reality of the figures might slap us in the face and the gravity of the situation might be too difficult to begin to process.

To successfully and efficiently walk the talk, the government needs to rethink their approach and start making sound directives that put the citizen’s interest at the core and regain public trust. Guidelines can’t yield much without a clear pipeline on how to implement them.

Meanwhile, as we race against the clock to contain the virus, positive cases are increasing significantly. The hope that we can flatten the curve is far from reality according to the health concerns highlighted in the third report of the Senate Ad-hoc committee on the Covid-19 situation in Kenya. The report paints a picture of a health system that was already overwhelmed even before the virus. Kenya currently has only 297 ventilators and only 90 of these are available at public health facilities. The report further notes that in addition to the lack of adequate ICU facilities and ventilators, a shortage of oxygen and basic oxygen equipment in the counties further threatens Kenya’s ability to care for and manage COVID-19 patients who may develop mild to moderate symptoms. Thus, from the report, our only way out is to intensify containment measures and at least delay the spread of the virus even before the curve is flattened.

The government, therefore, needs to swiftly seek alternative ways of responding to the pandemic in an effective manner, without costing lives and causing untold suffering in the process. An evaluation protocol would be essential in measuring the effectiveness of the directives issued so far before rolling out any new measures. That coupled with the government’s ability to be agile might, in fact, give the country a chance to combat this pandemic.

There has been a growing need for good governance and public accountability by the public. A lot of donations, in cash and kind, have been made to enrich the government’s effort in beating the pandemic. This, therefore, means that transparency needs to guide the distribution of these resources to ensure that they’re optimized to the benefit of the citizenry and economy. Indeed, it would be really unfortunate if a scandal was borne out of this crisis.

Beyond transparency and accountability, the government has to be very intentional in having open and two-way dialogue with citizens. The government having monopoly on information and the ability to communicate works to no one’s advantage. Citizen engagement is important to not only beat the virus but to avoid being blindsided by other emerging challenges such as flooding, drought, seasonal illnesses and crime. A top-down and bottom-up network of interactions between the government and citizens will reduce the instances of resistances because citizens like the government become more aware of the impacts of their decisions. Such communication will foster coordination and, in the end, reduce fear and stigma.

In addition to this, government directives need to be systematic and sound. Just like the reopening of restaurants at a time when mass testing has not been up to scale the government needs to take the lead in terms of responsibility and address the gaps in its directives to avoid any further resistance or flipside effects. Due to the complexity and dynamic nature of communities, there is no room for blanket decisions. Tailor-making directives make it easier to identify strengths, weaknesses, threats and opportunities in the national government and the 47 county governments to ensure that all bases are covered. Failure to do this would then make universal health coverage, cushioning the vulnerable and targeted mass testing a farfetched dream that can only be theorized but not actualized.

At the end of the day, there are many obstacles to a coordinated approach that need to be addressed in order to plan for, absorb, recover from, and more successfully adapt to the effects of this invisible enemy.

Kenya’s Youth Most Vulnerable to Covid-19 Shocks

Posted by on 27th April 2020

Categories: Uncategorised

(Guest Blog)

By Benjamin Sulle – Programs Officer, KYPA

As the global shocks of Covid-19 become apparent for nations, the most vulnerable sections of populations are succumbing to the virus. The implications of the virus have seen the closure of non-essential businesses, lockdowns, curfews, declarations of a state of emergency, among other calls for behaviour change in order to curb the spread of the virus. In the global west, the aged populations have borne the brunt of the novel Corona Virus, with thousands dying weekly. In fact, as the virus spread throughout Europe, there was an initial belief that the youth were immune. When young people, including infants caught the virus, experts and non-experts alike thought that perhaps the virus was spreading only in the temperate climate of the global west and that Africans within the tropics would be spared. However, the lack of clear responses by Governments to the pandemic exposed the soft underbelly of public health systems in Africa and soon cases appeared throughout the continent with relative ubiquity. Governments called for the closure of their borders and cessation of movement amongst other measures to curb the spread. These measures, although meant to ensure public health and safety, have resulted in job closures, loss of income, and disruption of livelihoods for many, who were already struggling to make ends meet.

