July 14, 2020

COVID-19 AND SOCIAL CHANGE: Is Kenya Still the Same?

Prof. Dr. Halimu Shauri. Image: (Courtesy)

Episode 44

BY PROF DR HALIMU SHAURI

(The writer is a professor and consultant sociologist dean of School of Humanities and Social Sciences Pwani University)

Social change involves the alteration of the social order of a society. When this occurs, it leads to alterations in social institutions, social behaviors and social relations.
Apparently, social change does not occur on its own nor does it occur without a cause. There are many causes and triggers to social change in society such as technology, innovations, discoveries or even diseases, pandemics and disasters.
The coronavirus, for example, has transformed the social space, positively and negatively depending on how one perceives it.
To some, COVID-19 is a curse, something unwanted and must be eradicated at all costs, but to others it’s an opportunity to be exploited for the betterment of their social lives.
SOCIAL CHANGE
However, the major question to address is what changes when social change occurs? This article addresses itself to what has changed in Kenya in the context of COVID-19.
One of the major changes spurred by COVID-19 has been the devastation of social institutions. More precisely, families have changed either because of prolonged staying at home or working at home orders to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.
This has lead families into conflicts and domestic violence, where some people have lost their lives. In fact, there has been jokes in social media, which should be taken seriously, that spouses are not comfortable staying or working at home because they perceive their partners as another Corona virus in the house.
It is therefore clear that COVID-19 has led to alterations in the basic unit of social organization, the family in Kenya and elsewhere as the virus ravages human gains globally.
While the family is heating up in stress to boiling point due to COVID-19, religious institutions have been transformed by the virus to a new normal.
NEW NORMAL
You may be asking, which is this new normal? Yes, religion is a social institution and hence it promotes group spirituality through Church, Mosque or Temple congregational prayers.
In essence, religion has hitherto COVID-19 been a social enterprise. Alas! Not anymore. Since COVID-19 was first reported in Kenya, religious institutions have been forced to encourage their members to pray at home and alone to maintain social distance.

Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe at a past daily briefing on the corona virus. Image: (Courtesy)

Religion and religious rituals have now been personalized, making this a new religious normal. The impact of this change has been seen in simple and inexpensive weddings and funerals, which before Corona set in were very expensive affairs due to their attraction to large crowds. Not anymore as social distance is key to controlling the spread of COVID-19.
The economic institution has really suffered tremendous social changes in the face of COVID-19. Production and distribution of goods and services has in some instances been brought to a halt.
The lethal nature of COVID-19 has made many economies, including the giants such as the United States, Britain to near crisis and those in developing nation such as Kenya in limbo. Many Kenyans, close to one million are feared to have lost their jobs due to the negative impact of COVID-19 pandemic.
POVERTY LINE
The poor have been pushed further down the poverty line, with reported cases in need of relief in the country. The alteration of the economic system due to the impact of COVID-19 was seen early by the government and a welfare and relief approach was instituted to help those in need.
However, those who need COVID-19 relief are more than the governments, national and county, could support. The need for support has in a way made it difficult for many residents to comply with the World Health Organization guideline on mitigating COVID-19.
More so, it has made it difficult to continue with lockdown, cessation of movement and curfew as measures to contain the spread of the virus. The government is under pressure from the public to de-escalate these measure with a view to revamp the economy.
BUILDING BRIDGES INITIATIVE
Further, the political institution has also had its share of the impact of COVI-D-19. To refresh your mind, the virus was announced when the country was heated up and on the verge of a major split due the political process of the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI).
The Tangatanga and Kieleweke groups were pulling in different directions and at one time it was said nothing could stop reggae! The entry of COVID-19 was therefore a panacea to a country, Kenya, which was on the verge of a major threat to national unity and social cohesion.
Accordingly, coronavirus has done the magic of silencing politicians, akin to a criminal apprehended by the police who is instructed to remain silent or whatever they say may be used against them in a court of law!
However, the major social changes brought about by COVID-19, have been in the way we are supposed to behave going forward. We must acknowledge that there is no vaccine nor cure in sight soon.
Accordingly, we must learn and acquire behaviours that will help us leave with the virus as we go on with our lives. Going forward, economies, social institutions (schools, religious institutions), and politics will open up.
When they do, we must be ready to consistently wear our masks despite the fact that they hide our smiles and lipstick, wash hands and no handshakes or hugs, only “Namaste” or Hi! Continue sanitizing and maintaining personal hygiene.
To paraphrase the words of Health cabinet secretary Mutahi Kagwe, we must continue behaving abnormally otherwise COVID-19 will not spare us.
In sum, we have been re-socialized in ways to live safely amidst COVID-19 dangers as we go on with our daily lives. We must fully comply with this new normal if we have to concur the virus and re-normalize our changed lives.
SOCIAL RELATION
Finally, COVID-19 has given a big blow to the gains of humanity had made with regard to social relations. We had moved from unsocial to highly social behaviors.
Our mode of greeting each other had become so intimate, from hi to handshakes, hugs and kisses! Never again as these now are a direct ticket to a Corona Isolation Centre (CIC).
Indeed, COVID-19 has challenged traditional and cultural forms of greetings, expressions and practices with zero return on investment in social relations.

Kenyans attending a public gathering, the new norm. Image; (Courtesy)

Countries have ceased to be social by closing their borders in the pretext of controlling the spread of the virus. In fact, the world, not only in Kenya, has moved away from the gains of globalization in human interaction and movement across countries to “globalization”, characterized by cessation of movement, lockdown, shutdown and the curfew.
Thus, the worst of COVID-19 has been the creation of a new social order, a social order of uncertainty and hopelessness among Kenyans.


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