It has been said that the true worth of a General is known on the day of war. As a country we have been beset by many challenges since independence. The first three that come to my mind are Poverty, Illiteracy & Disease. But it hasn’t been all doom and gloom as there are days when we have enjoyed the glory and honour of being word-beaters. When Wilson Kiprugut Chumo won our country her First Medal at the Olympics; a Bronze Medal in the 880 yards race – a precursor to the 800m in 1964, I can assure you there was no dry eye in the house. The tears here being those of joy & triumph! Jubilation was complete 4 years later when Naphtali Temu & Kipchoge Keino beat star-studded casts including the defending Olympic champions to win us our First Gold Medals. When we qualified for our First African Cup of Nations Tournament in 1972, it was a spectacle to behold!
However, many are the times we have turned our nation into an irreverent mess borne out of strife for resources, dishonesty, mediocrity and tribalism. We have found ourselves fighting our erstwhile brothers just because of elections. But what is the result? We are oft left to bury our kith and kin and work hard to rekindle the relationships we ruined, while the tribal Lords we fought for kiss, make-up, probably have newer relationships so amorous that they become the subject of newer scandals. All this is washed down with expensive whiskey, scotch, tea and ‘mandazi’ worth millions!
Then come 2020 we have been dealt a year so calamitous, there have been few to be replicated by this one in a long time. This is exactly what the Romans characterized as ‘annus horribilis’ – horrible year, one not worthy of recollection with undiluted pleasure in days to come as the current British monarch once postured of 1992! In Kenya, we lost a former Head of State (the longest-serving one) H.E. Daniel Toroitich arap Moi (CGH ) the day immediately after a tragedy that claimed almost two dozen pupils in one of our Kenyan primary schools.
Almost in close succession the Chairman of the ruling coalition suffered a serious road crash, coming to within a pig’s whisker of sleeping with the fallen sovereign while rushing to the ceremony to inter the colossus. We have had ceaseless rains, which in their fury have only worked to expose our weak infrastructure and debride our fragile ecosystems. What with landslides, talus creep, rock falls, eroded roads and bridges, gulleys the size of the Great Rift Valley and deleterious soil erosion. Internationally, it’s been open-season for hunting by the grim-reaper. The most tragic of the losses I have had the unenthusiastic sorrow to commiserate was the loss of the great basketball superstar Kobe Bryant – a Hall of Fame shoo-in and former great for the Los Angeles Lakers, a standard-bearer of the impact of tenacity and grit in the attainment of greatness.
Back in Kenya, we lost a preeminent scholar, TV-anchor and proponent of not just the Kiswahili language but intellectualism as a lifestyle that is the great Prof. Kennedy Walibora Waliaula Wafula. This is a man that could have easily decided to live out the rest of his days in foreign climes where his skills, competence and scholarly pursuits have been appreciated by the academic turf in the United States where the rest of his family have set up permanent abode. He decided to come back to his motherland to develop it as any patriotic citizen would yearn to but what was his recompense? He died like a dog after sustaining a cracked jaw, two missing teeth, deep stab wounds and intracranial haemorrhage after an attack by unknown assailants! In his quest for self-preservation he ran onto a busy highway and was knocked almost into orbit by a speeding motor vehicle on Landhies road. That this distinguished and acclaimed personality lay for 14 hours at Kenyatta National hospital, treatment not forthcoming until he lost the battle for his life is macabre to the obscene. The unknown assailants are still at large at the time of me going live on my keyboard!
I’m provoked to muse about the infernal vanity of life while debating whether or not to yank out my own liver, feed it to the village hound and just join the ancestral pool myself! If this could happen to a TV personality we have all watched and revere, what of that anonymous drunk pulled out of the trench in the morning within a sliver of ‘rigour-mortis’ as a direct consequence of alcohol poisoning, what dignity is he to be accorded on the treatment table if his turn actually comes?
