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Amid COVID 19 disruption, AfCFTA could be the answer to South Africa and the rest of the continent

The AfCFTA Agreement has so far been ratified by 30 nations. On 31 October 2019 and 28 April 2020, Cameroon and Angola formally accepted ratification of the AfCFTA Deal, respectively. The deposit of those ratification instruments is pending.

Kenya in bind as country’s COVID-19 infections surge

Collins Odhiambo

NAIROBI, KENYA-When Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta, on Monday, July 6, 2020, eased restrictions to contain the further spread of the corona virus that included curfews and partial lock-down in some towns, there was a sigh of relief among Kenyans who were looking to go back to their normal lives. At the time, the government believed the infections were manageable.

But in a reversal of fortunes, infection rates began rising since October and now speculation is swirling that government could impose new stringent anti-Covid 19 regulations.

As at 27 November, the country has so far recorded 80 102 cases, 1 417 deaths and 53 296 recoveries.

The Health minister, Mr. Mutahi Kagwe, hinted at an extension, saying; “There is no doubt that we are witnessing what our modeling team this morning was calling a case of new infections. We are heading for a second wave; without doubt, we are also witnessing higher cases from prisons and other institutions across the different counties.”

Health experts warned the virus spread in almost every county and believed that the country is experiencing the second wave of the corona virus. Prof. Omu Anzala, the University of Nairobi’s Virology and Immunology department, explained: “Looking at the data critically, there is an increase in sero-positivity of COVID cases and we are now seeing COVID cases in all the counties.”

Since the beginning of November 2020, Kenyan media was awash with news of deaths from COVID-19, from citizens to bishops to members of parliament. Mr. Justus Murunga, a legislator from western region is believed to have died from COVID-19. The health workers including ten medics succumbed to corona-virus within two weeks in quick succession, sending a riptide of anxiety through the country. The death of medics-which brought the total fatalities of medical personnel to 30-has prompted their union, Kenya Medical Practitioners, Pharmacists and Dentists Union (KMPDU), to issue a 21-day notice of strike should government fail to provide them with the protective personal protective equipment (PPE). They are ascribing the deaths to the exposure to virus as they lack proper PPE.

The hospitals are over-stretched. Joseph Onyango, the chairman, Institute of Human Resource Management (IHRM), visited the hospital when he tested positive for the COVID 19, and narrates to Starabout what he witnessed. “Somebody was dropped by a vehicle as I watched because I was not so badly off, and the doctors were asking each other, ‘which one of these patients should we take off oxygen so that this one can be put there?’

Meanwhile, the counties are also bearing the brunt of the virus. Kakamega county headquarters in the Western province was closed in October 2020, having reported 316 virus infections, with 57 of them being health workers. On Monday, 16 November 2020, Kirinyaga County, sent home their staff based at the headquarters for two weeks, following the revelations of infections.  

President Uhuru Kenyatta sanctioned measures including allowing the governors to institute lock down measures if the situation gets out of hand. Pubs are being closed early and there is 9.00 pm to 4.00 pm curfews.

Although Mr. Kenyatta re-introduced these restrictions, the resurgence of Covid-19 infections is raising the spectre of new restrictions being imposed on Kenya to curb further spread of the disease. Already, the Health minister has said that when the situation spins out of control, the government would be compelled to re-impose the lock-downs and curfews.

But the joy of the restrictions being lifted is being replaced with anxiety as Kenyans are waking up to the reality of the fresh coronavirus infections. During the first wave, the citizens had a cavalier attitude towards the pandemic, with many dismissing it as a joke. But with things turning for the worse, a number of Kenyans are beginning to take it seriously.

Mr. Joseph Onyango, the Institute of Human Resources Management (IHRM) chair, who until he contracted the disease, had not taken it seriously, suggested that official records may not be accurate as many people could be dying without knowing that they had been infected: “These are things that we are seeing now. And the truth is, the number of people collapsing out here could be in their thousands. They are dying without being recorded.”  

Corruption allegations that fed into skepticism among Kenyans, who believe that some powerful people within government are just using the pandemic as a scheme to profit from the corona virus pandemic. Kenya Medical Supplies Authority (KEMSA), an agency within the Health ministry, has been dogged with of anti-covid protective equipment scandals. The matter has since been brought to the courts.

But the politicians, who appear to have a free rein to do as they please, have been contributing to the spread of the virus. While the government advised against, or even banned, public rallies, politicians, including President Uhuru Kenyatta, have been holding massive rallies nonetheless. To complicate matters, the crowds attending the rallies have not been observing the anti-COVID-19 protocols like social distancing and wearing of masks, just like the politicians.

Although Kenyans would welcome more stringent measures put in place to curb the spike of the virus, the fact that the economy is in dire straits, with limited alternative livelihood opportunities, makes this a difficult option. Companies are rendering hundreds of their employees jobless as they are closing shop or downsizing.

Private school teachers, for instance, are having it rough. Private school teachers are affected as their employers, according to the CEO, Kenya Private Schools Association, Peter Ndoro, cannot retain them on their payroll when schools remain closed and pleas for government intervention have largely gone unheeded. In the circumstances, these teachers have been forced to look for other sources of income such as private home tuition and farming.

But it is not only about the economy. With schools closed, it means children are idle at home, and with availability of internet on the now ubiquitous smartphones, they become easy targets of pedophiles, sex predators and drug traffickers who lure them into crime and immoralities. The stringent measures engender problems to children staying at home getting exposed to harm such as sexual abuse and drug abuse, if the experience during the first wave is anything to go by.

Online criminals are now luring young girls with too much time on their hands into sex orgies, pornography and drug abuses. On the night of Saturday, November 2020, the police arrested a woman and 44 teenagers at a house party in Nairobi. The police said on twitter: “Their host, Millicent Kithinji, aged 41, was picked up for questioning by detectives based at Dagoretti. Officers seized different brands of Whisky and vodka and bhang (cannabis Sativa),”

The arrest comes on the back of another incident where a woman in a video clip appealed on Twitter about her 16-year old girl, in company of other girls, whom she thought had been kidnapped. She says:  “My cousin along with the 16-year-old girls, six of them, have not been seen since,” the woman in the video says. On Friday, the police reported that they had found about three of the missing girls and warned, “As investigations go on we wish to issue a stern warning to individuals taking advantage of the Covid-19 pandemic to prey on school girls, their days are numbered.”

During the restrictions,  crime rate also soared as the study by the National Crime Research Center released on Monday 16, November 2020 suggests. According to the report, there have been high pregnancy cases among the school-going girls and increase in abortion cases.  Gender Domestic Violence rose to 92.2%, with 71% of the cases showing women and girls being on the receiving end. There was also increase in drug abuse, mental cases and girls being sexually abused by the relatives.

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