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MUGWANGA: United East Africa best solution yet to ethno-regional tensions

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By MICHAEL MUGWANG’A
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The case for deepening integration among the five East African Community member states is often outlined in economic terms. This is reasonable because the benefits citizens would draw from substantive integration are clear.

If East Africa were a country, it would be the 10th biggest by population (133 million) — between Russia (143 million) and Mexico (130 million). A truly united East Africa, with common rules for trade and, maybe, and even a monetary union, would be one of the most attractive markets on earth.

This is a region of immense promise with abundant human and natural resources, a combined GDP of $74.5 billion and, in the age of Great Power competition, in a location that is of considerable geopolitical significance. Yet the benefits of deeper integration go beyond raw facts and figures.

The political advantages of an expanded, federal polity comprising Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda, Kenya to Tanzania — and South Sudan — are major.

An East African federation with real political and economic integration would be a massive boon for efforts to advance social and political cohesion in the region.

It would address internal tensions within the smaller units and, at a stroke, render irrelevant the various ethno-regional tensions that characterise countries.

It is not a secret that today there are tensions between some countries in the region. A scheduled 20th Ordinary Meeting of the EAC Heads of State, which was to be held in Arusha on Thursday, has been postponed twice this year. A ministerial meeting has been put off indefinitely.

The schisms include tension between Kigali and Kampala with the leaders of both states accusing each other of meddling in the internal affairs of the other. Burundi is seemingly isolated, with its president lashing out at external actors for trying to resolve the political crisis in Bujumbura.

Tanzania, meanwhile, has appeared bent on adopting an isolationist stance in recent years. Both leaders of Kenya and Uganda have complained about harassment of their countries’ traders and the adoption of barriers to trade and social interactions between their citizens and Tanzanians.

Yet, the reality is that, while these divisions are real, they also can easily be resolved through engagement by the respective heads of state.

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The more profound challenge to stability all these countries face is internal and many of the disputes are of an ethnic and regional character. A united, integrated federation would be an excellent option for resolving some of these contradictions and rivalries which threaten stability.

None of the countries, individually, is unaffected by these. But, collectively, these rivalries would be obviated, certainly reduced, through integration and, hopefully, one day, one East African country.

The divisions in Burundi and Rwanda, for example, have produced a cycle of horrific blood-letting. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the minority-majority tensions in those countries were subsumed by a united and functional East African federation? It would be a great day when a young college student in Kigali dreams of finding work in the Kenyan port city of Mombasa within one East Africa. This would expand horizons and take the poison out of the tensions in smaller countries.

This is true of Kenya, where the Kikuyu-Luo elite rivalry has informed politics for decades. This would be rendered irrelevant.

So, too, would Uganda be liberated from the historical tensions between Kampala and the north, which perceives itself as marginalised and robbed of a political voice since the fall of Amin’s dictatorship. The Baganda question would be addressed.

Tanzania has, historically, been one of the more cohesive countries in the region but it has an open sore in Zanzibar, which has, for a long time, bitterly agitated for secession and complained about economic and political marginalisation. A federation would heal that.

Politicians, civil society, diplomats, media commentators should emphasise the promise of regional integration in creating a cohesive and stable East Africa.

The economic benefits are very clear but the case for the potential of integration to unite society is just as compelling.

Mr Mugwang’a, a communications consultant, is a former crime and security reporter. [email protected] @mykeysoul



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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.

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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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