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Handshake lights up Kenya economy

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By BRIAN NGUGI
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If there is one thing that significantly transformed Kenya’s socio-political and economic landscape in 2018, it can only be the March 9 political truce between President Uhuru Kenyatta and opposition leader Raila Odinga — popularly known as ‘the Handshake’.

It pulled Kenya back from the brink, cooled the excruciating political heat that followed the contested August and October 2017 presidential elections, put the country on the path of reconciliation and created space for a resumption of economic activity that had come to a near standstill.

The handshake came just four months after Mr Kenyatta was controversially sworn in for a second and final term following a repeat election that Mr Odinga’s opposition alliance boycotted and dismissed as a farce.

Just five weeks earlier, Mr Odinga and his opposition supporters had put the country on a cliff-hanger with his January 31 swearing-in as the ‘’people’s president’’ at Nairobi’s Uhuru Park amid threat of bloody clashes with security forces.

But when they stood on the steps of Harambee House, the Office of the President, in central Nairobi on March 9 to announce the truce, the two leaders offered a diagnosis of what ails Kenya that did not surprise many. Defusing ethnic competition, strengthening devolution, inclusivity, avoiding divisive elections, security and shared prosperity is all Kenya needs to be at peace with itself and continue in its journey of improving the lives of its citizens.

The two protagonists turned friends then went on to announce that their rapprochement would mean an end to the violence, bitterness and political instability that followed the disputed elections and put the economy on the path to recovery.

They were right. Weeks and now months since the handshake, Kenya’s business climate has stabilised and the economy, though struggling with major non-political challenges, remains on the growth path.

“The truce helped the economy, and stopped the disintegration of business associations,” said Nairobi lawyer Charles Kanjama even as he acknowledged that major challenges such as the ballooning national debt remain.

Kenya’s delicate tourism sector was one of the early beneficiaries of the truce that saw a steady arrival of thousands of foreign visitors, earning the country some valuable dollars that ultimately contributed to the shilling’s stability. This was the very first piece of the handshake’s ‘peace dividend’ that was then followed by key sectors such as the stock market.

The average daily traded turnover at the Nairobi Securities Exchange (NSE) rose 31 percent to Sh868 million in the six months to June compared to a similar period in 2017, setting up stockbrokers and their agents for higher commission earnings.

Ultimately, the Kenyan economy got enough headroom to expand by an estimated 6.3 percent in the first six months of 2018 offering hope for more jobs. That was until September when the government muddied the waters with the introduction of an eight percent value added tax on petroleum products that set inflation on a roll.

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The Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) data indicated that a rebound in the agriculture and a stable macroeconomic environment in the first half of the year helped lift the economy as the knocks of last year’s prolonged electioneering and drought faded away.

Kenya Private Sector Alliance (Kepsa) chief executive Carole Kariuki said the truce between Mr Kenyatta and Mr Odinga had boosted efforts to stabilise the economy and gave businesses breathing space from the political heat that hurts business and investments.

The Kenyan economy ordinarily takes a dip every five years as businesses hold back investment decisions awaiting the outcome of the ever contested elections.

“The truce enabled the private sector move into 2018 with renewed optimism and confidence as calm returned following the turbulent year that was 2017.” Throughout 2017, economic activity had buckled under the weight of a biting drought that crippled farming, and the elevated political uncertainty that characterised the bruising presidential contest as the country headed to the August polls – putting on hold investment decisions.

That, together with the debilitating effect of a sharp drop in loans to the private sector following the September 2016 introduction of a law capping interest rates, resulted in the slowest economic growth in five years at 4.9 percent.

Thanks to the handshake that had improved to 6.3 percent by the end of the second quarter of 2018.

Ms Kariuki said the business community, in partnership with the government, was building up on the gains from the truce to work on “targeted policy and business reforms”. That has since put Kenya firmly on the path of progress earning the country a better ranking (61) in the World Bank’s ease of doing business report and the third best in Africa.

