As the negative economic impact begins to bite, the policy choices begin to narrow around health, wealth.
This Monday, we celebrate both Idd-ul-Fitr and African Liberation Day. For the first time in decades, one issue – flattening the Covid-19 curve – pre-occupies 1.3 billion Africans.
To date, there have been 99,062 cases of people who have contracted the virus across Africa; 3,082 have died and 39,085 have recovered. Nine countries, mostly from Northern and Southern Africa led by Egypt, South Africa and Algeria, are the most affected. While still low, mass testing has tripled in the last month, with 1.2 million Africans having now been tested, with remarkable increases in countries like Nigeria.
Policymakers across Africa and elsewhere in the world face one of the most difficult choices. As the negative economic impact begins to bite, the policy choices begin to narrow around health, wealth and the risks of public unrest. Lift the lockdown and open up too early, fragile health systems will be quickly over-run and large numbers of people will die unprotected. Keep the lockdown and the national economy and millions of livelihoods will be crushed.
A growing number of countries have begun to partially ease restrictions. Among them are rich and middle-income countries like Germany, Brazil and South Africa. Across Africa, night-time curfews and restrictions on public gatherings remain in place. However, countries have begun to allow businesses to re-open. Ghana has re-opened internal flights and from next month, schools seem set to re-open in a phased manner in South Africa. With this, the release of two national opinion polls and global conversations now prompt us to revisit whether Kenya should be extending or easing lockdown measures.
This week, TIFA research and the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics released two significant opinion polls. Both sought to establish the impact of Covid-19 and health measures on the public, as well as how Kenyans are adapting. Their findings are fairly similar on the most important issues. The findings are crucial to the national debate on whether it is time to lift the lockdown or not.
After months of community, private and public communications strategies, nearly every Kenyan is aware of the risk Covid-19 poses to the nation. We know how to wash our hands, what physical distance we need to keep and why it is important to stay at home, observe the curfew and other restrictions. Knowing doesn’t mean complying. It simply means that we have information for us to make wise or stupid decisions. Nevertheless, 70 per cent of the population remain fearful of infection and we fear crowded public areas, public service vehicles and supermarkets most.
The economic hardships are real. One in two Kenyans has seen their incomes reduce and one in five has lost a job over the last 60 days. This impact has affected self-employed and daily wage earners most. One in every five Kenyans who normally pay their rent on time was not able to do this at the end of April. Only 8 per cent of landlords and their agents listened to the president’s appeal to offer rent waivers to their tenants. Home-schooling has been a major challenge for all classes of families but particularly for those from homes in the informal settlements. One in four children has been unable to adapt to online and digitally powered classes. They neither have the bundles, digital gadgets or the space to do this effectively. The last two months have been wasted from the perspective of formal learning.
Less than two per cent of families have the space to self-isolate or quarantine family members in their homes. As the pandemic impoverishes, the fear of rising crime levels increases. In our homes, the spectre of violence against spouses and children rises. So, too, do distress-related crimes. Women and men stealing for food, to pay rent and survive.
National conversations are beginning to mirror global policy conversations again. Is it time for children to return to their schools? Having realised the pandemic didn’t stop pregnancies, is it time we opened up our hospitals to non-Covid-19 related illnesses? Is it time to lift the restrictions on public places, in-country and international travel?
Every one of these policy choices and others have an impact on whether we flatten the curve or the country. It is critical that these policy choices are informed by development data offered by the TIFA and KNBS studies. They offer a glimmer into what the trade-offs could be and how we can protect the health, wealth and confidence of the public. Happy Africa Liberation Day and Idd-ul-Fitr, Africans!
– The writer is Amnesty International executive director. The views are personal. Email: [email protected]
Our wizards saw the Brave New World, but none saw coronavirus
Last year in December, Nation Media Group held its first Kusi Ideas Festival in Kigali. The festival tried to peer ahead the next 60 years in Africa.
There were many Brave New World ideas about how that future might look like, and also the perils that progress almost always brings. Needless to say, no one saw Covid-19 coming.
A futurist curtain-raiser in The EastAfrican, titled Africa in 2079, came close to outlining a mirror universe to the one Covid-19 is bequeathing us.
Between London, Zimbabwe, and the corners of Africa where Econet’s fibre optic network reaches, Strive Masiyiwa, founder and chairman of Econet Wireless and former chair of the board of AGRA wrote:
“I recently invested in a tech start-up that has created an Uber-like platform for tractors, enabling farmers to link up with a central database and order a tractor via SMS…freeing the farmer from the drudgery of the hoe. This service is particularly valued by women farmers, enabling them to circumvent social norms that might otherwise hamper their ability to hire a tractor.” From wherever we are hiding from the virus, unable to roam the farm, Uber farming could be the new way a lot of our food is produced.
From Tanzania, Aidan Eyakuze, who is executive director of Twaweza East Africa and has been confined in-country as an elegant prisoner for nearly two years because of his love of inconvenient data, painted an intoxicating but strange utopian-dystopian picture of Africa at the end the century.