In Kenya, this disruption has mostly affected the youth, whose work in the informal sector runs the economy. The demographic that was already struggling with the lack of employment opportunities is now compelled to stay at home with no alternative for income-generation. The agriculture and the service industries in Kenya, which employ the greatest number of young people, either directly or indirectly through their supply chains, are the most affected by the pandemic. Although the youth may not be the farmers in the fields due to other factors, such as land tenure systems, climate change, and the perception that farming is for those who have not been successful elsewhere, they are still the biggest players within the supply chain. Whereas farming and supply of food continue, given that they are regarded as one of the essential services, the various sectors within the supply chain that the youth play a part in are affected by the pandemic.

According to research by the Africa Development Bank, the service sector is the second highest employer of youth. And it is perhaps the hardest hit. From transport, which has since been limited to cargo, food, cleaning, and solid waste management, which employs urban youth in the informal sector, the losses and livelihood disruptions have been massive. The closure of hotels and bars means that young people who worked in the sector have to find alternative sources of income. Many employers in this sector have had to send their employees on unpaid leave or altogether terminate their contracts until such a time that normalcy shall resume.

One sector that is thought to be the elixir of youth unemployment is ICT. The President even moved the youth from the Ministry of Public Service and Gender Affairs to the Ministry of ICT and Innovation. The specific sectors within ICT that employ youth are Business Process Outsourcing; development of mobile applications and related software; and blogging and internet design. However, under Covid-19, the ICT sector has gotten mixed fortunes. On the one hand, opportunities have been created since most services have now moved online to mitigate the risk of spreading the virus such as education, banking services, as well as trade. On the other hand, demand for digital content, software solutions, and freelancing has been on the decline. Consumers have shifted focus to more essential goods and services such as food and reliable news.  There have been calls by the government for diversification of skills as well as upskilling during this time for young people in the sector. The Cabinet Secretary for ICT, Innovation and Youth Affairs has even appointed a COVID-19 ICT Advisory Committee whose terms of reference include developing and implementing a framework for identifying, supporting and scaling local ICT solutions that can support the country in its efforts to combat the Covid-19 pandemic effects to establishing an enabling environment that will stimulate economic development through ICTs. Curiously, only one person in the advisory committee is a youth, in a sector that undeniably has many young people with exemplary expertise and knowledge.

The President also set up a raft of tax measures to cushion the youth from the effects of the pandemic. Notably was the 100% pay-as-you-earn tax relief for employees earning less than Ksh. 28,000 per month. While this is welcome, questions have been raised over the 100% tax relief as it targets only those in formal employment, leaving out majority of the youth who work in the informal sector. The Central Bank of Kenya also ordered the delisting of Kenyans, who have defaulted their loans with less than Sh1,000 from Credit Reference Bureau (CRB). This might provide many previously listed young Kenyans with the opportunity to borrow from moneylenders during this time when sources of income are limited.

Young Parliamentarians may also introduce pandemic-specific legislation to help cushion young Kenyans from Covid-19. At the moment, there is only one Bill by the Senate Ad-hoc Committee on Covid-19 which seeks to among other things, provide for the establishment of a Pandemic Fund whenever a declaration of a pandemic is made. The Fund would serve as a mechanism for ensuring that there are adequate resources geared towards containing the spread and mitigating against the impact of a pandemic. The Bill also introduces socio-economic protective measures such as tax incentives, revision of contractual obligations during a pandemic, as well as labour relations to ensure the protection of the employee. Although criticised as highly ambitious, this Bill, which seeks to respond to not only the Covid-19 pandemic but also other pandemics in the future, is a good start to the possible ways in which young parliamentarians may intervene so as to help young people.

