Saturday, March 27, 2021

They still don't care

As shall become apparent after you have spent ten or so minutes with me, my laziness is otherworldly. Combined with my legendary procrastination, I couldn't possibly be bothered by ninety-nine per cent of the shit that gets folks out of bed in the morning. It is why I go out of my way to do the things I do well first time round so that I don't have to repeat them - or myself. I have a conscience, of sorts, and I would prefer that my life choices not have negative externalities, as the economists would put it.

It is why I know that the decisions that were being taken regarding the "Public Order No. 2 of 2021" were not just made by lazy procrastinators, they were made without thinking of or caring about their negative externalities. The decision is redolent of the decision in March 2020, at the beginning of the panic throughout government, to impose a nighttime curfew without giving the millions of workers who would be affected y the decision time to make arrangements to deal with the decision. The videos of Kenyans being assaulted by policemen for violating the short-notice curfew orders were heart-wrenching. The powers-that-be have not learnt anything.

When the order was given to shut down all travel out of and into Nairobi, Kiambu, Nakuru, Machakos and Kajiado counties, little thought was given to the fact that Kiambu, Machakos and Kajiado are dormitory towns of Nairobi, and hundreds of thousands of workers commute from them to the City for work. Mavoko is Machakos, Ongata Rongai is in Kajiado, and Kikuyu is in Kiambu. By imposing travel restrictions on these three counties, it meant the workers who work in the City were, by presidential decree, barred from coming to work. If their employers are unable to make work-from-arrangements for them, they are likely to be laid off. The latest declaration, just like the 2020 one, did not even bother to look provide for exemptions that would be applicable for essential workers or essential supplies. And in typical serikali fashion, it would be enforced with great vigour by the forces of law and order, further empowering the petty tyrants that policemen have become over the past one year.

Those who know these things, the people engaged in the arduous task of dealing with public emergencies, have told us over and over that the response to a pandemic follows certain guidelines. The economists who look at the impacts have told us what needs to be done in order to ensure that the economy is protected and the livelihoods of workers are protected, if not their household incomes. In the past year, the decision-makers in this government have not listened to the experts, whether it was on pandemic response, management and mitigation or economic relief and recovery. They have paid more attention to the security implications of their decisions because, as we have come to learn, they are more interested in managing the political transition leading up to the 2022 general election to the almost-total exclusion of everything else.

The senior-most members of the security establishment have turned a deaf ear to public health and economic specialists and it has led us down a false path that has occasioned billions in economic losses and hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of lost and shattered livelihoods. That they continue to be in charge and continue to make decisions with serious cross-cutting implications is a terrible indictment of our collective response to this national emergency.

All it would have taken for us to weather this pandemic and emerge better than we have would have been the placing of care for the people at the heart of the national response. How do we protect people from disease, injury and harm? How do we protect households from the harmful and injurious effects of the pandemic? How do we protect incomes and the economy so that families don't suffer from the effects of poverty? Instead, the response revolved around the fear that the Government would fall, that the president's agenda (whatever that is) would be derailed, that "crime" would become widespread, that the people would lead a revolution. None of that indicated a care for the people; it was a response designed to protect narrow parochial interests. It was wrong, injurious and harmful. We are repeating the same mistakes, only this time, I fear, the outcomes will be much, much worse.

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