If Kenyans doubted the government was oblivious to their worries and concerns, the COVID-19 pandemic confirmed their worst fears: the Kenyan government is not only ignorant of the way the majority of the country’s citizens live, but he just doesn’t care. The level of insensitivity displayed by the president and his cabinet astounded even those who would normally sing the government’s praises.
1. Clubbing citizens during a curfew
When government imposed a twilight-to-dawn curfew and partial lockdown in late March, images of police brutally beating people waiting for ferries and other forms of public transportation filled the media social. There have been at least three deaths reported as a result of violence inflicted on ordinary citizens by the police. No public apology from the police was made, and no statement was made about who died and under what circumstances. The cruelty with which the curfew was imposed shocked even the international media, prompting the president to urge the police to exercise restraint. Yet the blows continue to this day. A recent video on social media showed police officers pulling someone from their house for not wearing a face mask – in their own house!
The new cabinet secretary for health, Mutahi Kagwe, has adopted a “disciplinary” approach similar to the pandemic, which has aroused more fear than confidence in the government. Instead of reassuring Kenyans, he resorted to berating them, even urging those who dare to eat “one sausage” with their beer in restaurants (restaurants have been asked to serve alcoholic beverages only to customers who order from so does the food.)
2. No safety net for the poor and vulnerable
Meanwhile, President Uhuru Kenyatta, begging bowl in hand, implored donors / lenders to donate money to Kenya to allow the country to effectively manage the coronavirus crisis. (It should be noted that the president is from one of the wealthiest families in the country, running a large monopolistic and highly profitable milk processing business. However, there has been no talk of reducing milk prices for the current crisis, neither the president nor his family has donated money or milk to charities to help the unemployed and the vulnerable.)
The promises of cash and food transfers to those who are suffering from extreme hardship due to the curfew and foreclosure do not seem to materialize. A cynical citizen already wonders if the funds raised will go to the intended beneficiaries or will simply fill politically linked pockets. Anecdotal evidence and other reports indicate that the monthly allowance of 2,000 shillings (about $ 20) promised to the most vulnerable has still not been paid to them despite assurances by various government officials that cash transfers have been made. started in April. A quick and unscientific investigation I conducted of people living in Kawangware, a large informal settlement in Nairobi, showed that none of the people, who were laid off or had to close their small businesses, saw a treatment.
Like Mercy Mwenda, columnist at Daily Nation deplored: “Given the current government’s treatment of the poor Kenyans, one might mistakenly think that one of the main poverty reduction strategies of this government is to create more poor people. . . It is now that we realize that our interaction with the government, as the poor, begins and ends with the elections. Between the two, only the tragedies affecting the rich and caused by the rich will be focused. ”
3. Flowers for British doctors but no rewards for Kenyan doctors and nurses
Handed over by the state and with no support system to help them get through the crisis, Kenyans had to endure another slap in the face when it was announced that the Kenyan government had sent flowers grown in Kenya to National Health workers UK Service (NHS) in recognition of their efforts in the treatment of patients with COVID-19. This public relations stunt (possibly a failed attempt by the once flourishing flower export industry to secure future exports) has failed. Disgusted Kenyans – who have witnessed a deterioration in their public health care system, where doctors and nurses barely have the tools to treat any patient, let alone one who suffers from COVID-19, were appalled that the president has seen fit to reward health workers abroad when doctors and nurses in local hospitals complain about the lack of personal protective equipment (PPE) and low wages.
Uhuru responded to his social media critics by admitting that sending flowers to people in a rich country was not just a kind gesture from a poor country; it was a marketing strategy. He told Kenyans that the 300 bouquets of flowers had been sent to the UK “to show the world our product” and to protect the country’s flower industry. Kenyans on social media were asked to “think before you talk nonsense”.
4. Make people homeless in the middle of a lock
There have been more shocking events to follow. About three weeks after the lockout and curfew, some 5,000 people were forcibly evicted from a low-income neighborhood in Nairobi and left homeless. Images of houses being demolished and of women and children pleading for mercy did not prompt the government or security personnel sent to the scene to suspend the eviction.