Further, youth participation in the political and governance process has been consistently low, which increases feelings of disgruntlement. The youth should be given means to air their views on the Bill and provide real and meaningful solutions to the problems that they face. Exclusion of the youth voice in the creation of laws and policies to contain the spread and effects of the coronavirus will only lead to disproportionate measures that will ultimately disadvantage the youth.

Intolerance to Bad Governance: Our Only Way Out of this Pandemic

Posted by on 20th April 2020

Categories: Uncategorised

The Government of Kenya is gradually moving away from imposing new containment measures to implementing those already in place. These measures have been serving as circuit breakers to fight the virus spread among communities. The measures include quarantine, travel bans and restrictions, closure of schools, cancellation of public events, closure of public places and lastly the dusk to dawn curfew. Focus is shifting to offering support to citizens whose day to day lives have been interrupted by the impact of stay-at-home orders or social distancing measures, even as the government tries to contain the virus.

Exactly a month and a few days since the first case of Covid-19 was announced in the country the focus of the President has also begun to shift to stimulus policies to provide economic cushioning especially for the most vulnerable in the society. In his speech last week President Kenyatta stated plans by the national government to provide aid to needy Kenyans. This includes the identification of needy households in Nairobi that will be the first recipients of the weekly Covid-19 stipend. In addition, the government released Sh 8.5 billion to the elderly and vulnerable individuals under the Cash Transfer programme ran by the Ministry of Labour. The international community, on the other hand, has been generous in filling the financial gaps present by offering support to ensure that African countries like Kenya are able to respond effectively to the health crisis and address economic challenges.

Health, fiscal and monetary policies coupled with foreign donations have increasingly been seen as a key tool for combating the virus. As these policies expand and donations increase, a number of structural, implementation and oversight gaps have begun to dominate the policy debate, including the viability, measurability of the impact of the programs, the mechanism of delivering the cash transfers, accountability in foreign aid and expansion of the scope beyond Covid-19. These debates are fueled by the demand to ensure that affected citizens access the services offered and draw optimal benefits from the social protection programs.

Drawing from a history of mass looting of public resources Kenyans are displaying deep scepticism over the handling of this fund. Questions arising on the accountability of the fund and the fairness of the criteria to be used to distribute it among Kenyans need to be addressed quickly lest another scandal brews right under our nose.

Whereas when addressing emergencies post-haste, the need for ensuring compliance and oversight is often superseded, an important tool for accountability and transparency at this time is having a clear information management system or registry for aid flow from the government to the citizen. The data should also be available to the public for scrutiny, citizens can participate in governance and leaders become accountable for the resources at hand.

Equally important, is the coordination of resources and efforts. Collaboration with civil society groups, citizens, private/ international partners can consolidate efforts by the government when it comes to offering solutions and innovations to counter hurdles in implementation, delivery or supply chains during this pandemic. However, the willingness for private partners or corporates, individuals and CSO to work with the government is anchored on the government’s ability to demonstrate initiative for transparency and accountability.

There also exists a high demand for national and county coordination to enhance the capacity of both levels of government to deliver services. The local government can enhance the procurement and allocation of resources from the national government. Publication of calls for tenders and timely reports on spending through local media such as newspapers and radio will improve openness.

Opportunities for poor governance laid down by disasters and outbreaks such as these are founded on the exploitation of fear and a sense of urgency. But even in the wake of all these what should worry us is that our systems are really weak and any form of aid or support should not slip into individuals’ pockets but serve each one equally. Intolerance to such practices serves a vital role in initiating the fight for good governance especially with a lot of money and resources lying around for humanitarian purposes. It also determines the viability of programmes and policies initiated by the government, to face future pandemics.

