02-02-2021 by Freddie del Curatolo
There is no doubt that in Kenya, even with all due caution, Covid-19 has not been so scary since the beginning of the year. There are between 2 and 3% positives on the swabs taken, daily deaths can be counted on the fingers of one hand and the progressive emptying of beds in the country's intensive care units is an established fact. There are 25 people on oxygen at the moment, while dozens of young and very young people continue to die every day of malaria and many more of various infections caused by dirty water.
All this is happening in a social context in which the habit of wearing masks properly has disappeared. This is done almost exclusively on the country's main roads and streets, when one may encounter a police checkpoint or pass by officers, or meet them on foot. Otherwise, in rural Kenya, which accounts for 75 per cent of the entire country, it is difficult to see anyone wearing one, except in public offices and hospitals.
Above all, hardly anyone wears it properly (nose out) and many have fabric masks that are often reused for days on end.
There is no question of social distances; they are not even checked anymore.
In Mombasa, in the last few days, one could see a local police jeep passing in front of the Kongowea market, crowded without any precautions.
The only habit that has entered slightly into the Kenyans' customs is the frequent washing of hands. Also because it is compulsory for activities of all kinds, from local restaurants to bazaars and supermarkets, for the population water and especially soap are free. Why give them up?
In this end-of-emergency scenario, as if entering the "colourless zone", Kenya now faces a great doubt or, if you like, a paradox: that of the curfew.
Does it still make sense to blockade a country at night?
And by blockade, we mean not only the transport sector, but also the commercial sector, which includes restaurants and especially the sale of alcoholic beverages, as well as the entertainment industry and, last but not least, and in this very flourishing country, more than other social phenomena, the sex industry.
While a new speech by President Kenyatta to the nation is awaited, the country remains glued to the deadline of 12 March, the date that according to Kenyatta's latest announcement should be the end of the restrictions. Last October, there was talk of reopening the country with percentages below 5%, now that we are between 2 and 3%, the decision should be obvious: total reopening, curfew from 10pm to 4am.
Instead, nothing can be taken for granted, it is not certain that Kenya will return to living "la vida loca".
Why might the curfew not be lifted?
First of all, the data in the possession of the institutions suggests it: at night most crimes are committed, at night the major road accidents occur, at night there are fights and crimes of all kinds. A closed Kenya, especially in the big cities like Nairobi and Mombasa, also means more health security: fewer people abusing alcohol and local artisanal liquor in the inns of the slums and suburbs.
But this cannot be the only reason why a country of 50 million inhabitants can continue to be held in check at night under the pretext of a pandemic. Nor can it bring to its knees thousands of discos, nightclubs, pubs and restaurants that are used to 'turnover' late at night.
It would be better, as has already been suggested by some parliamentarians, to reopen with new rules, which do not only concern the Covid-19 emergency and related protocols, but can regulate an entire system that has proliferated for years in the name of 'keeping the population happy'.
Protest and frustration always mount in the late hours and often come from the younger age groups. This can also be seen in Italy with the gang fights in Italian squares and the clubs breaking the rules. Kenya has always been permissive and has never made fines and punishment a rule, and thanks to this 'turning a blind eye' corruption has been able to proliferate even at the lowest levels. There is a law, nobody obeys it, but if I catch you, you have to give me something. If Kenya remains one of the most corrupt countries in the world, despite the goodwill of President Kenyatta and some of his government ministers, there must be a reason. And perhaps, in fact, more than one. One would think, therefore, that if it were to be reopened, in no time at all, everything would go back to the way it was, if not worse.
Finally, looking to the near future, Kenya is already entering an election campaign. This may mean that on the one hand there are those who could foment other outbreaks of violence than those of Covid-19, on the other hand the repression of police and military who have often acted with excessive violence to protests and riots, would be easily used as a political weapon against the current majority. It is difficult to think that the curfew can be extended for another year and a half, but certainly reopening the country at night, net of more freedom and a breath of fresh air for a slice of the local economy, will bring some problems.
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