By 2079, he foresaw the “vast majority of Africans earn their living through multiple micro-tasking (MMTs) ever since every ”job” was unbundled into its component tasks…leaving only those unbundled micro-tasks needing social intelligence, creativity or dexterity to be done by people. All ”taskers” are always-on private contractors who bid relentlessly for the privilege of tasking.
Incomes are kept low by the relative scarcity of tasks requiring the human touch.
“The unrelenting competition for tasks is both stressful and socially divisive — you are competing against everyone all the time…even marriages have renewable term limits, ‘in case someone better comes along.’” With work-from-home regimes, the former has come 78 years earlier.
Indeed, even for the latter, more people now probably think being cooped up with the same man or woman in the house “for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death us do part,” is a very archaic model.
Between Italy and Kenya, the Society for International Development’s Arthur Muliro, peered into a what a truly borderless Africa might look. Among others, his gaze settled on, of all places, Libya.
“Libya…was now welcoming other Africans and allowing them to settle. The peace deal that had come after a decade of civil war was holding and there was new optimism, in part boosted by the arrival and expansion of new migrant groups who had settled there and were helping rebuild their adopted country.”
On a close re-reading, turns out Aidan hinted that Turkey, which jumped in the Libyan fray as the coronavirus made its way out of Wuhan, might have something to do with it.
Stadiums progress welcome – Daily Nation
Last week, the Sports ministry’s top officials, led by Chief Administrative Secretary Hassan Noor Hassan and Principal Secretary Joe Okudo traversed the country to access the ongoing construction of stadiums.
President Uhuru Kenyatta also made an impromptu tour of the Nyayo National Stadium to ensure that all is well besides giving Cabinet Secretary Amina Mohamed full support. That has made sure that renovation works resume at all the stadiums — including Kasarani, Nyayo, Kipchoge Keino, Kamariny and Wote — and that everything is running on schedule.
Upon completion of some of these arenas, the country will have positioned itself to host major world events, especially in football, athletics and basketball. The ministry must, therefore, ensure that, while it has given contractors an ultimatum to finish their work, it also insists on quality delivery.
But there are concerns about work at county stadiums, especially in Mombasa, where those who redesigned the arena have done away with the internationally approved running track.
The new stadium has been designed for football only hence won’t host any track and field events. The four lane track will only be for warm up and this has raised eyebrows.
Mombasa County Chief Sports Officer Innocent Mugabe said Bububu grounds in Likoni and Kenya Ports Authority’s Mbaraki Sports Club will be upgraded for sports use. Mombasa being at low altitude, it is suitable for staging major World Athletics events, having staged the 2007 World Cross Country Championships.
Kenya is bidding to host the 2025 World Championships in Athletics and Mombasa can easily be the venue with a good stadium in place. There is still time to build a county stadium.
Ensure reopening of schools runs smoothly
When Education Cabinet Secretary George Magoha announced a fortnight ago the postponement of school reopening to January next year, he gave an exception. Universities, teacher training colleges and technical training institutions were directed to be ready to reopen in September.
Consequently, they were asked to put in place safety measures prescribed by the Health ministry, including reorganising classrooms and hostels to ensure social distancing. Just a month to the planned reopening, are those institutions really prepared?
In the past few days, Prof Magoha has convened meetings with the heads of the institutions to plan for the reopening and visiting the colleges to assess their preparedness. Preliminary reports from these engagements indicate that just a few institutions are ready.
At the university level, so far, only Strathmore has been declared ready for reopening. Ensure reopening of schools runs smoothly
For teachers’ colleges, three — Murang’a, Kibabii and Kericho — have met the threshold. Assessment is ongoing for the technical training institutions.
But the broad observation is that most of the institutions are not ready. Though not surprising, most of them are ordinarily in poor state and Covid-19 has just exposed them. Beyond the situation, long-term actions are required to revamp and revitalise them.
Reopening the colleges in September will be the starting point for relaxing restrictions in the education sector. The reason for beginning with colleges is that they have mature students who understand the health protocols and can, therefore, take care of themselves and minimise infections. Their experience would then inform plans for reopening primary and secondary schools.
Closure of schools and colleges has dealt a huge blow to education. Learners in schools have lost a whole year and have to repeat classes next year. This comes with high social, economic and psychological. Indeed, this is the first time in history that schools are being closed for a year.
The last time the education sector suffered most was in 1982, when, following an abortive coup, the University of Nairobi and then-Kenyatta University College were closed for nine months. That created a major backlog and that took five years to clear. This is the reason steps should be taken at the earliest opportunity to mitigate the damage.
The challenge, therefore, is for the colleges to work on those health protocols to prepare for reopening. All other sectors, such as transport and tourism, are reopening and, therefore, colleges have no reason to lag behind. We ask the management of the institutions to expedite the required processes and get ready for reopening in September as directed.