By PROF. DR HALIMU SHAURI
(Writer is a professor and consultant sociologist, and dean at the School of Humanities and Social Sciences Pwani University)
The novel corona virus hit Kenya more than 100 days ago with a raft of changes that have flattened the Kenyan sociopolitical landscape.
A retrospective journey to prior COVID-19 declaration reveals a political charged Kenya within the confines of the nascent notion of the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI).
This initiative is touted by its proponents to promote national unity but had and continues to tear the country apart with initially two major camps, the Tangatanga and the Kieleweke.
This is just but to exclude a third salient group comprised of intellectuals, professionals, civil society and all those who are silent or neutral on the Kenya’s political reform agenda.
It is these neutral parties that the country may have to heavily rely upon for sanity to prevail and for objective contribution into saving it from malaise and disintegration.
Indeed, from the foregoing, there is evidence of feelings of frustration, impunity and dictatorial tendencies to those feeling disenfranchised.
These can be pointed out based on obvious indicators that may not be common to our collective common sense. This is because what is common sense is a product of social construction and reconstruction of the reality sense.
Accordingly, the advent of COVID-19 pandemic in Kenya has come with what the cabinet secretary for Health Mutahi Kagwe has called the new normal.
This recognizes the reconstructed social reality which deviates from the de jure normal that has made CS Kagwe call it the abnormal.
In essence, we are now living in a de facto abnormal time qualified as new normal by the advocates of COVID-19 prevention and management in the country.
This in essence is a paradigm shift from the way we were socialized to do things, aka the normal, to the re-socialized corona way of doing things, the abnormal, aka the new normal.
However, it is the new normal that has sparked the thinking that is the subject of this article, which seems common sense but not very common to many citizens.
For the love of this country and utmost patriotism, especially in promoting national unity, it is prudent that those who see the threat to unity objectively highlight the indicators so that we can all achieve the higher goal without losing focus, national unity.
They say prevention is better than cure in my micro field of medical sociology. In this regard, we have what is called an Early Warning System (EWS) to prevent catastrophes from happening.
This system is based on indicators which are monitored and corrective measures are taken to save social situations that include wars, epidemics and disasters.
In this light, COVID-19 came with fear mongering, especially based on the massive deaths that were happening in Wuhan, Italy and the United states.
Given the fact that humanity fears death though they know that death is inevitable and one day they will surely die, almost everything came to a standstill.
PILLARS OF SOCIETY
The economy, social and politics, the most active pillar of society in the country went ice cold, aka froze. The BBI steam that was gathering momentum and threatening to polarize and paralyze the country was frozen by COVID-19 into ice cubes.
The country was now in the hands of a rare sector, social or health department, that was and is dictating what happens to the other pillars, the economy and the polity.
Whenever the economy or political ice cubes wants to melt, they are reminded of the consequences of COVID-19 infections, especially the measures such as quarantine or isolation at own cost.
We have all now become surrogates of the micro social aspect and pressure of health. In essence, one can actually talk of a health or medical dictatorship.
It is evident that the health sector is now the driving force against all the sectors, social, economic, political, spiritual or even cultural.
It is this medical dictatorship, that in the field of medical sociology we call it medicalization that defines our notion of COVID-19 mitigation to be the new roadmap to political dictatorship in the country.
Basically, medicalization allows the field of medicine to take over decision making in other jurisdictions. For example, medicine has been used in the Judiciary or in Law to acquit offenders.
When the judge declares an offender innocent because is of an insane mind or committed a crime under the influence of drug or alcohol, he or she does so in using medicalization.
In fact, medicalization is a very powerful medical force that has taken over decision in all sectors, the economy, social or political.
Be it as it may, medicalization is epitomized in the way all the decisions have been executed in Kenya since the entry of COVID-19 in the Kenyan social space. Now we sleep, eat, think, talk COVID-19.
When there is complete takeover of a society by a sector, determinism, which is akin to dictatorship, is entrenched.
We have in essence economic, social, political, environmental, health determinism or dictatorship.
How then is health or medicalization clearing the road for its “ism” or dictatorship in Kenya under COVID-19 mitigation?