Just when the storm seemed to taper into a lull, it actually blew the roof off! This is my characterization of the Novel Corona Virus global pandemic making landfall on our jurisdiction. If our health infrastructure was indisposed then, it should actually go into ICU consequent to this heavy-weight pugilist’s thwack! When reports started doing rounds on social media that there was an unheralded virus, unlike any other known to man decimating the population of Wuhan city in Hubei Province; People’s Republic of China, many dismissed it as someone else’s problem. “That is what they get for eating unholy animals,” a few religious fanatics sneered. “Didn’t your mother tell you not to merely put anything you see in your mouth?” a few others cajoled. We made these biting allegations but did little to curtail travel out of that region to our own. Then it seemed that this was a woe merely reserved to a single nation. Subsequently, the entire thing went mainstream and exploded globally. Ineptitude didn’t manifest much worse than when in New year; the Leader of the Free World and Global Superpower – America, an honour that should never have, but is now bestowed upon the slightly capable hands of the ‘stable-genius’ that’s Donald Trump received intelligence about this pernicious virus! Then totally distracted, he dismissed this entire thing as an external threat that would never reach ‘our soil.’ Pressed further he dismissed it as a ‘Flu’ that will come and go like many other iterations of the Corona-virus we have seen before. SARS-COV-2 was relegated to the back-burner! Then the more pressing issue was the display of the capabilities of the terminator-drone that was to deliver blood & iron albeit fire & fury upon designated terrorists in Iran. Better options abounded but none more appealing to the Commander-In-Chief than the tour-de-force to pass the message of military might. On the morning of 3rd January 2020, Baghdad International Airport woke up to a fireworks display as an MQ-9 predator drone delivered 4 laser-guided, hellfire missiles that pulverized the vehicle carrying two of Iranian military heavyweights; Maj. Gen. Quassem Soleimani & Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis ‘The Engineer’ into charred debris! ‘The Engineer’ had a long rap sheet but that’s a story for another day.
Classified CIA dossiers notwithstanding, the Covid-19 Pandemic has taken the hammer and tongs approach more against U.S.A than anyone would have envisaged. With more than 1.5 Million now infected, slightly more than 301,000 recovered and a gargantuan 93,806 crimped out of the daily-bread rations – as they lie dead, look at where ‘just a flu’ has taken our brothers in the occident! Western Europe and most of Asia; superior healthcare systems notwithstanding, are now bearing the brunt of this pandemic with the entire global economy now in shambles.
Kenya didn’t cover herself in glory either as far as pre-pandemic precautions were concerned when we rolled out the proverbial red carpet for several Chinese Jet-liners, some even from the very epicentre of Wuhan to land at our International airport with the paper-thin caveat to our guests, “just self-quarantine for 14 days” without any mechanism for enforcing this edict. For our indiscretion and erroneous judgement; we have reaped our doom with national infections at the time of authoring this piece topping 1029, exactly 366 have recovered and 50 as we say in Western Kenya, “wametolewa kwa share ya Obusuma!” – They are no longer with us! A culture shock has been the first consequence of the Covid-19 on our lifestyles as we can no longer even communally attend the burial ceremonies of village luminaries deserving of a ‘Shilemba (grandiose interment)!’ Funerals have become an intimate affair attended by close family, Ministry of Health aficionados and the local administration. Look at the low-key affair that was the occasion where former Minority Leader & his brother a legislator no less, had to suffer the ignominy of burying their younger sibling in a hurried ceremony, guys in Hazmat suits as pallbearers and casket draped in air-tight polythene material. Ideally, in Western Kenya this is the sort of funeral that brings minor earth tremors by its sheer attendance. But for this one, even the much-acclaimed ‘Disco-Matanga’ was now deader than the long antecedently extolled Dodo! What a price to pay for being alive in 2020.
As in times gone-by, masks were considered the hallmark of disdainful tourists when they visited our country and bandanas on the face associated with youthful revolt; however, today it has become a necessary item of apparel to prevent droplet transmission of the virus.
