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Mourning my mentor David Rubadiri and celebrating Kiswahili

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By AUSTIN BUKENYA
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Two dear and precious loves of my heart underwent major transitions this week. Umfundisi Professor James David Rubadiri, my teacher, friend, colleague and model African, went to join the ancestors in the Hereafter.

Then Kiswahili took another decisive step towards becoming a truly African continental language with South Africa’s official announcement that it will be taught in that country’s schools, starting in 2020.

Now, here starts my dilemma. Which of the two momentous events should I first share with you, between the sorrow of losing patriarch Rubadiri and my leaping joy at Kiswahili’s bright prospects?

But on second thoughts, there should really be no conflict between my mourning Rubadiri and celebrating Kiswahili.

KISWAHILI IN SOUTH AFRICA

Indeed, I am sure the dear departed Mzee would be the first to tell me so, as he had quite a close affinity to the language and its speakers.

Did I tell you once that the Prof could easily have been a Tanzanian but for the erratic colonial boundaries drawn over the waters of Lake Malawi/Nyasa?

I remember Mwalimu Rubadiri once taking me with him on a visit to Oscar Kambona, the former Tanzanian Foreign Minister. I do not remember much about the conversation between the two elders.

It was about complex international and African affairs, and I was a young and carefree man then. But what I recall from that encounter is the palpable and relaxed closeness between the elderly statesmen.

Rubadiri used to take me (and maybe his other young charges) on such tours around Nairobi and other East African cities, in his gently disguised efforts to educate me on the African realities that informed his life and the lives of his contemporaries.

Once, for example, he took me to visit Joe Kariuki, somewhere in the Adam’s Arcade suburb. Kariuki, a Makerere and Cambridge contemporary of Rubadiri, also had several other similarities with him.

He was an African independence activist, a former diplomat and an impressively polished lyrical poet. When Rubadiri took me to meet him, I had just written with excited eloquence about his poems. Getting me to meet him was a treat for me, from my teacher, Joseph’s friend.

But let us get back to Rubadiri, Kiswahili and South Africa. Apart from the long spell he spent at the University of Botswana in Gaborone, I believe that Rubadiri had quite a lot of other significant links with southern Africa.

I remember him telling me in conversation of his times at Fort Hare, Mandela’s alma mater. But we will leave that for later, if you have not already heard it from his biographers.

The point is that, if you factor in the visiting stint he spent, together with Okot p’Bitek, at Ibadan University, Rubadiri lived and worked in every region of Black Africa; central, east and south. That is the African after my own heart.

But I think that professionally, culturally and socially, East Africa can justifiably claim to have been Rubadiri’s “home” for most of his life. As such, he was a Mswahili, and I often heard him speak Kiswahili, especially during the many years that he lived in Nairobi.

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This is why I think that he would have encouraged me to celebrate South Africa’s bold decision to teach Kiswahili to its citizens. At a deep and personal level, Rubadiri understood better than most of us that the best way to feel at home among people is to speak their language.

In Kampala, his impeccable Luganda made him easily pass for a native, and praises of his English seemed to be almost superfluous, since it sounded entirely natural.

On the front of Pan-African identity and solidarity, to which our fallen Mwalimu wholeheartedly subscribed, I dare to presume that he supported the long-standing proposition that Kiswahili should be accepted as the continent’s lingua franca.

Incidentally, this move did not start with firebrand Julius Malema, only the other day. Those of you who were following African affairs may remember Mozambican President Joachim Chissano addressing an African Union plenary in Kiswahili in 2004.

This followed a resolution, since then fully implemented, that Kiswahili should be an official working language of the AU, alongside English, French and Arabic.

But even 27 years before that, in 1977, I had heard and seen the legendary Wole Soyinka propose that Kiswahili should be the continental language of African identity.

This was in Lagos, Nigeria, at the FESTAC77 Colloquium on African Arts and Culture, where I, too, presented that oft-mentioned paper on oracy and orature.

So, moves like the AU and Chissano’s taking Kiswahili to the seat of African Unity and the South African government’s decision to teach it in schools are only bold steps in implementing an intention that Africa has had for a considerably long time.

Such moves are, indeed, a tremendous challenge to the rest of Africa, including some of us in East Africa, to show the will and the ability to act decisively on the promotion of Kiswahili.

 It is, for example, puzzling and disturbing that, nearly three years after the establishment of the East African Kiswahili Commission, neither Uganda nor Kenya has formed a National Kiswahili Council that would enable these countries to benefit from the services of the commission. What are we waiting for?

As for South Africa, I have only praise and admiration for their courageous decision. We know that language is a very sensitive issue in the country.

People have even died for it, as happened in the 1976 protests, when the apartheid dictatorship tried to impose Afrikaans on the people. Even today, the South African National Anthem is sung in at least three of the republic’s many languages, to symbolise linguistic equity.

It is a truly magnanimous panAfricanist gesture that they should take on Kiswahili.

I can already anticipate the joy of singing “Mungu Ibariki Afrika” alongside “Nkosi Sikeleli i’Afrika” in the not-too-distant future. “And why not?” as Mwalimu Rubadiri would ask.

Prof Bukenya is a leading East African scholar of English and Literature. [email protected]



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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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