Indicators are vivid and it is obvious that Kenya is on a dangerous roadmap to erase all the democratic gains made, especially after the promulgation of the Constitution 2010 with regard to rights and fundamental freedoms.
Watching keenly and objectively to what is happening during these COVID-19 abnormal times, we may observe certain trends which may not be good for a maturing democratic country.
There are certain political moves that are happening now under COVID-19 cover because collective reason does not apply as we have all been either ceased from moving, quarantined, isolated, curfew-ed, working from home or just staying at home.
Allow me to call this the death of collective consciousness under COVID-19. When we observe social distancing for instance, we are in essence practicing individual thoughts and feelings as opposed to collective thoughts and feelings.
Medicalization has ushered us to a new normal devoid of collective social consciousness. The current mode of thinking and feeling usually determines change in a society.
The current mode of thinking and feeling in Kenya is individualized and hence empty of collective defense to a breakdown in collective rights and fundamental freedoms.
This has in essence shrunk the democratic space and opened room for political manipulation and gerrymandering, which if not checked, may throw us into dictatorship, marking another shift from medical dictatorship under COVID-19 to political dictatorship.
More precisely, the death of collective consciousness began with systematic banning of public gatherings under the supervisor of medical dictatorship, aka medicalization.
Thus, church, mosque, temple, wedding, funeral and of significance to this article political gatherings, all became frozen ice cubes.
There has been attempted melt downs of the ice cubes, albeit not completely, to resist the consciousness frozen state but with limited success.
All the times such melt downs threatened to reach liquidity, obvious reminders of COVID-19 consequences would be sounded putting the melting ice cubes back to their frozen state.
After several successful trials, medicalization has succeeded and is now being used in the political front to engineer the much-hyped political reforms, aka BBI, probably against the wishes of some Kenyans, it is democracy you may say!
But I would say from my professional medical sociology standpoint “COVID-19 engineered democracy” because it is derived from medicalization.
Why do I say so? Of late we have observed reforms in the leadership of Senate, where those opposed to the BBI reforms were stripped of their powerful positions in the Senate, albeit with no resistance, courtesy of COVID-19.
This is because there is no public gatherings and hence political mobilization to counteract the moves. Those who tried were met with teargas and threats to mandatory quarantine and isolation staring them in the face.
Successful overhaul of Senate, which is smaller with regard to numbers of representatives, cleared the way for similar reforms in the massively populated National Assembly.’
Methodically and systematically, the National Assembly has been cleaned of status quo ‘test tube’ defending ‘thinkers’ with the BBI compliant “test tube thinkers”, whose culmination was the unceremonious replacement of the Jubilee Majority Leader Adan Duale from the assembly powerful seat with Hon. Amos Kimunya.
With the current events going forward, the way is clear from the Senate, all the way to the National Assembly for the reformers, aka smooth all the way to the social engineering of the much-needed political reforms.
As if this is not enough, the benefits of the handshake that brought the Orange Democratic Party (ODM) and Jubilee on the same dining table, after protracted and violent elections, party marriages have also become the new normal threatening multiparty democracy in the country.
While in the old normal you would have heard voices of reason, in and outside such political parties, the new COVID-19 normal has had such voices frozen.
As at now the pioneer Kenya African National Union (KANU), the Wiper Party and even the ardent Chama Cha Mashinani (CCM) have all received dowry and got officially married to Jubilee.
These are the interesting times predicted by the Japanese, when they said, may we live to see interesting times.
Finally, suffice to say that the logic of the successful political reform agenda seems now to be under full control of the proponents.
From Senate to Parliament and to major political parties we all speak in one voice, that of our party leaders. They say we jump and we ask how high! The say we dance and we dance reggae.
Indeed, it looks like reggae was just but in recess but soon the drums and melodies of Rastafarians will begin to rhyme political change in the republic.
The field is cleared and all the roads seem to be heading in the same direction, thanks to medicalization of COVD-19. Through medicalization, health seems to have successful come to rule the political landscape in Kenya.
Those advocates of multiparty politics have all the reasons to worry when the reggae drums rhyme with the rhythm and melody of the melodramatic tunes of the nascent BBI agenda when it resumes in the cleaned national institutions, Senate and Parliament soon.