Not too long, in the wider East Africa the big story was drought. In Kenya, South Sudan, Somalia, Ethiopia cattle were being wiped out, and farmers were selling their animals for pennies to cut their losses.
The photos of gaunt mothers and their children in camps were everywhere. Ethiopia and Somalia were facing the worst drought in over 60 years, and South Sudan was likely to perish in a famine.
Then the rains came, and from the Horn, central Africa, to southern Africa everything was under water. And again hunger, lost livelihoods, and emergency rescues, were the order the day.
Barely had we caught our breaths, than the fearsome locusts joined the action, ravaging every green thing in their way from Ethiopia, Somalia, to Kenya, with fears they could cut a ravenous path to Uganda and South Sudan.
In all these crises, governments and our societies have struggled. Beyond prayers and appeals to the international community for help, we’ve otherwise been out of our depths.
Nature has become moody and even angry, and we are told these calamities will be the order of the day from now on, because we have upset the balance of the Earth’s climate.
For our survival, many things have to change. For one, national governments can no longer work alone.
They must just ramp up efforts for collective action. Kenya, for example, benefits if Ethiopia and Somalia don’t keep locusts a state secret, and let Nairobi know they are on the way.
The downstream countries along the River Nile, are better served if the upstream ones tell them the river has burst its banks. It means trouble is coming their way. It seems, then, that nature might just once and for all settle the argument over regional co-operation.
At national level, all our governments have so far given more money to soldiers (defence), than agriculture, early warning systems, or weather.
Some time ago there was a rather shocking story in Uganda that the meteorological service’s regional offices send their reports to a central point by boda boda, then they would be gathered and sent to Kampala.
Hopefully the situation has changed, but that meant the meteorological authority was issuing reports that were several days late — with the weather long changed.
The idea that a weather scientist with a faded suit, thin tie, and seated in a leaking office no one otherwise cares about should start getting more money than a general with a three-car envoy, will for sure be a near-impossible sell. But the countries that survive in the near future, will be those that make the leap.
Environmental ministers can also no longer be just the president’s favourite ruling party clown, whom he is keeping fed in the job until the next election, or the chap who failed as Agriculture minister and is being given the docket as a soft landing in a cabinet reshuffle.
It has to be a clever woman who studied environmental science, and knows the difference between climate change and global warming.
We might also have to accept that the time for charismatic presidents who fill stadiums with crowds will have to end.
To deal with the climate challenges, we will probably need clever but boring chaps who read science journals on vacation, and have crowd phobia, to lead us.
Charles Onyango-Obbo is The author is curator of the “Wall of Great Africans” and publisher of explainer site Roguechiefs.com. [email protected]
Make protective gear available, affordable
The government’s directive on mandatory use of face masks in public places in a bid to curb the spread of Covid-19 has instantly sparked huge demand for the items.
There is evidence that masks curtail the spread of the coronavirus and offer first-line protection to the wearer. The campaign will greatly help to curb local transmission of the deadly virus.
But the high demand has come at a price. Key among them is accessibility and quality. Already, the market is flooded with masks of poor quality that retail at low prices.
Our concern is the risks that abound in using such inferior products to deal with a lethal virus that defies any known cure.
Already, the Ministry of Health and the Kenya Bureau of Standards have issued guidelines to manufacturers but, clearly, these seem not to be followed — certainly not with rogue traders out to make a killing from the crisis.
This is why we need a system for enforcing standards. Leaving backdoor manufacturers and traders to do their bidding is dangerous. Quality is compromised.
Equally distressing is the cost of procuring quality masks. Good-quality ones cost more than Sh100 a piece and should be used once and properly disposed of at the end of the day.
In an economy where a majority of the population live from hand to mouth, such a high price locks out many and, worse, exposes them to infection.
The question is, can the government make the masks readily available and affordable to most Kenyans?
We note that local production has begun at Rivatex, in Eldoret, and the Kitui County Textile Centre, among other places. But its impact on the market is still minimal.
The point is that quality masks are expensive and out of reach for ordinary people, hence the onus on the government to make them affordable.
It is not lost on anyone that the government has received donations from Jack Ma that should be channelled to the needy.