Chasing Clout in This Crisis is Morally Wrong

Posted by on 15th April 2020

Categories: Uncategorised

Tenda wema nenda zako. A popular Swahili phrase that loosely translates to Do good and go your way, is one that is proving to be relevant during this Covid-19 crisis. The prevailing circumstances, that is the reality of the coronavirus in Kenya and consequently the harsh measures being put in place to fight it, have drastically shifted the mwananchi’s lifestyle. Many Kenyans have found themselves in a position where they lack basic needs for various reasons be it the loss of employment or loss of business revenue. This, therefore, puts the common mwananchi in an awkward position where they’re at the mercy of charity and government interventions to survive the day.
Of course humanity always surprises us. Individuals and corporates such as Pwani Oil have come forward to help the vulnerable with home supplies that will help the next couple of weeks bearable. There have been reports of apartment owners cutting down the rent costs for their tenants and others even sparing them tenants from rent expenses altogether. These acts of kindness have given many Kenyans a much needed sigh of relief in the face of uncertainty.
Elected leaders haven’t been left out of the wave of philanthropy. For instance, Rarieda MP Otiende Amollo was reported to have donated maize worth Sh 1.1 million to all the 23 sub-counties in his constituency. Through his Twitter handle, he said the exercise was in conjunction with the local leadership. Efforts such as this where a leader goes beyond his position’s mandate are a very welcome move. A crisis calls for pulling of all efforts together to make sure that not a single person is left behind to die of either disease or hunger.
However, in classic Kenyan style some elected officials have taken this opportunity to pursue political mileage. The past few weeks have seen politicians plaster their names and even faces on the coronavirus-related donations; sanitizers, water tanks and handwash. This, of course, has drawn a lot of criticism from the public who termed such moves as vain and self-serving. Rightfully so because it isn’t rocket science to realize that politicians use charity as a means to an end. The end being that these actions will serve their future political ambitions.
There’s nothing legally wrong about this but to stroke one’s ego and hungrily seek applause in the middle of a crisis is just morally wrong. It speaks against the basis of humanity and kindness. To add insult to injury, some of these donations are actually funded by taxpayers’ money. It therefore makes no sense to have a permanent reminder of one’s incompetence in undertaking the roles of his/her position. Reason being that these interventions coming in the form of charity are actually some of the things their respective offices should have resolved even in their first year in power.
Some have been bold enough to support their decisions terming it necessary for citizens to acknowledge the source of these donations. Which then beats the whole point of giving. Religious books have numerous messages encouraging man to give without tying any credit, applause or expectations to the act. For a self-proclaimed religious nation, we are going against the very teachings of the Holy books. The Messiah whose resurrection was celebrated and observed this past weekend, was the embodiment of servant leadership. Despite the numerous miracles he performed Jesus always stood in the light of his humility. So if there’s someone that politicians need to emulate, it’s him. That in the spirit of Easter, folks may remember that there’s no room for their egos when helping out.
Perhaps instead of painting one’s name on a water tank, a politician could instead write a message that spreads positivity and educates his/her constituents. One message that has remained constant from the Health Cabinet Secretary is the need for teamwork. We, Kenyans, are in this fight against coronavirus together. Therefore, let us remember that there’s no ‘I’ in team and do what needs to be done to successfully pull the country out of this crisis.

It is COVID-19, Not Democracy, that is the Enemy

Posted by on 6th April 2020

Categories: Uncategorised

The world is currently going through what is being described as the worst and most crippling crisis since the Second World War. The COVID 19 crisis, hitherto a minuscule concern in the Chinese city of Wuhan in the larger Hubei province, has since morphed, and incredibly so fast, into a full-blown global crisis. Entrenched norms, traditions and ways of life, hitherto inconceivably uninterruptible, have since known the worst of their upended versions. Whether in the political sphere, economic or social, radical interruptions are lamentably crowding our spaces. Economically, for instance, economic activities, at least a good number, are literally grounded, with employees rudely shaken out of their comfort spaces through furloughs, lay-offs and pay-cuts. Save probably for sectors servicing frontline operations, especially in the medical sector, the rest are staring at existential threat. Transport, sporting, banking, just to mention a few, are literally struggling. Socially, ordinary ways of life are in reverse. Social distancing is perhaps the most quoted concept currently. Usual mass physical gatherings, an entrenched characteristic of human relations and interactions, has been suspended. The greatest reprieve is the advance in technology that has creatively ensured sustained interactions, albeit devoid of physical proximity. It is hard to think what would have otherwise obtained.

