OPINION: COVID-19 crisis presents opportunity for Kenya to rethink


OPINION: COVID-19 crisis presents opportunity for Kenya to rethink
File image of a patient undergoing a COVID-19 test. PHOTO| COURTESY

By Allan Chesang

Disruption. That is probably the most (mis)used word of the quarter – and rightfully so.

I bet we can all agree that with all the concerns regarding the cataclysmic economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, we are certainly navigating uncharted waters. Our resilience is at test and only the application of practical solutions and realistic policies will determine the speed of our recovery.

Together with the rest of the world, Kenyans are grappling with the unprecedented challenges triggered by this pandemic. Studies have shown that on average, majority of the households in Kenya can survive for only 4 weeks before their savings are depleted. Yes, this is daunting … but ‘so what?’ is the question we should be asking.

This is an appropriate time for Kenya (and the rest of Africa) to rethink its supply chain because that has shifted, globally. We need to relook our industries and investments, as well as diversify our supply chain to reduce the risk of exposure.

The initial demand for face masks, sanitizers, Personal Protective Equipment and ventilators took us all by surprise but being the Kenyans that we are, we were agile. In my view, we really did rise to the task. Amidst all that though, the lack of preparedness was apparent. This leaves a big task on the way forward for the President’s Big 4 agenda (Manufacturing pillar).

The moratorium and tax measures outlined in the Tax Laws (Amendment) Act, 2020 to cushion Kenyans against the economic effects of the corona virus is a good place to start but Kenyans are still in distress. Tourism has received a complete global shutdown during this period and Kenya being a tourist hub has felt the stab, since it contributes to 8% of our GDP. But all is not lost.

There is an opportunity in every crisis, so perhaps this is the time for Central Bank of Kenya to extend favourable loans to hotels and allow them to do organised renovations and improvements during his quarantine period. This, and other fiscal policies can go a long way in keeping our economy afloat during and after these turbulent times.

The private sector’s response was prompt and players stepped in to boost the government’s efforts through the COVID-19 Emergency Response Fund and the National Business Compact Coalition.

Collaboration and partnership with the Private sector is critical, not only to flatten the COVID-19 curve, but even post the pandemic. The government therefore needs to actively engage the private sector through Public-Private Partnerships to bridge the gaps in development needs and more so to tackle the shortfalls in our healthcare system.

The PPP conversation needs to be taken seriously – especially if we want to achieve Universal Healthcare Coverage (UHC) by 2022.

The youth are the most affected at this time but even so, they remain in the frontline in the fight against this pandemic – whether in their professional capacity or by mere social responsibility.

With the power of social media and the viral spread of fake news, it is prudent for us to harness the value of online community through the internet and the social platform, as a way of championing mental wellness, especially at this time of social isolation.

This pandemic has also revealed the existing inequalities in society and with it the vast information gap that currently exists. Possibly we should have posters all over the country to educate the people about the myths,  symptoms and prevention from COVID-19 – we do this every election year, so it shouldn’t be too strenuous, right?

The situation we are in is foreign not only to Kenyans, but to the rest of the world. How the government will react has a high correlation to how citizens will respond. Today it is Corona virus, tomorrow it could be another crisis. We should therefore not only employ survival tactics but also approach this with a longer-term wholistic view.

It is not time for unnecessary bureaucratic hurdles, regulations and conditions which are not beneficial to Kenyans and even worse, have not been proven and tested by countries that are even more developed. Let us learn from developed nations and cut our coat according to our cloth.

Kenyans are already having it rough … so let’s not make it harder for them to adapt to this new normal.

As individuals, we can only do so much right now — but even that is enough. We must not despair… we can, and we will pull through this!

Allan Chesang is a commentator on socio-political issues and founder of the Allan Chesang Foundation

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