Added to that is usage and disposal. We call for a public communication and information campaign to sensitise the people on proper usage and disposal of masks to avoid environmental risks.
The government’s push for personal hygiene and other protection methods should be complemented with practical measures like making available affordable masks and sanitisers.
Indeed, the government has directed the courts to release alcoholic substances being kept as exhibits to manufacturers of sanitisers to enable them to make the product affordably.
In effect, manufacturers are being cushioned and should pass on the benefits to consumers.
Stemming the coronavirus infections, now at 184, is an enormous challenge. All need government support through interventions to access personal protective gear easily and affordably.
Award a vote for justice
There is finally some good news for two families whose patriarchs suffered torture and detention without trial at the hands of a repressive regime.
The High Court has awarded late politicians Jean-Marie Seroney and Charles Rubia Sh17 million each for the injustices inflicted for their political activities.
Seroney was a firebrand MP who excelled with powerful contributions in the National Assembly. Rubia, the first African mayor of Nairobi, was a long-serving MP and Cabinet minister.
The court ruled that there was sufficient proof that the two men were illegally detained.
Both suffered incarceration and became seriously ill for only exercising their freedom of expression, a right that is enshrined in the Constitution.
Seroney was arrested for uttering words that should have been privileged, having been spoken on the floor of Parliament.
Rubia, who was also a successful businessman, successfully campaigned for the restoration of multiparty democracy.
After a long wait, justice has finally been done. However, no amount of money can fully compensate the two families for the agony they suffered from that separation.
Nonetheless, the cash award is a symbolic gesture that should go some way in bringing this matter to closure.
It is a shame, however, that taxpayers will bear this financial burden. Ideally, the leaders responsible for this miscarriage of justice and their accomplices should have been required to pay for it.
It is also a pity that the two men who suffered the injustice did not live to enjoy the compensation. This is an indictment of the wheels of justice, which turn quite slowly.
However, the significance of these rulings is that, never again should such a blatant violation of constitutional rights and fundamental freedoms occur in a democratic society whose ideals we truly cherish.
Kenya should avoid the ‘sins’ of New York in virus war
As Kenya announced on Thursday five more positive cases of Covid-19 disease to bring its national tally to 184, in New York City, 799 people died from Wednesday to Thursday, bringing the state’s toll to 6,268.
The Ministry of Health says 5,588 people have been tested, seven have died and 12 have recovered.
And Health CS Mutahi Kagwe warned Kenyans on Tuesday to brace for worse.
I was a bit confused when Mr Kagwe said they had tested 696 people within 24 hours only for his CAS to dampen the feat the following day with a figure of 305.
Why the reduction? Even with more testing kits and personnel? The ministry should roll out mass testing.
That will give us credible statistics and help the government to make better and more focused plans.
One of the major failings of New York in fighting the pandemic was delay and/or difficulties in expanding testing, according to an article, “How delays and unheeded warnings hindered New York’s virus fight”, by J. David Goodman.
Published in The New York Times, it exposes some shortcomings of the American state’s leadership and residents in the fight against Covid-19, which has claimed the lives of many African Americans.
As at April 9, some 149,401 had tested positive for Covid-19 in the state.
Another “mistake”, it says, was delay in imposing lockdown and effecting stay-at-home orders. New York imposed a lockdown on March 15 — having already recorded 329 cases — and stay-at-home orders on March 22.
Kenya is at 184 infections. Should impose a lockdown, especially Nairobi Metropolis, noting that our health system is way below par (compared to New York’s)?
Should that happen, the national and county governments must cushion the vulnerable by distributing food to poor households — what Mombasa Governor Hassan Joho is doing.
Another lesson is to adhere to government directives. But the government has failed on this one.
While officials have tried to ensure that the curfew is enforced, they seem to have forgotten about other directives — like wearing of face masks.
The government should acquire more ventilators, face masks and testing kits and open and operationalise additional isolation and quarantine centres.
We don’t have enough time but, as the Luo say, better start early than rush to a (witch)doctor later.
I read that two Kenyans have developed a ventilator. Samuel Kairu and Paul Kariuki from Thika built a prototype and are lobbying for its testing and mobilisation for 3D printing. If this can’t get multimillion-shilling funding, what should?
Daniel Many Owiti, Uasin Gishu
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