In a sense, the crisis has visited, as an uninvited and unwanted guest, the systems upon which our livelihoods are anchored. One such system id democracy. Globally acknowledged as the most sustainable system of governance in the long-term, democracy is now facing one of its most lethal threats. So it is because the traditions, norms and mechanisms that oil its wheels have been hollowed out. In a number of ways, cherished democracy is feeling the pain of the grinding, occasioned by the obtaining friction. All the arms of government; executives, legislatures and judiciaries are wandering in the unknown, with creativity being one of the main components constituting the compass upon which they are relying for direction.

Various jurisdictions are responding differently to the unfolding crisis, with some proving more effective and efficient than others. It is a crisis that serves to reveal the ‘real democrats’ and ‘autocrats gussied up in democracy’. Real democrats have sought to creatively manoeuvre their way, ensuring that the key foundations of democracy face minimal if any, interruption(s). In the United States, for instance, each of the three arms of government, and especially Executive and Congress, have shown no willingness to sacrifice their cherished turfs in the name of containing the crisis. Both arms were as involved, as it could conceivably be, in the development of the $2 trillion bail-out legislation to mitigate the damages of the pandemic. Not even the urgency of the situation stood in the way of a rather protracted negotiation process toward a compromise agreeable to all concerned parties and entities.

In Canada, the opposition Conservative Party in the House of Commons resisted the attempt by the ruling Liberal Party to use, or should I say misuse, the emergency to expand Executive powers. Conservative Party Leader, Andrew Scheer, was firm that he ‘would oppose any attempts by the Liberal government to expand its power.’ The case was no different in the United Kingdom where Coronavirus Bill was passed in the House of Commons, including guarantees on effective checks and balances. South Korea, in a rather exceptional and rare move given the circumstances, demonstrated their determination to uphold the democratic values and practices, upon which their success is anchored, by allowing their elections to proceed. Rather than citing the crisis as the reason to suspend elections, they are mining and subsequently leveraging all available opportunities, including technology, to ensure that elections proceed as planned. They are scheduled for 15th April 2020.

However, not all cases have demonstrated similar institutional determination to further the cause of democracy. In some cases, they have in fact misused the pandemic to exsanguinate the tenuous lifeline keeping democracy alive. Unlike in Europe and North America, where legislatures stamped their authority, Africa is thus far largely characterized by legislatures’ loud absence. Their voice has been so muted that executives have largely run the show almost unilaterally. In Kenya, cases of violations have been witnessed, including excessive use of violence by security agencies, in the name of enforcing the curfew. It is important to understand that the real enemy to be confronted is COVID-19 and not democracy. Effort should, therefore, be applied accordingly. Democracy must, therefore, be protected at all costs. It will play a crucial role, where it has been allowed to thrive, in containing the pandemic. Duty bearers must, therefore, rise to the occasion to play their role in safeguarding democracy. Now is the time to pave way for moral, legal and constitutional correctness to lead the way and not political correctness.

Can Parliament Make Up for Lost Time As They Reconvene?

Posted by on 31st March 2020

Categories: Uncategorised

It is exactly 14 days since Parliament adjourned sittings in the wake of Coronavirus in Kenya. In those 14 days, the number of positive cases has shot up from four persons to 50. An average of 3.5 new infections per day.

In those 14 days, Parliamentarians have been called out, deservedly, for abdicating their role when the country needed them most. There has never been a better time for Parliament to dispense its mandate like now when the country and the world threatens to come to a halt. The legislative, oversight and budgeting mandate as stated in Article 94 of the Constitution is what may be the saving grace for Kenya.

While it is evident that the virus is waging a war against the country, the commitment of our leaders to stand up to it is questionable. Parliament quickly resorted to adjourn sittings at a time when the country badly needs interventions in Kenya’s grim reality. Not to say that the MPs are immune to the virus but it was disheartening to see that the legislators failed to explore other options and instead chose to retreat to their homes and rant online like the rest of Kenyans.