Presently, washing of hands with alcohol-based sanitizer or antiseptic soap is no longer a marker of courtesy but the ‘sine-qua-non’ of accessing any of the remaining public spaces regarded as essential services. Many of the establishments we took for granted are now locked and no longer accessible even by the business owners themselves. Today, social distancing is no longer the preserve of the introvert & hermit but the desideratum to avoiding those potentially carrying the virus. Needless to state, we are all potential carriers unless proven safe by medical tests. We now have a pathological agent that is nonresponsive to any medication we have used for its relatives and whose infestation doesn’t engender immunity after suffering from it as infections have been seen to recur perhaps with a greater vengeance which is quite disconcerting if not downright petrifying. The innocuous action shaking of hands is now confined to the annals of forgotten history, a crying shame. Prior to 2019, ‘Corona’ was a long-cherished Latin word denoting a ‘Crown’ but henceforth will eternally be tainted with nefarious connotations tangent to what we are being dealt presently.
I would be remiss, if I failed at this juncture to delve into the realm of conjecture and proffer my slightly-layman opinion on the origins of the SARS-COV-2 virus. In antipathy to the cross-species transmission theories out there; though some have jocularly been confirmed by our neighbouring country’s President Pombe Magufuli, methinks the virus was actually a synthetic creation either for biological warfare, medical research or a fool’s day prank created by a cohort of virologists and genetic engineers in the lab at the University of Wuhan that escaped their clutches. It has reliably been established that the virus has a spike protein that facilitates the fusion of viral and cellular membranes analogous to the glycoprotein41, indigenous to HIV-1 (The HIV you know from the Local Billboards in the 90’s). Additionally, this virus shares characteristics and virulence concomitant with H1N1 (Swine Flu), A/H1N1 (Spanish flu that wreaked havoc more than a century ago), H5N1 (Avian Influenza), Equine (horses), Bovine (cows), Feline (cats) and Canine (dogs) Corona Influenza. A thread is emerging to confirm my hypothesis. The other Coronaviruses are similar in form & shape but the SARS-CoV-2 appears to have a few features that are phenotypically and genetically dissimilar to the others in the general family of ‘Coronaviridae’. The spike protein seems to have been grafted from HIV and serendipitously took root on COVID-19! My theory, as my basic know-how of virology, ends here.
Blame-game galore has been the logical ramification of all these, as we live in a deeply adversarial society that is more adept at apportioning culpability than exalting excellence in the other man. From one nation sending a Bill of Reparations and invoice for damages wrought upon her national economy to China to others blaming industrial pollution for the mutation of the existing Coronaviruses, we have heard it all. Most ignominious and one that hits home for me has been some academically obtuse and professionally unconversant individuals trying to apportion the blame squarely on the revolutionary and futuristic 5G mobile technology for the pandemic which cannot be further from the truth. The new 5G technology is a game-changing improvement on the existing modes of telecommunication with radiowaves having no medical history of adversely altering the cells of living things or even detrimentally scorching them. If radiation could in itself damage living tissue, then all life on earth would have been extinguished long-ago from all the infrared, visible light and ultraviolet light we get bombarded with from the sun ceaselessly! Notice here, I have put visible light as that from your torch as having a higher frequency than the radiowaves used for telecommunication as far as the Electromagnetic Spectrum is concerned.
In Ireland, some boorish characters have gone as far as razing 5G-Telecommunication masts. Perhaps, self-destructive irascibility is the curse of the Irish or so they say!
For many years Americans joked about a man incompetent enough to bring down a casino – where the house always wins and all, becoming their Head of State until they portentously made it a reality in 2016! Now that circus has become worldwide entertainment. From going off tangent and promoting the efficacy of Hydroxychloroquine as the panacea to the worldwide contagion contrary to the empirical wisdom that can only be delivered by his often red-faced Secretary for Health to a campaign for the ingestion of antiseptic liquid sanitizer and injection with ultra-violet rays, apparently ‘keeping the bull (D. Trump) off the China shop’ is becoming the real job at the Whitehouse!
