This COVID-19 pandemic saddens me. It’s heartbreaking to see the anguish millions of people are going through across the world. This past week, spending time at home (social distancing) has taught me something very important, that all you need is two basic things to survive: A warm bed, and food.
Everything else is a bonus. That’s why when the government jails you, they give you a cell and food, basic survival boils down to those two things. Comfort is forgotten.Social distancing has taught me something very important: all you need to survive is a warm bed and food. Everything else is a bonus. Click To Tweet
Stopping Spread of COVID-19: What can we do?
It’s laughable to see how the thieving Kenyan political class who have lived to accumulate and hoard land, buildings and money that they will never use, but when faced with death, it strips them of all that thirst for materialism.
Unlike the poor, who have to keep on working to survive, the political class are now self-quarantined in their plush homes, their luxurious vehicles and private jets parked, their passports locked up and a private bed booked in one of our few hospitals, just in case they get infected.
Life has now boiled down to survival. In times like this, even we, the struggling middle class, who are just a salary away from poverty, can do something. The most important thing is to stay at home. We have a role to stop the spread of the COVID-19 by ensuring that we don’t expose ourselves and risk getting infected.
1. Show compassion and empathy.
Most of the people in our country survive from hand to mouth. For those of us who can afford it, let us find at least one family, or even an individual, to support during this period. Some people will go hungry because of the quarantine and the restriction on movements. For those who live in “gated” communities, provide meals to the guards. That will help them save some money for their families.
2. Use Places of Worship as Food Distribution Centers
The churches, mosques and temples should become feeding and distribution centres for those who don’t have food. Our tithes and offerings should be channeled to feed the poor, the hungry, the orphans and the widowed.Churches, mosques and temples should become feeding and distribution centres for those without food. Our tithes and offerings should be channeled to feed the poor, the hungry, the orphans and the widowed. Click To Tweet
3. Keep your ignorance to yourself.
If what you write or post is not verifiable and will only cause harm or undue panic, then don’t do it. COVID-19 has its own fighters, the medical personnel working day and night to save lives.
The best we can do is to stay out of their way and stop forwarding conspiracy theories. Pray at home, and let the medics do their job.
4. This is the time for Kenyan billionaires to show that they care.
To give back. Kenya has 42 billionaires, according to the 2020 Knight Frank Wealth Report. We have 2,900 dollar millionaires. It’s time the super wealthy stepped up and helped. They might think they’re safe because of their money, but they forget their support staff are among Kenya’s poor.
If people go hungry and chaos ensues, thieves won’t have to break into rich people’s homes, the poorly paid, mistreated guards will open the gate and walk away. Why risk your life for a rich man who can’t even donate to help the starving poor?
Time for President Uhuru Kenyatta to Define his Legacy
This is a time that can define President Uhuru’s legacy. He has failed many times to reclaim this country from the thugs, but COVID-19 is a game changer. It was imported by President Uhuru’s government which allowed people from affected countries to bring it here.
COVID-19 cannot be ignored, neither can it be wished away. Millions of people stand to lose their income and become homeless — if they survive this pandemic.This is a time that can define President Uhuru’s legacy. He has failed many times to reclaim this country from the thugs, but Coronavirus is a game changer. Click To Tweet
Uhuru can use this opportunity to redeem himself. He can learn from US President, Franklin D. Roosevelt. Roosevelt took office in the midst of the Great Depression, the worst economic crisis in U.S. history.
During the first 100 days Roosevelt spearheaded unprecedented federal legislation and issued a profusion of executive orders that instituted the New Deal—a variety of programs designed to produce relief, recovery, and reform. He created numerous programs to provide relief to the unemployed and farmers while seeking economic recovery.
He also instituted major regulatory reforms related to finance, communications, and labor. FDR’s new deal provided support for farmers, the unemployed, youth and the elderly. Uhuru can do the same.Uhuru can use this opportunity to learn from US President, Franklin D. Roosevelt. Roosevelt took office in the midst of the Great Depression, the worst economic crisis in U.S. history. Click To Tweet
What can the government do?
1. Reduce the price of food and basic commodities.
The government should control food prices. Fuel prices world over have fallen to record lows, but the Kenyan cartels are yet to lower theirs. According to the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics, you need Ksh 1,954 to keep a Kenyan in the rural area alive for one month and Ksh 2,251 shillings in urban areas.The government should control food prices. Fuel prices world over have fallen to record lows, but the Kenyan cartels are yet to lower theirs. Click To Tweet
Kenya has a population of 32 million living in rural areas and 14 million in urban areas. According to Economist, Kwame Owino, if you give every Kenyan the amount they need for survival, it will cost the government Ksh 50 billion for a month.
That is equivalent to 10 days of tax collection. Instead of controlling food prices, send every single adult money to survive. The total number of adults in Kenya is 23 million and those are the ones who will qualify. According to the 2019 census, Kenya has 12.4 million households and the money can be disbursed through mobile money or the local chief’s office.
If they sent that amount for five months, the government will have spent Ksh 250 billion, equivalent to 2 months of taxes. People will be alive and they will survive the lockdown. Parliament can pass this as a subsidy payment.
The money will attract corruption and parliament must ensure that they pass a special amount for the Office of the Auditor General to audit the expenditure every two months to ensure there is no fraud.
