“What is worse than indifference is when people’s nationalism allows for the conscious rationalisation of brutality as part of a political balance sheet. It is but a grave oversight when people shift their responsibility towards moral values for the duty to obey.”
– Aysha Taryam
On March 25 2020, President Uhuru Kenyatta stood before the nation at a press briefing in State House to give the larger nation direction on matters Covid-19. These would be updates on measures underway alongside those yet to be taken in a bid to slow down the spread of the SARs-Cov-2 virus. The brief began with news on recent confirmed cases to the tune of three (as of the 25th), which has since risen to 38 and 1 reported death of a 66-year old man who had prior health complications. The press statement then saw the President announce the imposition of a dusk-to-dawn curfew that would take effect on Friday March 27th 2020 and run from 7PM through to 5AM. This was to be only the second national curfew imposed on the country following the infamous 1982 curfew ordered by the then President and Late Daniel arap Moi after an unsuccessful coup d’état attempt by the military. The economy bore the brunt of the curfew and dipped but soon recovered within a matter of time of the curfew being eased off. This time, however, critical and essential service providers have been exempted from these measures to see that core systems do not halt or fail.
Given their many preventive efforts to keep social interactions to a minimum, I am baffled to say the least at this directive in particular. You can see what they were trying to do here, but the ball in our court is trailing off to the other side and giving the enemy the advantage. How a dusk-to-dawn curfew is expected to slow down the spread of the fatal (if it has to be) virus is beyond me. Does the virus know this is its assigned spread time? If anything, having people hurry out of work at the same time, to crowd into town at exactly the same time, all with the same idea to get to the bus terminals and save themselves a seat as scarce as ever poses a greater risk of transmission should one among the multitude be an unknowing carrier. Here we see a solution reached and agreed to by the ‘sharpest’ tools in the shed in all its ‘glory’ and glaring shortcomings. The curfew only serves to put pressure on the already strained public transport industry following the directive to cut down on the maximum carrying capacity of each vehicle in transit. The matatu operators’ request to have the price of oil slashed by the government was deemed as one not viable, which pushed these very operators to turn on their market and have them cushion their losses. This was translated into inconsiderate hiking of fare prices, a load borne by the grass in these situations whenever any two bulls feel the need to square it. On the material day of the enforcement (Friday 27th March), the expected crowd gathered. The police force tasked to ensure the curfew was upheld felt the imperious need to hurry people up hours before the start of the curfew, and needless to say they did not ask politely. Police officials were captured on a number of exurgent videos doing rounds on broadcast and social media showing their use of unnecessary force on a people using batons and tear gas, a people whose only crime was trying to get home amid a scarcity of vehicles and astronomical prices. Tear gas, for those who may not have had the displeasure of experiencing it, well, makes your eyes tear in a disconcerted way. One feels the urge to rub their eyes and cover their nose and mouth, practices of which have been heavily discouraged while trying to battle this pandemic. But our forces know better. Our government knows better, no? If the judicial system had not been affected by the status quo, GOK’s solution would be to jail as many as possible to ‘protect’ them as much as everyone else from them. For those in the grassroots, it’s a lose type of situation regardless of the perspective you take. Our protector turned abuser, the start (or continuation) of a story that has never ended well for the oppressed. For the common (wo)man it’s a classic case of catch-22, because whatever you do you’re wrong.
Several anecdotes have been shared of the ordeal and all are bleakly inhumane. The brutality was an insult to the very people who give the force any sliver of purpose as long as their careers are concerned. The act was disdainful, shameful, and sad for such a civilization, if at all we deem ourselves that anymore. Multitudes were bullied by men with arms, mere weapons which would see their master’s hardihood cower without. And for the men at the top, the men who called the shots before they were fired on the ground, remain cloaked in their privilege and completely ignorant of the bed they laid for us to sleep (or be put to sleep) on. Time and again screwing the very people it swore to serve over and over again, but we couldn’t say we saw this coming. If the virus did hit the streets and clasp it in its deadly grasp, these men at the top would be the recipients of the very limited resources set aside by the government (them) as a contingency. And we’d be left to our own flawed devices to brave the times. Unfair? You tell me.
I am for the opinion that a strict stay-at-home directive would work best in controlling the main enemy in all this, with complementary services made available to the citizens to make living less unbearable. Like other countries have done, governmental monetary help would go a long way in protecting the individual economies of its people. This would be a welcome change from the corporate obsession to improve the economy on paper with positive reports while everything else on the ground becomes exponentially harder. So, fixes? For one, if a curfew is to be enforced, then it should simply stop being enforced. This would never work against the real reason we find ourselves in this predicament. There is no way a curfew would slow down the spread of a deadly virus, and putting the police on it, the Kenyan police to be specific, would be akin to signing the people’s death wish. Is our government that incompetent as to turn every war against its people? Are roses red? It is time we drop this fake good citizen façade and deal with the virus, once we deal with the virus. My opinion of going into lockdown as a country and having coordinated systems that would see essential services delivered to the people could work, but sadly Kenya doesn’t do opinions nor coordination. Yes, this would be a drastic measure and would require lots of modifications and adjustments to living, but we’d be fighting the real fight, not punishing each other for happenings beyond our (and any other nation’s) control. However way we move from here, whatever the direction, we are in for a ride. The ears remain deaf, and the batons remain prepped. Let’s pray we come out of this in one piece. Stay safe everyone, every one of you. The line between the two enemies is fine, and we somehow became one in all this.
“The arrogance and brutality of empire are not repealed when they temporarily get deployed in a just cause.”
– Michael Kazin