By PROF DR HALIMU SHAURI
(Dean; School of Humanities and Social Sciences; Pwani University)
Today, almost two months after the outbreak of coronavirus in Kenya, there seem to be a sigh of relief.
But this should not be misconstrued to mean we are out of the woods yet. I recall with nostalgia, when the Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe made his announcement in March, 2020, the whole country went into shock mode and the future went bleak.
Some ‘doomday’ prophets were out there spreading their gospel of the end times. I personally remember one hilarious saying that:
“… doors to churches and mosques have closed now and those who were hard to repent and return to the path of religion were doomed.”
The country’s panic mode was evident and was epitomized by the sombre mood of the COVID-19 national coordinating team during their first announcement of a positive case in Kenya.
Their body language, if you can recall, was indeed sorrowful and their stature represented that of a hopeless team.
They were like people who were lost in the wilderness. Indeed, they were lost in the deep and new dangerous forest of COVID-19. Their composure and demeanor said it all, like we are finished if we don’t take serious measures!
The tone of their voices and the facial looks of Mr Kagwe and CAS Mercy Mwangangi during the announcements todate, you would think they don’t laugh.
They have remained professional and candid, very consistent and perfected for handling risk and crisis communication. I salute these astute and compatriot Kenyans, the combination is just perfect for team work.
The death nail, however, was sounded by the Commander-in-Chief himself, President Uhuru Muigai Kenyatta, when he made his COVID-19 maiden speech.
The man wore a different face, harder than that of Mr Kagwe and Dr Mwangangi. This face mask of the president sealed the deal.
It came so perfect to echo the COVID-19 risk to Kenyans which gave its mitigation measures the seriousness of compliance it deserved amidst Kenyans’ resistance and impunitive behavior.
We were nearly all transformed into fearful and obedient people on the face of the virus. Such brilliance and fearful public transformation from historical hard and impunitive population was a plus for the war against COVID-19.
Bang! The President was clear in a national reverberating voice that a raft of hard measures will be implemented to supplement the national COVID-19 coordination team guidelines of washing hands, sanitizing, social distance and staying at home.
The President without mincing his words closed down primary and secondary schools, colleges and because of the panic universities too!
But for my professional view only students would have gone home and retained the professors and researchers to help in fighting the pandemic.
However, with some professors and researchers working from home the universities are still enabling them to assist in the fight against the illness and for which I congratulate them.
Then, there followed the 7pm to 5am nationwide curfew to tighten the fight. As if this was not enough, the President went ahead heading the advice of experts to only lockdown COVID-19 hot spot counties through cessation of movement.
Wonderful steps and I congratulate the President for this. While many appealed for a lockdown or complete shutdown of the country, this would have collapsed the entire economy with the dire consequences.
This genius partial lockdown of only hot spot counties (Nairobi, Mombasa Kwale and Kilifi) ensured that the other 43 counties continued to operate saving the economy from complete collapse, what a genius Mr President! I salute you and your team.
These measures and the phenomenal support from majority of Kenyans who have been faithfully washing hands, sanitizing, keeping safe, maintaining social distance, staying and working at home, self and disciplined forced quarantine and stays in isolation centres have put Kenya not only in the global league of countries which have professionally and successfully mitigated the spread of COVID-19 but also has returned hope and respite to Kenyans.
The announcement that our infection numbers have remained three digits against the alarming projected five digits (10,000+) by now is a glaring testimony to our success.
Finally, the announcement that we have three more weeks (21 Days) of curfew and lockdown in cessation of movement coupled with a one month school holidays extension makes a perfect icing on closure of the pandemic if we remain faithful to our new norms of behaving abnormally to COVID-19 as advised by our health CS.
The key to closure or getting it right for Kenya now remains in the sustainability of the new normal.
Fear of COVID-19 is disappearing, albeit, slowly, confidence and hope returning in a carefully manner replacing hopelessness and despair characteristic of March 2020 when COVID-19 visited Kenya for the first time.
The order to carefully open restaurants and hotels is not only the beginning of restoration of normal life but also a respite for economic recovery strategy in post epidemic scenario.
More critical, a sign that we are on track though not out of danger or woods yet till a vaccine and/or treatment is found. Viva Kenya! Viva Kenyans! There seems to be light at the end of the COVID-19 deep tunnel in the country.