Regardless of the prevailing conditions in the country and the guidelines relating to the control of the spread of the COVID-19 virus the public expectation from their members of parliament for representation and oversight is still on the rise. Kenyans are looking to Parliament to ensure accountability of public resources during this period through established systems like the parliamentary committees. These committees would be expected to play a pivotal role in resource allocation as a response to the virus at national and county level.

Parliament through its oversight role should be holding the Ministry of Health to account to ensure that proper adequate measures are being put in place at both national and county level. Additionally, Parliament should ensure that Wanjiku is fed with the truth and stops any attempts to downplay the actual situation in a bid to stop panic. Furthermore, it is at such times that Parliament stands in the gap and comes up with legislation that shields the citizen from the socio-economic implications of such a pandemic.

It is well known that power easily shifts into the wrong hands during panic and crises, and it becomes incredibly difficult to claim it back even when the dark cloud has lifted. A situation like the one imposed on us by the virus also exposes how much corruption has robbed from Kenyans. Without a robust oversight body, we are bound to lose more in the coming months.

Now 14 days since adjourning their sittings, Speaker Kenneth Lusaka will be reconvening the Senate to discuss the raft of measures proposed by President Uhuru Kenyatta in response to the public outcry on the recent changes that are negatively impacting Wanjiku. In true Kenyan fashion, we are playing catch up while other countries like the United States, Canada, Australia, and Germany have expedited legislation that brings to life the aid packages that protect businesses and people in this crisis.

The loud silence by Parliament is worrying considering the drastic changes Kenyans have been subjected to. The reality is, we are faced with a pandemic when the country is running low on food and other resources. Another reality is, the medical resources we have (both equipment and personnel) will not be able to match the rate at which the virus threatens to spread. We could be looking at an economic shutdown if we choose not to respond to these issues fast enough. Kenyans are calling for preemptive legislation rather than reactions to a dire situation.

So the question will be, can Wanjiku count on Parliament as they reconvene today to make up for the lost time and come up with resolutions that will work for her good in the face of this virus?

Dear Kenyans, Ignorance is No Defense

Posted by on 23rd March 2020

Categories: Uncategorised

In a span of nine days, the number of positive COVID-19 cases has from one risen to 15. This makes the rate of infection in Kenya stand at an average of 1.67 people per day. The mood and tone of the Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe during the press address on Sunday evening read of disappointment. Mr Kagwe was disappointed in Kenyans’ open defiance to follow simple instructions even as the killer coronavirus threatens to spread out in Kenya like a wildfire.

The Ministry has constantly and consistently shared precautionary measures with the hope that Kenyans would adhere to them to avoid spreading the virus even further. The message has been echoed by several government institutions such as the National Police Service and even private corporates who through mainstream and digital media are urging Kenyans to maintain high levels of hygiene, exercise social distancing and be on the lookout for any symptoms.

However, it appears that these warnings have fallen on deaf ears. Kenyans continue to be obstinate and toy around with their health and lives all the while operating as if everything is still normal. Unfortunately, it’s not. It’s business unusual, the global death toll continues to rise at a worrying rate. Leaders in different jurisdictions have confirmed that they have tested positive. Entertainment and sporting idols have also shared the dreaded news with their fans concerning their state. The virus has proven that it is a respecter of no one. It is no joke!

Kenyans, regardless of their social standing should be worried and take extreme caution. Perhaps the lack of seriousness that we are handling this news with is because it hasn’t arrived at our doorstep. Italy reported 793 deaths in 24 hours. We haven’t processed the gravity of this news since they’re just statistics to us. Personal accounts by Italians and many people from the west who have been affected by the virus bear a lot of regrets. Most of them ignored the calls to take social distancing seriously. The consequence has hundreds of deaths being recorded on a daily basis. The irony is, some Kenyans have been quick to tweet #StandWithItaly while they violate the same instructions that contributed to Italy’s current situation. If we’re not careful, Kenya might go down the same road if not worse considering that our healthcare system is wanting.

