How President Uhuru balanced Kenyans’ hopes

Monday, June 8th, 2020 00:00 |
President Uhuru Kenyatta addresses the nation. Photo/PSCU

Noah Cheploen @cheploennoah

Like students awaiting their final national examination results to be announced, Kenyans waited with bated breath for President Uhuru Kenyatta’s eighth national address on Saturday, with many hoping that curfew and cessation of movement restrictions would be lifted.

Even before then, memes and other creative short videos were doing rounds in the internet with ingenious Kenyans calling it ‘Freedom Day’ and others suggesting—tongue in cheek—that June 6 be set as a national holiday.

Pressure was mounting on President Kenyatta and his advisors particularly the National Security Council and the medical experts—to reopen the country and allow free movement—putting him in a catch 22 situation. 

Apparently, the President was following keenly conversations in social media for he mentioned, off the cuff, the memes as he explained to the anxious nation why it was too soon to open up the country and allow normalcy. 

“I have seen others saying freedom or independence but that is not the position… we’re not doing this to hurt anybody, it is about lives,” he said.

The Head of State implored Kenyans to adhere to the measures and protocols put in place saying this is the only way the country is going to defeat the coronavirus pandemic. 

Many sectors of the economy including matatu operators, bar owners, small-scale traders and players in the hospitality industry all hoped the President was going to ease the restrictions and allow normalcy to return. 

“I took time to reflect on what must be done,” said President Kenyatta, as he struck a delicate balancing act to save both the economy and lives.

“If we lift the cessation of movement ban, how will this help us fight the Pandemic?

And if we do not, how will the ban affect our economy, especially, the micro business enterprises and those who derive their livelihoods from them?” he asked. 

“To answer these questions, I turned to our Brain Trust, made up of the finest doctors, research scientists and public practitioners for counsel.

And I must admit that opinion was divided on how we are to advance against this virus,” he said. 

Curb spread

Uhuru stated: “Some, including myself, wanted to open up now. That was, and is still, my desire. I want to open up at the earliest opportunity and get the economy going.” 

However, he said that he was in the end convinced by the country’s top experts in virology and disease management that opening up the country at this stage was not the right thing to do especially considering that the infections  graph was on an upward trajectory.

“With these two view points on the table, I was not dealing with a right and a wrong: I was caught in-between two rights,” he said.

“Those who want to open up are right, and those opposed to opening up are also right. And this clash of two rights placed me on the Horns of a dilemma,” he stated.

The President pleaded with Kenyans that the stringent measures put in place by the government were for their own good saying that the rate of infections would have hit 800,000 by July with an estimated 75,000 deaths if they had not acted early enough. 

And if one infected person has potential to infect two people, this number would have hit 2.4 million people in 21 days, he said. 

“But because of the early interventions we took, we have recorded only 2,600 infections and 83 deaths (by Saturday),” said the President.

According to the experts, relaxing the interventions by 20 per cent would lead to 200,000 infections and 30,000 deaths by December 2020, he said.

Further, if we relax the interventions by 40 per cent, the infections will peak in November 2020 with 300,000 infected and 40,000 deaths, he explained.

“And if we relax them by 60 per cent, the pandemic will peak in October with 450,000 infections and 45,000 deaths,” said Uhuru, as he laid the ground for extension of stringent measures to curb the spread of Coronavirus.

His decision was further informed by the fact that counties are ill-prepared to handle a surge in Covid-19 cases, citing lack of isolation wards and that the country’s health facilities would be overwhelmed. 

“Access to testing, isolation and quarantine must be a bare minimum. Capacity for surveillance and contact-tracing must be in place,” he said. 

Uhuru also said that Kenyans were not ready to nurse Covid-19 patients at home, adding that it is a requirement for every county to set aside a 300-bed capacity isolation ward in the coming weeks to handle any surge in infections.

However, despite extending cessation of movement into and out of Nairobi and Mombasa, President Kenyatta struck a balance by opening up Kwale and Kilifi counties. 

Opening up Eastleigh estate in Nairobi which had been closed down due to rising number of infections also helped pacify residents, who were claiming they were being wrongly and unfairly being targeted. Mombasa’s Old Town also benefited after the President lifted cessation of movement. 

Further, the curfew time was varied from 7pm-5am  to 9pm-4am  in a bid to allow Kenyans to work full day and drive the economy forward. 

By announcing that gradual opening of schools will start September 1, President Kenyatta gave Kenyans hope that all is not lost. He directed that a new school calendar be unveiled by mid-August. 

In the meantime, the ban on all forms of gatherings remain extended for a further 30 days, he said.

“That due to the increase in patterns of infections, the cessation of movement into and out of the Nairobi Metropolitan Area, Mombasa and Mandera be further extended by 30 days,” he added.

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