“As we usher in 2019, we aspire to leverage on the momentum, work in partnership with all stakeholders and focus on the country’s ambitious development goals, including the Big Four agenda to stimulate further growth and development,” Ms Kariuki said, adding that “2019 is the year we define our future and put Kenya on path to economic supremacy.”

Meanwhile, the National Treasury has upgraded Kenya’s economic growth projection this year to six percent from 5.8 percent in June, largely banking on renewed private sector confidence and increased agricultural output.

Besides, heavy rains in the second quarter of the year portend good tidings for the agricultural sector that has made Treasury secretary Henry Rotich quip that growth could touch a seven-year high.

“Economic recovery is on course, reflecting a return to stability and renewed confidence following the conclusion of the lengthy electioneering process in 2017 and improving weather conditions,” Mr Rotich said.



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Public officers above 58 years and with pre-existing conditions told to work from home: The Standard

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Head of Public Service Joseph Kinyua. [File, Standard]
In a document from Head of Public Service, Joseph Kinyua new measure have been outlined to curb the bulging spread of covid-19. Public officers with underlying health conditions and those who are over 58 years -a group that experts have classified as most vulnerable to the virus will be required to execute their duties from home.

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However, the new rule excluded personnel in the security sector and other critical and essential services.
“All State and public officers with pre-existing medical conditions and/or aged 58 years and above serving in CSG5 (job group ‘S’) and below or their equivalents should forthwith work from home,” read the document,” read the document.
To ensure that those working from home deliver, the Public Service directs that there be clear assignments and targets tasked for the period designated and a clear reporting line to monitor and review work done.
SEE ALSO: Thinking inside the cardboard box for post-lockdown work stations
Others measures outlined in the document include the provision of personal protective equipment to staff, provision of sanitizers and access to washing facilities fitted with soap and water, temperature checks for all staff and clients entering public offices regular fumigation of office premises and vehicles and minimizing of visitors except by prior appointments.
Officers who contract the virus and come back to work after quarantine or isolation period will be required to follow specific directives such as obtaining clearance from the isolation facility certified by the designated persons indicating that the public officer is free and safe from Covid-19. The officer will also be required to stay away from duty station for a period of seven days after the date of medical certification.
“The period a public officer spends in quarantine or isolation due to Covid-19, shall be treated as sick leave and shall be subject to the Provisions of the Human Resource Policy and procedures Manual for the Public Service(May,2016),” read the document.
The service has also made discrimination and stigmatization an offence and has guaranteed those affected with the virus to receive adequate access to mental health and psychosocial supported offered by the government.
The new directives targeting the Public Services come at a time when Kenyans have increasingly shown lack of strict observance of the issued guidelines even as the number of positive Covid-19 cases skyrocket to 13,771 and leaving 238 dead as of today.
SEE ALSO: Working from home could be blessing in disguise for persons with disabilities
Principal Secretaries/ Accounting Officers will be personally responsible for effective enforcement and compliance of the current guidelines and any future directives issued to mitigate the spread of Covid-19.

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Uhuru convenes summit to review rising Covid-19 cases: The Standard

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President Uhuru Kenyatta (pictured) will on Friday, July 24, meet governors following the ballooning Covid-19 infections in recent days.
The session will among other things review the efficacy of the containment measures in place and review the impact of the phased easing of the restrictions, State House said in a statement.
This story is being updated.
SEE ALSO: Sakaja resigns from Covid-19 Senate committee, in court tomorrow

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Drastic life changes affecting mental health

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Kenya has been ranked 6th among African countries with the highest cases of depression, this has triggered anxiety by the World Health Organization (WHO), with 1.9 million people suffering from a form of mental conditions such as depression, substance abuse.

KBC Radio_KICD Timetable

Globally, one in four people is affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives, this is according to the WHO.

Currently, around 450 million people suffer from such conditions, placing mental disorders among the leading causes of ill-health and disability worldwide.

The pandemic has also been known to cause significant distress, mostly affecting the state of one’s mental well-being.