It was extremely disheartening to see Kenyans mill in entertainment spots and places of worship despite warnings against unnecessary gatherings. It is even more disheartening to learn that the Kilifi Deputy Governor defied the self-quarantine condition for someone who’d flown back to the country, and even worse mingled with so many people since his arrival. It is heartbreaking to see that Kenyans do not value life.

Dear Kenyans now is not the time to play blind to the realities on the ground. Don’t be blind to the fact that our hospitals and personnel are not ready for a full-blown crisis, in fact, no country is prepared for what this virus can do. Don’t be blind to the fact that the country is on the edge of running broke. Don’t be blind to the fact that we’re struggling with meeting basic needs, thus throwing in the virus into the mix of these struggles is not something that we should wish on ourselves. Don’t be blind to the fact that we have a future to look forward to after the dark cloud has lifted. We, however, cannot talk about the future if we’re not being intentional about securing it through staying alive.

The Ministry has been very clear, stay at home! Callousness during this period should be rebuked and possibly prosecuted. The importance of social distancing cannot be overemphasized. Lives depend on this. Don’t go looking for the virus in the name of entertainment. Don’t get carried away by your seemingly good health and think that you’re invincible. It would be extremely selfish if your actions put your life and those of your loved ones at risk simply because you could not follow instructions.

Tukuwe Wazalendo. The war against corona-virus cannot be won by the government in isolation, it takes a collective effort. This might be the ultimate test on humanity, let us not fail.

Our New Reality: Kenya in the Wake of Covid-19

Posted by on 18th March 2020

Categories: Uncategorised

It is official. Kenya has four confirmed cases of people infected with the coronavirus (COVID-19) and the numbers should be expected to rise going by the latest communication from the Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe.

Neighbours such as Tanzania, Rwanda, Somalia and Ethiopia have also shared in the dreaded news. It seems that the myth of our African immunity against the virus didn’t hold after all. The result of the news was a sudden sense of alertness and of course widespread panic. Kenyans, particularly the middle-class swarmed in supermarkets to stock up on house supplies in the wake of a possible nationwide lockdown.

Businesses have and will be forced to adapt to the current situation. Some have instructed their staff to work remotely to avoid subjecting them to physical contact with crowds as they make their way to the office while others have chosen to adjust the working hours. Most businesses whose offices are still in operation have scaled up their hygiene measures by providing sanitizers and constantly communicating with their staff on ways to prevent the spread of the virus.

Despite all these measures being put in place, businesses are about to go through a really trying moment for them. Most enterprises, both local and international are already experiencing a dip in their profits. The lockdown being enforced almost at a global scale is has greatly affected the aviation, tourism and exports industries.

The implications of this virus spread wide almost leaving nothing untouched.

An article on the World Health Organization (WHO) website titled ‘Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) advice for the public: Myth busters’ notes that “People of all ages can be infected with the new coronavirus (2019-nCoV). Older people and people with pre-existing medical conditions (such as asthma, diabetes, heart disease) appear to be more vulnerable to becoming severely ill with the virus.” Terminally ill people who require regular medical will surely experience more difficulty during this period. In the face of our new reality, the government should quickly find a solution for such patients lest they succumb first to these illnesses they suffer from.

For the rest of Kenyans, it should be remembered that Health CS Mutahi Kagwe advised on social distancing as one of the measures to prevent the spread of the virus. This will call on a deliberate effort by a society that is largely social to adapt and unlearn the norms in their various settings. Things as simple as handshakes are now being advised against.

Being a country that is deeply rooted in religion, the masses may be tempted to seek solace in their places of worship as they drive the fear of the virus away. Now is the time to rethink this. Religious leaders should now reassess their modes of delivering sermons otherwise this could be one sure way that the numbers can escalate from the current four cases to the hundreds. Beliefs should not precede logic if we want to fight this virus.

