BY PROF DR HALIMU SHAURI
(Dean, School of Humanities and Social Sciences; Pwani University)
Kenyans have been suffering the fear of catching COVID-19 infection since day one in March when the first case was announced in the country.
Panic and hopelessness filled the air. I remember myself watching and listening to the first announcement of COVID-19 infection in the country on Citizen TV and was wah! We are in trouble as a nation! Trouble because of our state of health care system compared to what I was seeing and following up of the same abroad.
However, much has been done since the first case was announced in the country. Accordingly, Kenyans are now adapting to the new normal of washing hands, sanitizing, keeping social distance and staying at home.
There are a few weird individuals though who still join parties, don’t wear masks, or sneak into lockdown towns. Just like in any market, there must be COVID-19 mad men and women.
While all this is happening, we must remember we have brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers, sons and daughters abroad, who are patriotic and law abiding, Kenyans. Some of them have found themselves in the epicenter of COVID-19.
They had gone abroad for various reasons: some had gone daring abroad to offer their skills, some to study and some to seek medical care, especially in India.
I have been in constant touch with some of my mentee students in Germany, China and yesterday night for example was on a long WhatsApp chat with one in Hungary. Detailing the impact of the lockdown there and encouraging us, here at home to strictly stay at home.
From the observations on print, electronic and social media, these Kenyans are suffering. Imagine finding yourself abroad seeking treatment or as a student on stipend support or hustling in the midst of a pandemic of COVID-19 status!
Imagine being locked down in a foreign country! Imagine you cannot travel back home! Imagine you run out of money and supplies! Imagine you experience xenophobia as what is happening to Africans, including Kenyans in China! Imagine now you catch a disease now or even corona itself abroad!
Worse still, imagine you die of COVID-19 infection abroad! And imagine you have to be cremated or buried in 24 hours! Imagine no relative to witness your cremation or burial! Further, imagine those suffering abroad are your relatives or kin, close kin!
All these imagine and imagine are to paint the tough picture of our brothers and sisters, sons and daughters and parents abroad during this hard time, when the world is dealing with corona.
The ones I have talked to made me conclude that they need support, especially on mechanisms to stay sane.
The situation of double isolation, away from home and lockdown or shutdown due to COVID-19, is making them over anxious, stressed and depressed. Simply, on the verge of going insane!
Given that there is no hope of getting a vaccine or cure soon, the situation of hopelessness must be killing them softly deep inside.
We must therefore rise up as a country and remember our brothers and sisters abroad. The government, which is a beneficiary too through foreign remittances during good times should wake up and smell the coffee.
Our embassies should transform from their traditional roles and embrace new roles of supporting Kenyans find solace abroad amidst the ravages of COVID-19.
The Kenyan embassies should come up with innovative programs to ensure our colleagues don’t lose their sanity.
Finally, I urge the government of Kenya, as we have a COVID-19 national relief committee led by business moguls, we should not forget to have the same or a kit to support those Kenyans in need abroad.
I know what it feels being away from home and being sick abroad. Let’s all raise and recognize that Kenyans abroad have been our economic backbone during hard times through foreign remittances.
Surely, it’s time we reciprocate with a kind and sympathetic gesture of local remittances abroad!
This way we become truly symbiotic, an investment that can spur motivation during our economic recovery phase after COVID-19 is conquered.