BY PROF DR HALIMU SHAURI
(Dean; School of Humanities and Social Sciences; Pwani University)
Africa and the developing worlds have had for a long time their priorities lopsided. Priorities! You are wondering. Yes, referring to which basic human need comes first with regard to decision making and development.
Abraham Maslow outlined the basic human needs for humanity to digest and order their development trajectory.
He mentioned food, clothing, shelter, water, education, and health as very basic. Interestingly, all these needs according to his analogy, occupy the same rank or hierarchy. But the question is what comes first?
For many years since Maslow’s idea there has been a struggle to meet all these needs at once because they were considered basic.
In some intellectual discourse, there was and is no agreement on whether food or water or clothing or education etc comes first. In the course of human struggle to understand how to order development, many nations have emphasized one and not the other.
In the process, most countries in the West got it right but most countries in Africa and the developing worlds got their priority wrong. You must be wondering, which should now be the priority?
Relax, health is the priority. Simple questions to you, can you eat food, drink water, sleep well in your house, look for education or wear your nice Jersey or “dhera” when you are sick? I guess your guess is better than mine.
Alas! How has this been very difficult to see for decades! Now COVID-19 is here and has defined the priority for humanity going forward. If those of us who may be lucky to survive COVID-19 don’t learn our priorities from this episode, we may not live to learn other lessons.
Kenya like other developing countries has had its share of missed priorities too. At independence Mzee Jomo Kenyatta set the Priorities of the nation as: ignorance, disease and poverty, which fit very well in the current COVID-19 context.
With these priorities we must ask ourselves where we are with regard to ignorance. The Health CS Mutahi Kagwe, CAS Dr Mercy Mwangangi and even President Uhuru Kenyatta have been singing basic knowledge guidelines that we have failed to understand and follow.
Things like wash your hands regularly keep Social Distance, stay at home etc. Epitomizing ignorance, amidst COVID-19, Kenyans still behave casually and some hosting parties, some using secret routes to enter Nairobi, Kilifi, Mombasa and Kwale, surely!
In the midst of measures to contain COVID-19 spread are the lamentations about poverty, hunger and hustling.
True, Kenyans are vulnerable to the challenges of unemployment and livelihood strategies. However, isn’t this, a consequence of our poor development prioritization?
If Abraham Maslow told we and Mzee Jomo Kenyatta to reduced our priorities to only three – ignorance, disease and poverty: why the current state of affairs? Where did the rain start beating us?
Worse, the biggest lesson in our country has been our investment in the health sector. In Kenya, for both the national and county governments, this is where we must say candidly, that we got it completely wrong.
Accordingly, we can probably say COVID-19 is here like the teacher of development prioritization to punish us for that.
It’s clear even in the developed worlds that, though they got their priority right by developing their health sector, they did not do enough in relation to their populations and their demographics. They, too, have suffered a crisis in their healthy systems! What about poor us?
Now over 54 years since independence in Kenya we had only three institutions in 47 counties with capacity to test COVID-19. We have a few more now courtesy of COVID-19. Now eight (8) years into devolution, with health being a devolved function and billions of allocation every year for eight years with nothing to show for capacity to test corona and other diseases.
This sad and obvious situation screams – eight years of devolution with billions in allocation (15% County + 80% national government), most County government hospitals have no Intensive Care Units (ICUs) and capacity.
What about healthcare staff I hear you whispering? Yes, we are still very far below capacity. I hear you asking what has been our priority then.
This can obviously be seen in our wage bill, who earns more? A politician is the answer I guess! An MCA, MP, Senator, etc earns more than a medical doctor or professor in the university.
However, despite the disparities in the remuneration, who is asked to deal with COVID-19 now? – The medical doctors, nurses and other auxiliary health staff.
Who is challenged to develop COVID-19 testing kits, ventilators, vaccine and drugs? – The researchers and professors whose status is lower than an MCA in their ward due to lopsided development priority.
Finally, while this is worse, the worst priority has been corruption. Those beneficiaries of the lopsided development priority are also the architects and engineers of corruption.
The little monies allocated to improve the health sector have ended in the hands of a few, leaving us in the current health care crisis. Where are the politicians now to help us out of COVID-19?
They are hiding because of shame and have no answers to the myriad questions we have for them with regard to the health sector and development prioritization.
But one thing they should remember is that COVID-19 is a serious equalizer, we will all get screened, tested and managed here in the country, no travelling abroad, and probably in one of the secondary schools in our villages designated for this exercise by CS Kagwe and his team.