For those who love to indulge in some good music and booze, it may be time to put a pause on the ‘enjoyment call’. Do not risk your life and that of the next person. As witnessed in some of the most affected countries in Europe, it is because of disregarding calls for social distancing that the numbers of infected persons have shot up. Let us not stand in the way of our own safety.

All eyes are on the government right now. Citizens watching its preparedness, responsiveness and their speed of sharing information. The latter if not well executed creates loopholes that crooks can take advantage of. In the era of massive misinformation, Kenyans may likely buy any information (factual or not) just to be safe. The ministry should go out of their way to ensure a nationwide sensitization on the virus. Kenyans should also be on the lookout for suspicious people offering solutions, vaccines or testing kits. In addition to this, national and county governments coordination is crucial right now to figure out the next steps.

In the face of this pandemic, any government tactics can only be foolproof if we the citizens work hand in hand with them to fight this. Each of us has a responsibility to ensure their personal safety and that of their family, community, estate, office, town, city and country at large. It takes only one case to spread it all over the country. Let’s be vigilant and responsible during this crisis, it’s the least we can do.

Dear Women, Go Forth and Take Up Spaces

Posted by on 12th March 2020

Categories: Uncategorised

Equality for women. This was the resounding message that was sent out to the world as women celebrated yet another international women’s day.

The call for equality and inclusion has been made for decades but it is perhaps the slow pace its attainment has taken that has warranted these renewed efforts to see it come to fruition for the gender that accounts for more than half of the Kenyan population. These calls for equality have been echoed by actors in the political, social and corporate spaces.

So why have the scales on representation remained unbalanced even when women continue to make tremendous contributions in various sectors?

As pointed out in the three-day People Dialogue Festival, that preceded the International Women Day, the political goodwill to actualize equal representation of both genders has been lacking. Article 81 (b) of the Constitution provides, “Not more than two-thirds of the members of elective or appointive bodies shall be of the same gender.” It is on this backdrop that Parliament has come under fire over its unconstitutionality.

In a study we conducted last year, the representation of women in the current Parliament stands at 22%. Despite being the highest representation the country has recorded; Kenya still falls behind on the average 24% women representation in Sub-Saharan Africa. Several attempts by members from both Houses of Parliament to amend the Constitution have been shot down. The Executive on the other hand still has a long way to go with its appointments that have largely favoured men and political cronies.

This being the case, one would wonder whether there is a shortage of qualified women who can head ministerial and ambassadorial jobs or those who can be fielded by political parties for elective positions? It certainly isn’t true. Kenyan women have come a long way in their education. They are at par with their male counterparts if not ahead of them and have proven to be just as good if their innovativeness is anything to go by.

Unfortunately, leadership in our country has less to do with merit and capabilities and focuses more on things that don’t matter. Women especially are subjected to higher and intrusive standards to be considered worthy of leadership. Upon expressing interest to run for an elective position, a woman is bound to have her life put under a microscope and picked apart like vultures would on prey. Women have to fight through financial barriers, electoral violence, gender biases, media stereotyping and what not to make it past the post. The bar for the men, however, is quite low making it easy for them to breeze through the process.

That being said, women leaders (seasoned and young) during the People Dialogue Festival had one message to other women, be not afraid to take up spaces.

“Let’s not soft-pedal here. Leadership is never given. Inanyakuliwa (it’s grabbed),” said Narc-Kenya’s Chair, Martha Karua while addressing the crowd during a panel discussion. Being ‘nice’ isn’t likely to solve the issue of lack of political goodwill and bad attitude towards women leadership. Women are now being encouraged to kick down doors, to be louder and to demand more. Women are being encouraged to be fearless when they make the bold move of stepping in the line of fire.

Inclusion under the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) talks about leaving no one behind. Failure to attain equality and inclusion for Kenyan women would be a message to over 50% of the population that, women are less Kenyan. Let’s not allow that to be the case.