(NB: I wrote this article before the president’s speech and the directives he gave. For the 2.7 million people on payroll the reduction on PAYE 30% to 25% and 100% tax relief for those earning a gross of 24,000 is commendable. The people who need subsidy, the remaining 20 million out of the 23 million adults will still need subsidy.)
Some of the people who don’t need the subsidy can pass it on to someone that does — we all have friends and relatives who need support. That amount will work as a supplement. Our government is on record saying that they lose Sh600 billion every year to corruption, so it can afford to spend to keep people alive during the imposed curfew (lockdown).
2. Stop teargassing and beating people who are in the streets.
Our government is so violent and often resorts to applying excessive force. Every response to a public problem is met with batons, teargas, police dogs, water cannons and bullets.
If the government puts measures to cushion the poor during the lockdown, they will not have to be forced to self-quarantine. In this time of unprecedented suffering and pain, images of people being beaten by the police is the last thing we want to see. Sending police to beat up people who are trying to earn an honest living will only backfire.Our government is so violent and often resorts to applying excessive force. Every response to a public problem is met with batons, teargas, police dogs, water cannons and bullets. Click To Tweet
Violence radicalizes people. The combined Kenya Police, Army and National Youth Service numbers less than 200,000 people. If the 47 million poor people get tired and rise up, these officers will not be able to handle them.
3. Ensure there is water flowing in every tap and in every community.
We can’t stop the spread of the COVID-19 disease without clean water. When l was running for Starehe MP, l spent months in the slums of Starehe. People in the slums have to buy water to cook and wash. People pay to use the toilets and bathe.
The state should move in this time to provide free water to every household. This is a golden opportunity for the State to dismantle the water-selling cartels. The State should also build free public toilets and connect them to the main sewer lines. This will help make Nairobi River clean, because all the waste from the slums is normally dumped in the river.
After the virus is contained, the president can do the following:
1. Zero-rate farm inputs for farmers.
It is true the government subsidizes seeds and fertilizer, but that mostly benefits large scale wheat, maize and coffee famers. The government can provide small scale farmers with farm inputs. They can use chiefs and other administration officers to ensure all small-scale farmers have seeds and fertilizer for the upcoming planting season.
2. Create jobs by rethinking how Nairobi and other big county capitals are planned.
Kenya’s capital is brutal for pedestrians and cyclists. This is the time for all the roads that don’t have pedestrians’ footpaths and cycling lanes to be redesigned.
By doing so, the president will create jobs in the informal sector, the youth will find something meaningful to do and the money will trickle down. The result will be Nairobi, and other towns, become safer to cycle and walk.
According to the World Health Organization’s Global Status Report on Road Safety, Kenya loses between 3,000 and 13,000 lives in road traffic crashes every year. The majority of these people are vulnerable road users – pedestrians, motorcyclists, and cyclists. We need to stop the carnage.
3. Reclaim all grabbed social halls and public playgrounds.
During my childhood, Nairobi had social centres where we learnt sports and played darts and other recreational games, we had clean streams, an abundance of fruit trees and playgrounds.
COVID-19 can be the excuse for President Uhuru to reclaim all grabbed social halls and public playgrounds. This is the time to demolish all buildings erected on public playgrounds.
Plant grass. Build swings. Put up goal posts, running tracks and let the families play. Families are stuck in the estates and slums without access to a single public playground in their area.
4. Decriminalize petty offenses.
A lot of unemployed youth are arrested daily for silly reasons. The police and the State use this as an avenue to collect money. Unfortunately, it has led to criminalization of poverty. As Parliament sits using technology to pass COVID-19 emergency relief bills, they should remove all those colonial era laws aimed at criminalising behavior based on one’s identity.
Kenya’s criminal justice system has been incarcerating people for non-criminal behaviour, or behaviour associated with poverty, substance use or disability. Petty offences are misdemeanours, like loitering, being drunk and disorderly, causing a disturbance or nuisance, vagrancy and prostitution.
The laws are from the colonial era and were put in place to protect the colonisers and criminalise poverty, homelessness and unemployment. Anyone in jail for misdemeanor offenses should be set free. Poverty is not a crime.
5. Rent control.
Can the government legally ask landlords/ladies to reduce rent? They could defer tax payable on the reduced income and encourage banks to reschedule loan payments for landlords.
For a new Kenya to emerge, we will need to think about the 24 millions Kenyans under the age of 18. Our wealth as a nation isn’t the parks and the cash crops we export but the young energetic Kenyans who will imagine and seek to build a new Kenya. A broken, traumatized country will need books, music, art, poetry, dance and everything arty to heal.
Kenya has 290 constituencies and 1,450 wards, and it is important that we create new spaces for young people to express themselves, read, play and have fun. It is possible to have a social hall, a library in every ward in our country.
The elected leadership in every county should work and spend resources towards ensuring that will bring back laughter and togetherness. Community spaces will help in doing that.
Finally, we are doomed because we elected inferior minds to lead our nation. Let this COVID-19 crisis be a lesson and a turning point to never elect someone based on their famous last name, personal wealth, political party or tribal affiliation. There is so much pain in the world; the best we can do is not to cause more pain. Choose to LOVE. Ensure whatever you do, it will make a positive difference.