31-12-2020 by Freddie del Curatolo
The old Mijikenda wisemen in the hinterland of the Kenyan coast used to say that if nothing happened during the day, it was a good day.
And this nothing includes not only bad news, bereavement, abuse, natural adversity.
In a place where hope is often placed in the prayers and council meetings of village communities, there would be many reasons to complain or rebel.
Nothing has happened means that you are as hungry as ever, that the malaria that killed one child the day before will soon kill another, that the district hospital remains at the same distance and with the same uncomfortable road to reach it, and so on.
And yet, if the day has gone by as if nothing had happened, one can sleep peacefully.
Because the Lord of Sun and Clouds had his watch working, the rain didn't come early to ruin the maize harvest, the river didn't burst its banks and the locusts chose other shores.
But Kenya is not only the land of the Mijikenda sages, nor of the Maasai and Samburu herdsmen, or of the Orma and Gabbra nomads. Kenya is a young and in many ways rampant country, albeit one involved in unhealthy and often unsustainable growth.
So no one would dream of saying, even here at the Equator, that 2020 was just another year.
For Kenyans who only experienced the world wars on the rebound, and especially the first one, with the conflicts between the Germans and the British in the East African colonies, the heavy years were those of famine, of tribal massacres. The battles for independence and the Mau Mau revolt did not affect the entire population, as did the post-electoral chaos of 2008, which also claimed more than a thousand victims. Less than Covid-19.
When the pandemic arrived in this country last March, it had already entered 12 African nations, including those of the Maghreb and South Africa, which not by chance are still the most affected.
A few days later, the World Health Organisation predicted that the Black Continent would be a catastrophe because of its non-existent public health, the habits of its people and the poverty that has always flirted with so many other diseases that can form an explosive mix with Covid-19.
One only has to think of TB and asthma, which is widespread in children because of the fumes from paraffin used as a light, burnt brushwood and coal, which is still the number one method of cooking.
The experts had not taken into account the average age in Africa, which is less than half that of the West, the climates, the humidity, the naturally vitamin-rich diet due to the fruits and berries that often constitute not only anti-starvation but also indispensable nourishment, the ancestral herbal cures and, above all, the antibodies that are used to fighting against viruses that are much more than bat-like and pangolin-like, but decidedly lion-like and elephantine.
Even the most experienced and cynical reporters, and the most serious and passionate volunteers, have fortunately not been able to propagandise deaths in the streets, mass graves with piles of corpses, hospitals in collapse with relatives of the victims screaming, assaults on dispensaries in search of oxygen and so on.
Of course, the official numbers are certainly lower than the real ones, but not by much.
If Italy's ISTAT figures report the highest number of deaths since 1944, Kenya's will probably report a slight drop due to fewer road accidents (but also fewer hospital admissions and death certificates...those will come out later).
Where was 2020 terrible for Kenyans?
Maybe in the economy?
Apart from the fact that the "global" economy concerns a very small part of the population and is particularly concentrated in the capital Nairobi and its satellite cities, once the three months of "hard" lockdown had reopened, those who live on little have resumed their habits of the usual precariousness and the search for daily earnings to float just above the threshold of survival. The people who suffered most were the small and medium-sized enterprises and their new social class, which in just a few years went from shacks to decent homes, opened small shops or were employed by companies that had to scale down their plans.
But even for them, even though it was an unexpected stop and their hopes were abruptly blocked, the "return to the start" is almost natural. When you think that in other neighbouring countries, worse things happen after an electoral round turns into ethnic cleansing or with new dictators impoverishing political opponents and their companies.
In short, Covid-19 is not only the latest epidemic, but also one of the many 'African variants' of instability.
Where will the socio-economic damage to the country be visible?
Certainly in tourism, as everywhere else. Tourism has already declined in previous years as a source of income for the State, falling to less than 10% of GDP.
The damage will be seen in those social implications that governments are already taking pains to leave in the mud: youth discomfort, domestic and gender violence, education and ancient tribal traditions.
In the meantime, water is as scarce in areas of ethnic conflict as ever, hunger is increasing, climate change is threatening vast areas, lake levels are rising, swallowing up villages and farmland, and locusts are eating up what remains.
That is why it cannot be said that 2020 was worse than any other year.
The worst in Africa is eternal and we all wanted it to the detriment of those who never looked to the future.
A virus will certainly not spoil it for us.
Happy 2021, Kenya.
And may nothing else happen.
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