The eviction occurred at a time when no one could leave Nairobi due to containment measures, which meant that the evicted could not even seek refuge in their rural homes. At 7 p.m. the curfew also prevented the evicted from finding alternative accommodation in the short term. No one in government has wondered how these people would impose “social distancing” in their homelessness or where they would sleep during a night curfew.
Details of the reasons why this eviction was ordered at the time are scarce, but there is speculation that the order was made to pave the way for a large development program nearby. Even if this is the case, why were the residents not sufficiently informed? More importantly, why was the deportation exercise (supervised by the police) ordered during a lockout and curfew?
International and social media picked up the story and released it for the world to see, but the state made no apologies, explanations, or stated plans for resettlement, shelter, or shelter. compensation for those whose houses have been demolished. John Githongo, the editor of The elephantcommented on Twitter: “That the demolition of homes of over 5,000 residents in the northern district of Kariobangi can take place in the midst of an unprecedented pandemic closure demonstrates official insensitivity and disregard for basic life and dignity of Kenyans which is amazing. “
The bad jubilee dashboard
What these tragic events demonstrated was not only the government’s insensitivity in the midst of an extremely difficult period, but also its helplessness, accompanied by extreme greed and an anti-intellectual attitude, which raised levels of mediocrity and incompetence in government, which was not found under Daniel arap Moi’s very repressive regime. (Even the former president knew you need smart people in government.)
The state capture of the media also made a disturbing comeback, with stories from publishers taking instructions from State House and corporate interests aligned with state interests. (Uhuru’s contempt for the media – and for reading in general – was evident after assuming the presidency when he said that newspapers were only good for “packing meat.”)
When the jubilee government of Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy William Ruto took power for the first time in 2013, I thought it was just incompetent. But over the years, and as one corruption scandal after another threatened to tarnish the legacy of government, I realized that something more sinister was brewing. The corruption scandals were of such magnitude that Kenyans stopped counting zeros in looted amounts. The “soft” ladles have been blamed, but many Kenyans have wondered how such large sums could go through large ministries without ministers or permanent secretaries realizing it.
Late attempts to reduce corruption in government have led to the dismissal of a secretary to the Treasury Cabinet, but this anti-corruption campaign appears to be targeting one side of the coalition government, which has raised questions about his impartiality.
It has also become apparent that the people running the show have no idea what challenges ordinary Kenyans face. Election promises – like the laptop for each Standard One student made by Uhuru during his 2013 election campaign – ignored the fact that large numbers of Kenyan students go to schools that have no no running water or electricity. Some schools, especially in remote areas, don’t even have a roof. A member of the school board told me about a case where tablets (not the promised laptops) were delivered, but they are not being used because there are not enough of them, and in any case, teachers have not received training.
During the current crisis, the Honchos government has encouraged schoolchildren to adopt e-learning at home, not realizing that a personal computer is a luxury even for many university students, let alone elementary school students.
Despite attempts to portray Uhuru’s “legacy” as having brought tangible benefits to Kenyans, citizens now know that the promises made by him and his deputy (such as the stadiums that were to be built in various cities across the country) do not did not materialize. On the contrary, Kenyans have suffered a sharp drop in their standard of living, thanks to high inflation rates and a falling shilling.
And as if Kenyans were not already suffering financially due to the current blockage and curfew, the Treasury, Ukur Yatani, recently proposed a series of additional taxes that will make the lives of poor and middle-class Kenyans and those who lost their jobs or even more difficult businesses. He wants to impose a VAT of 14% on liquefied petroleum gas (which was previously exempt from tax); he wants to tax pensions paid to people over 65; he even wants to impose a 14% tax on machines and equipment used in plastic recycling factories (a real brake for those who recycle waste and respect the environment).