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With the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic attributed to the novel Coronavirus disease, millions have been affected globally with over 14 million infections and half a million deaths as to date. This has brought about uncertainty coupled with difficult situations, including job loss and the risk of contracting the deadly virus.

In Kenya the first Coronavirus case was reported in Nairobi by the Ministry of Health on the 12th March 2020.  It was not until the government put in place precautionary measures including a curfew and lockdown (the latter having being lifted) due to an increase in the number of infections that people began feeling its effect both economically and socially.

A study by Dr. Habil Otanga,  a Lecturer at the University of Nairobi, Department of Psychology says  that such measures can in turn lead to surge in mental related illnesses including depression, feelings of confusion, anger and fear, and even substance abuse. It also brings with it a sense of boredom, loneliness, anger, isolation and frustration. In the post-quarantine/isolation period, loss of employment due to the depressed economy and the stigma around the disease are also likely to lead to mental health problems.

The Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) states that at least 300,000 Kenyans have lost their jobs due to the Coronavirus pandemic between the period of January and March this year.

KNBC noted that the number of employed Kenyans plunged to 17.8 million as of March from 18.1 million people as compared to last year in December. The Report states that the unemployment rate in Kenya stands at 13.7 per cent as of March this year while it stood 12.4 per cent in December 2019.

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Mama T (not her real name) is among millions of Kenyans who have been affected by containment measures put in place to curb the spread of the virus, either by losing their source of income or having to work under tough guidelines put in place by the MOH.

As young mother and an event organizer, she has found it hard to explain to her children why they cannot go to school or socialize freely with their peers as before.

“Sometimes it gets difficult as they do not understand what is happening due to their age, this at times becomes hard on me as they often think I am punishing them,”

Her contract was put on hold as no event or public gatherings can take place due to the pandemic. This has brought other challenges along with it, as she has to find means of fending for her family expenditures that including rent and food.

“I often wake up in the middle of the night with worries about my next move as the pandemic does not exhibit any signs of easing up,” she says. She adds that she has been forced to sort for manual jobs to keep her family afloat.

Ms. Mary Wahome, a Counseling Psychologist and Programs Director at ‘The Reason to Hope,’ in Karen, Nairobi says that such kind of drastic life changes have an adverse effect on one’s mental status including their family members and if not addressed early can lead to depression among other issues.

“We have had cases of people indulging in substance abuse to deal with the uncertainty and stress brought about by the pandemic, this in turn leads to dependence and also domestic abuse,”

Sam Njoroge , a waiter at a local hotel in Kiambu, has found himself indulging in substance abuse due to challenges he is facing after the hotel he was working in was closed down as it has not yet met the standards required by the MOH to open.

“My day starts at 6am where I go to a local pub, here I can get a drink for as little as Sh30, It makes me suppress the frustration I feel.” he says.

Sam is among the many who have found themselves in the same predicament and resulted to substance abuse finding ways to beat strict measures put in place by the government on the sale of alcohol so as to cope.

Mary says, situations like Sam’s are dangerous and if not addressed early can lead to serious complications, including addiction and dependency, violent behavior and also early death due to health complications.

She has, however, lauded the government for encouraging mental wellness and also launching the Psychological First Aid (PFA) guide in the wake of the virus putting emphasis on the three action principal of look, listen and link. “When we follow this it will be easy to identify an individual in distress and also offer assistance”.

Mary has urged anyone feeling the weight of the virus taking a toll on them not to hesitate but look for someone to talk to.

“You should not only seek help from a specialist but also talk to a friend, let them know what you are undergoing and how you feel, this will help ease their emotional stress and also find ways of dealing with the situation they are facing,” She added

Mary continued to stress on the need to perform frequent body exercises as a form of stress relief, reading and also taking advantage of this unfortunate COVID-19 period to engage in hobbies and talent development.

“Let people take this as an opportunity to kip fit, get in touch with one’s inner self and  also engage in   reading that would  help expand their knowledge.

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