Locally, we are most grateful all the cheap politicking has been reduced to just a murmur. From the unregulated fund-raisers aimed at narrow-gains for a few to the weekly dancing to the beat of the ‘Tsunami’, all this was ground to a halt by the pandemic of our time. It has become apparent that neither the politicians nor the religious leaders have any meaningful answers in the midst of a real crisis. Many are just charlatans, chatter-boxes and professional story-tellers without an iota of dexterity on how leadership should be executed. Just faux-hustlers & hangers-on! However; as the sage opined, “Every crisis is an opportunity.” Ranks have been closed by the rank and file of our political tapestry to engage in national prayer meetings & other meaningful engagements.
Those previously chided as being unqualified even for the gubernatorial seats they hold are now the shining lights to the rest of the nation on the serious measures that are within their purview and which they can build themselves.
A governor in Central Kenya has taken the cue and built an ICU facility for his local County Referral Hospital within a record 10 days! Where was all this initiative hiding? The President not to be left behind is taking this juncture to drain the swamp and relieve his regime of all who have been dragging him back for the last 7 years in power. This is a man, seeing the end in sight and nought by means of a legacy is now practically working the guillotine himself to ensure his Big 4 Agenda; by and large, most of his manifesto comes to fruition. Dead-wood is now going under the bus, which for now I must laud as it’s in the best interest of the Republic. Also I feel this pandemic is a great amalgamator as it has proven to be non-discriminative on who it infects. It seems to have a hankering for the more affluent and older demographic just as the hoi-polloi. The aforementioned moneyed Kenyans who had admission to San Tropez, the Maldives and the Cayman Islands at least once every year can no longer even access the ‘Medical-Mecca’ that is India and sometimes Israel as every nation is looking out for the safety of its nationals. You cannot justify the entry of some ‘outsider’ already suffering from the same condition you are actually putting containment measures against. I feel the real opportunity here is that the national Health infrastructure will benefit greatly from this pandemic as all of us are deemed equal in the eyes of Covid-19 and will all be hospitalized and nursed back to health here and nowhere else! The foreign countries have a right to exercise nationalism, even some covert racism against inept and dishonourable rulers who plunder their national healthcare systems because they make zero use of it themselves. Covid-19 is the great equalizer in this regard just as death which will be the dole of the ill-fated.
We have been crying for the funding of youth innovation for an eon but today home-grown talent has made us proud by using locally available materials to build ventilators, respirators, proximity-sensors for temperature and other medical equipment that is usually imported at a premium to the detriment of not just the balance of trade but our need for autochthonous solutions to our problems. Others in our Medical Science Research Laboratories are burning the candle at both ends to be on the leading-edge of inventing the vaccine for this armageddon decimating our current civilization. This is the kind of initiative that oft leaves me with tears of glee welling up in my eyes in full cognizance that innovation and industrialization are the only way that Kenya will ever claim its seat at the table of developing nations in the quest for 1st World Country Status. This works further as conclusive evidence to bolster the well-touted sentiments, “Brilliance is evenly distributed but Opportunity for expression only sparsely.”
Able Leadership is something else we have gained from this crisis. Mutahi Kagwe has been thrown in at the deep end at the worst epoch in global medical history let alone the Kenyan scenario. Without any medical experience to pontificate, he nevertheless is doing a good job with regards to marshaling his troops; the medical professionals that are our front-line soldiers in this struggle against an unseen combatant. Unconfirmed reports of financial impropriety and weak accountability fly around, but in my considered opinion think that is the embodiment of cheap politicking we need less of during this time of crisis. Hopefully, the ‘Mandazi and tea’ never cost 10M!
It is at this time that I go down on my knees and thank the Almighty for the handshake between President Uhuru Kenyatta & Prime Minister (Emeritus) Rt. Hon. Raila A. Odinga that has brought the much-needed placidity for national development and introspection. I shudder to imagine the situation if in the midst of this pandemic, we would have been receiving information at dichotomy on the Covid-19 pandemic from the Ministry of Health Headquarters from Mutahi Kagwe only to be refuted by the Shadow Minister of Health ostensibly Hon. Dr. Simiyu Eseli Live from Orange House, Lavington – Nairobi!