These and other new taxes are undoubtedly a response to the hot air balloon debt that currently stands at 6,299 billion shillings (about $ 60 billion or about 60% of the country’s GDP) that the Jubilee government has inflicted on the country, and that it does not seem to reimburse. Earlier this month, Moody’s, the international credit rating agency, downgraded Kenya’s credit rating from “stable” to “negative” due to the country’s huge external debt repayments, heavy debt obligations local with less tax revenue (thanks to a mismanaged economy that has seen several small and medium-sized businesses retreat due to high energy and other costs, including high taxes) and dollar loans that could see refunds increase if the shilling decreases sharply. Since Kenyans also suffer – and will continue to suffer – from the effects of the COVID-19 blockage for months, if not years, it is deeply insensitive to increase their suffering through punitive taxation.
The Jubilee government’s exorbitant taxation methods remind me of the famous “housing tax” imposed by the British colonial administration which, after forcibly alienating indigenous peoples from their lands, then imposed a tax on them as a means of forcing them to pay for employment on white settler farms, a form of extortion that ultimately led to the Mau Mau anti-colonial rebellion.
An unholy alliance
Part of the problem is that the ruling elite in Kenya, especially Uhuru Kenyatta, has never experienced real poverty. Uhuru’s father, Jomo Kenyatta, the first president of Kenya, came from a modest peasant background, but within ten years of his reign after independence, he had become one of the wealthiest people in the country, with land properties across the country, some acquired through coercion. .
Vice President William Ruto has made no secret of the fact that he comes from a poor family and even sold chickens by the roadside for a living when he was young. But it is not lost to Kenyans that the vast fortune he has today is the result of twisted deals he made when he was close to Me, who prepared him to campaign for his KANU party when it appeared that it could lose its grip on power. Ruto has since been named in various land-related scandals, allegations he continues to deny.
The lay alliance between these former defendants of the International Criminal Court (ICC) has opened the doors of impunity. When Uhuru and Ruto joined to form the Jubilee Party ahead of the 2013 elections – which they dubbed “a referendum against the ICC” – they were essentially telling Kenyans that any crime – even one against humanity – can be ignored because as long as the people vote overwhelmingly for those who are accused of this crime. Their election campaign encouraged a wave of known criminals to run for political office, unlike Chapter Six of the 2010 Constitution, which requires government leaders to be people of integrity.
However, now, seven years after this marriage of convenience, Uhuru seems to have changed sides. A clear example of the dishonesty that permeated his administration is the sidelining of the allies of the vice president, who in 2013 was presented as the best friend, ally and co-accused of the president wrongly accused by an international court . The two men often appeared in public holding hands and wearing similar clothing (another publicity stunt no doubt concocted by the various public relations companies that the president hired to whitewash and consolidate his image).
Now that Uhuru has teamed up with his former enemy and now defunct opposition leader Raila Odinga, he is no longer thinking of emptying his deputy. Ruto isn’t known for being honest or honest either, but when a man he helped win an election throws him like an old wet sock, that says a lot about the dumped man. . And given that Uhuru is able to throw people who helped him win elections under the bus, what guarantee is there that he will not do the same in Raila?
A bumpy ride and a possible renaissance
Kenyans are on a bumpy road in the months leading up to the 2022 election, with a struggling economy, thanks to mismanagement and now COVID-19, and a very busy political environment where friends and foes have become very interchangeable. In other countries, mismanagement of the economy and senseless treatment of citizens would normally result in a change of guard during elections. But this being Kenya – where loyalty to her tribe takes precedence over skills – everything we can expect is more or less the same. Or maybe COVID-19 ultimately helped unmask our leaders to show their true colors, which could change the way Kenyans perceive leadership.
Looking ahead, I envision a “lost decade of development” for Kenya, much like that experienced by African countries in the 1990s during the implementation of the structural adjustment programs (SAP) of the World Bank and IMF, which led to the withdrawal of essential services by the state. and huge layoffs in the public sector, increasing levels of hardship across the continent. Repaying unsustainable and reckless loans will no doubt leave Kenya much weaker economically and will halt progress in key sectors. COVID-19 has only accelerated the country’s inevitable economic decline.
However, we must also remember that the 1990s also gave birth to pro-democratic movements in Kenya and many other African countries. As then, an angry, disillusioned and impoverished citizen can finally say: “Enough is enough!” This could give rise to progressive alternative leadership that genuinely cares about the country and its citizens, and that has the vision and the capacity to unleash Kenya’s unlimited potential.