Opening Kenya’s post COVID-19 economy is dependent on the citizens, not the government

Written by
Dr Ayub Macharia

I listened keenly as our President, H.E. President Uhuru Kenyatta read his speech on 16th May 2020 outlining additional measures to be taken to manage the Corona pandemic in Kenya. Prior to his speech, the media was abuzz with news that expectations were high that the curfew and travel restrictions would be relaxed. Hence Kenyans waited with anticipation for the president’s speech.

The talk dominating the public domain was that the government will open more economic activities by relaxing restrictions. However, the consistent narrative from the senior government officers during the daily COVID-19 updates was that Kenyans were not taking the restrictions seriously. There were complaints that the people were not wearing masks, had ignored social distancing, were not washing hands regularly, were escaping from quarantine facilities, and were sneaking past the physical barriers erected in Nairobi, Kwale, Mombasa, Kilifi and Mandera. Hence, there was little credit in favor of the public expectation.

Besides all these complaints, the people expected the government to relax restrictions. There seems to be a general public feeling that the government should ignore and forget the restrictions. The people do not seem to understand that behaviour change is a key determinant in removal of the restrictions and forms the yardstick whose indicators guide the government in decision making.

The Head of State did not mince his words and explained that without behaviour change, he was reluctant to relax the restrictions despite its disastrous impact to the economy. He explained that the government main priority was protection of human life. He expressed fear that the COVID-19 virus was aggressive, merciless and has hit better economies to an extent that they had to dig many graves to bury their dead citizens. He wished this did not happen in Kenya. He reiterated that absence of behaviour change made relaxation of restrictions very risky, as there was evidence of spike in numbers of infection in other countries.

In this regard, what is the Kenya’s roadmap towards opening her economy? When are we likely to relax the restrictions? Positive behaviour change is key in order to reduce infections and determine readiness to move to post COVID-19 era. Implementation of this imperative lies on the citizens and not the government. The role of government is monitoring and evaluation and once assured that the risk is manageable, there shall be no hesitation to relax the restrictions. Citizens are working against themselves, and will determine when the Kenyan economy shall be reawakened.

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