There would be minimal clarity and it would be an absolute farce playing out in the public gallery. All the resultant protests, ‘mapambano’, ‘quasi-kamukunjis’ and stone-throwing at odds with the social distancing directive wouldn’t be to anyone’s benefit. I am certain our infection and death-tolls would be off the charts in this undesirable alternate universe. If you think such mediocrity and absolute disregard to magnanimity even in the face of crisis is other-worldly, look at the American situation at present. There is no love lost between the ruling Republicans and Opposition Democrats now taking cheap shots at each other. The national figure of lampoon, their President is busy telling all and sundry how he takes the ‘chloroquine thing’ daily as a precautionary measure while the counterstrike from the Democrat Speaker of the House of Representatives though conciliatory in opening remarks hits back tacitly that the President’s age and “morbid obesity” exist as risk factors that predispose him to sudden death consequent to use of self-prescribed medication for a condition whose cure is yet unknown; in no uncertain terms, even predisposition to the virus itself. We can do less with such absurdity in Kenya!
The environment has been the primary beneficiary from the slow-down of daily pollution by industries and air quality is now so good you can actually see the Pyramids of Giza from Roysambu if the memes are to be taken prima-facie! Maybe not them but Mt. Kenya.
Some instances of fauna that had been almost going extinct, consequent of being too shy to mate now go about doing the business devoid of distractions and nosey humans getting in their grill, so to say.
The Quandary occasioned by social distancing has meant ‘working from Home’ has become the new norm for many. Even learning activities in the ordinary sense have been disrupted and the normal school calendar involving some curricular activities, a dash of music festival here, a sprinkle of sporting there, sandwiching a sliver of the drama festival have all been pilfered to the four winds of the earth! But human ingenuity has meant that use of technology in not just learning but working has been incorporated. Zoom, Skype, Slack VC, Google Hangouts, Microsoft Teams, YouTube Live, Facebook Live among a plethora of other platforms have become the new ‘lingua franca’ with regards to getting work done via Video Conferencing. However; as pertains to the Kenyan situation, these modes are only feasible for the middle-class and the affluent. The mass-market; as is used in corporate parlance to denote the hoi-polloi, has mostly children running about the neighbourhoods or helping their parents in some errand or other in absolute disregard to the continuation of learning elsewhere via the aforementioned futuristic modes. The President a few weeks ago received some flack for launching high-altitude, stratospheric balloons for enhancing wireless connectivity as many bemoaned a lack even of the most basic of devices for the uptake of that same resource. Priorities looked warped for a President that indubitably has displayed a streak of being out of touch with the realities on the ground, many opined plaintively. Though working from home is impractical for many Kenyans whose work is majorly labour-intensive and transportation-based; for those actually fortuitous to able to, it is an onerous opportunity to bond with their children and perhaps that long-suffering spouse who has been neglected for an eon! With bars closed for the foreseeable future, the discerning have taken to Online Courses to gain new skills or polish up on the soft skills they already have.
The take-home from this whole fiasco is the enduring resilience we possess as a people. So far, our response has been better than expected and death-tolls lower than what WHO had portended for Kenya and most of the 3rd World. There are no dead bodies on our streets which is admirable. Kudos to our medical practitioners! We are now markedly a cleaner people who though surviving in part by the mercy of God have had to dispense with this unhealthy infatuation with religious leaders laying their mostly decrepit hands on members of the congregation ostensibly to deliver divine healing! We all are aware what Pandora’s Box such actions have unfurled for a renowned evangelist in this nation at the time of my going to press. So rather than complain about bars being closed, missing out on English Football, the camaraderie of fellow drunkards and perhaps the congregation in our respective places of worship; let’s accept that the social distancing rule is all in our best interests and ensuring our survival. This may even be the new normal until a functional vaccine is developed. But for the time being let’s observe the 3S routine of Sanitize, Social Distance and Suit up on your mask. That one of coughing in the elbow is a 50-50 for me!