By Grace Mutung’u Dr Isaac Rutenberg
Like many of her African counterparts, Kenya faces unique challenges and opportunities in battling the Coronavirus. Due to high unemployment, many people survive on income from casual and informal employment. Such income is unpredictable, and many people in this situation have no significant savings or other buffers against periods when work is scarce. It may therefore not be practical to put major cities and towns on complete lockdown without inviting potentially unmanageable social problems. Indeed, it has so far proven difficult to close open air markets or stop (the privately owned) public service vehicles from operating. To highlight these challenges, Journalist James Smart used social media to show the difficult balance that is the life of informal traders who now have to stretch their meagre earnings to cover their daily needs, after the middle class to whom they supply their labour retreated to social distancing.
The reality of rural urban migration is that many who come to Nairobi and other town centres in search of work never really settle in the towns. Their souls are rooted in their upcountry homes, as Joe Mopero’s classic hit Naona heri nirudi nyumbani, kwa baba na mama nikawasaidie (“I’ve decided to go back to my father’s and mother’s house, to help”)reminds us. At the slightest sight of insecurity, such as the lack of income brought about by Kenya’s partial lockdown, many city dwellers will travel back home to wait it out. This, of course, presents the greatest means of spreading the Coronavirus throughout the country, and government officials have been begging people to resist from taking that trip to the countryside.Continue reading