In my youth, I used to envy those who regularly trooped each morning to the huge coffee plantations mostly owned by white farmers, and later, by the new political and business elite who eventually bought the farms.
The young ones among them used to regale us with tales of how much they earned for picking coffee, especially how they gorged on mandazi and samosas hawked there, hence the envy.
My parents wouldn’t allow us to go pick coffee in the plantations when our own much smaller farm went unattended.
In our view, this was unfair, and things got worse when President Jomo Kenyatta decreed those workers must be transported to and from the plantations.
It seemed like we were missing all the glamour in life and the resentment built up until we understood that we were actually being educated with the proceeds from the crop we slaved on every Saturday.
That was when we realised the workers were being grievously exploited, but at least those farms provided jobs.
Today, most of the coffee plantations in Kiambu County are gone, many subdivided into small plots in which houses have sprang up.
Those used to be the plantations bought by land-buying companies, and this didn’t matter too much because, at least, many people who had no shelter now owned their own plots and built their own houses.
But the sad thing is that the trend of turning fertile land into concrete did not stop there. Today, the only growth industry in Kiambu seems to be real estate.
People, mainly outsiders, are buying up huge tracts of land with the singular aim of building mini-cities and gated estates whose houses only the upper echelons of society can afford.
The unfortunate thing is that they are, seemingly, being encouraged to do so by the county government for unstated reasons.
The result is that arable land which was already scarce, is now being gobbled up by real estate investors at an alarming rate for the benefit of very few.
This is a dangerous trend which, unless checked, will have very serious ramifications.
Of course, coffee farming has over the years lost its lustre in many parts of the country, not just Kiambu.
There is very little profit in it, labour costs have gone over the roof, the cost of inputs and pesticides have become prohibitive, and lack of value addition has become a major hindrance.
As a result, nobody should really fault the estates owners for selling then and making a healthy profit instead of waiting for global market prices to rise because frost has destroyed Brazilian coffee.
According to statistics, nine years ago, agricultural activity accounted for 17.4 percent of Kiambu’s income.
This percentage was, of course, expected to go down over time considering that the population was rising inexorably and the parcels of arable land dwindling.
What that means is that as cash-crop production goes down, eventually, the county will be unable to feed itself even as the sources of employment steadily dry up.
This is a recipe for disaster. As someone cynically observed, at this rate, Kiambu people will one day feed on concrete.
Even disregarding the hyperbole, it is obvious that unless ways are found to save the remaining arable land, there will be little left for even subsistence farming.
In a willing-buyer willing-seller situation, nobody can be stopped from buying land and building houses on it, but in the interest of the poor who are the majority, a moratorium should be slapped on this happy-go-lucky capitalism.
This may require tweaking the county’s land-use policies or reforming them altogether. If this is not done urgently, Kiambu people may one day be forced to rely on perennial food aid, or to import maize from Makueni County.
Incidentally, it was interesting to learn from Kiambu Governor Ferdinand Waititu what he intends to do with 200 of the 635 acres ceded by the international pineapple grower Delmonte in Thika.
While the details of the negotiations are still unclear, it seems the land will be used for an airstrip that should, presumably, rival Wilson Airport.
Up to now, nobody appears to have taken that strange statement seriously enough to comment on it.
While it may be deeply satisfying to boast that Kiambu County also has an airstrip, an indicator of “development” — although Thika is barely 30 kilometres away from the JKIA and Wilson airport — this, surely, cannot be a priority for people who suffer from so much land stress that they periodically get murdered in their sleep for owning a few acres in parts of Rift Valley.
Mr Governor, how about arranging to sell parcels of the Delmonte land to the landless in your county, or better still, seeking ways to build value addition and extraction factories there to improve the lot of small farmers?
The 900,000 plus voters who elected you did not do it so that you can serve a tiny minority of the very rich, the only people who can actually benefit from an airstrip in their locality.
Public officers above 58 years and with pre-existing conditions told to work from home: The Standard
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.
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.
Uhuru convenes summit to review rising Covid-19 cases: The Standard
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
Drastic life changes affecting mental health
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.
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.
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.