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Covid-19 era: Why are the politicians silent?

In a country where politicians call the shots more than the technocrats, the peoples’ expectation is to see their leaders at all levels standing at the forefront in the fight against this pandemic

By John Mungai

With almost three months gone from the time the Coronavirus outbreak was announced there has been dead silence from a majority of the politicians.

In a country where politicians call the shots more than the technocrats, the peoples’ expectation is to see their leaders at all levels standing at the forefront in the fight against this pandemic. However, this has not been the case.

The silence has left the people baffled and speculating. Baffled that political leaders who have a history of being at the forefront articulating national issues can miss in action at a time like this; and speculating that they could be hiding from the stark reality that they have wasted a lot of years politicking over issues which cannot save the nation in times of crisis like the current coronavirus pandemic.

In a country where we eat politics, drink politics and sleep-dream politics it’s hard to live without this crucial voice which we are addicted to. Its sudden withdrawal has led the society to suffer from a “politician-voice withdrawal syndrome”.

People are craving to be fed with their daily dose which they are used to.

Leaders are elected to voice direction in times of crisis. They are expected to be objectively vocal when a crisis faces a nation. They cannot afford to hide with the rest of the citizens, cry when masses are crying, doubt when masses are in doubt, fear when masses are engulfed with fear or despair when masses are desperate.

From both the international and local platform people are looking for that voice which will give assurance during this time of uncertainty.

People are waiting for the voice of hope in time of despair, an encouragement in time of fear. Although the President, the Minister of Health, some Governors and the technocrats have so far done a recommendable job, without the politicians speaking a gap is being felt.

To address this gap their deafening mute mode should come to an end.

The Coronavirus pandemic has come as an eye opener to both the big and small. The small are learning that politicians are just normal human beings with their own worries, fears and uncertainties.

The pandemic has proved that when faced by an insurmountable threat which makes us equal, though it has no equal, politicians can switch to the “every man for himself but God for us all” rule.

The politicians are learning that they have wasted yester-years spending their energy and resources on wrong priorities. Year after year, month after month their priority has been to whip the emotions of people over what cannot save us at a time like this.

The pandemic has muted the politicians because it needs a voice different from the one they are used to. It needs a voice which will trigger positive actionable ideas, with both immediate and long-term results.

One doesn’t need to go far to conclude how misplaced and toxic our political agendas have been.

Looking back and doing a quick review of what people have been eagerly hearing from politicians, and what the media headlines have been featuring leads to the conclusion that we have been thriving on misplaced priorities.

Past political rallies and press conferences have been awash with who enters the Guinness book of records for being most abusive, who needs protection from his ethnic community after looting public funds, and who restricts who from visiting one’s political tough.

It has also revolved around who won which election and is entitled to what size of bread, who is not entitled to live in which part of Kenya and who is not.

Since these issues among others make politicians darlings of the poor ignorant masses, they easily find themselves entrapped to concentrate on them, forgetting that despite their populisms, trivial they.

The Coronavirus pandemic has come as a stark reminder that we have all been wrong and urgently need to re-order our priorities.

Former president Mwai Kibaki had very unkind reference to such misplaced priorities and blatantly referred to the as “mavi ya kuku” and its propagators as “bure kabisa hawa.”

The late president Daniel arap Moi summarized it as “siasa mbaya maisha mbaya.”

The politicians silence could be due to the fact they collectively failed to develop strong disaster management systems which are crucial in effective management of disease outbreaks; and the Covid-19 pandemic has come to prove this.

Some of the Corona virus prevention measures though punitive are necessary. However, for them to succeed they must be run parallel with psychosocial and economic support measures, otherwise they are a recipe for social strife.

For instant, restricting peoples’ movement without meeting their basic survival needs will have immediate adverse effects which may reverse the gains already achieved.

The politicians could have seen this gap in advance and mobilized resources to address the gap.

In a worst-case scenario, if Corona virus cases escalate, the current health infrastructure baseline, together with other related challenges do not guarantee effective management of this pandemic.

The roads in most areas are in bad shape, yet Covid-19 pandemic control needs rapid transport of both medical commodities, staff and patients.

Water which is essential in hand washing is a rare commodity in some regions, with insecurity in some regions being a hindering factor.

In addition, Health facilities are inadequate, with the existing ones poorly equipped, and or under-staffed.

From where we stand it’s evident that past political generations did not care much about the future of this nation. They planned and lived for the day without us in mind; a mistake we cannot afford to repeat.

That is why the current generation finds it hard to walk heads high with pride being Kenyan citizens.

Despite this generation having been let down by previous political regimes, the current generation of politicians need to do things different by being at the forefront, positively pinpointing any mis-steps in the strategies being used to control the pandemic and giving the best option possible.

This is the kind of political voice the citizens are missing. The aloofness being demonstrated is not working for the good of the people.

Like any other disaster Coronavirus pandemic can lead to social strife.

Hypothetically the usual animosity between the haves and have-nots pops out during times of crisis like this. Covid-19 pandemic is likely to trigger this phenomenon together with the ripple effects which soon follow.

Since the have-nots won’t seat indoors and starve to death, they will do whatever it takes to get their survival share, probably from the haves.

To protect their share the haves will try to resist the invasion from the have-nots. The have-nots are the majority, but the haves got the resources to counterattack any such an attempt.

In such a scenario social anarchy may break out and escalate to full blown violence. Politicians can influence precise decisions to avert such scenarios.

We therefore call upon the politicians to move from behind the curtain and play from the front stage. The people need to physically see that we are together in this. So far, the anti-Covid-19 prevention and control is going according to the script, but one major actor in the name of politician is missing on stage.

Tackling this pandemic successfully calls for the audible presence of the peoples’ voice which is the politician. All politicians regardless of their political affiliation need to join forces and slay this dragon from a common front.

People need to constantly hear from politicians who have always been at the forefront championing specific communities’ interests.

The Covid-19 pandemic needs to be a lesson to us all rather than a competition on who is doing better than who. Already there are a good number of lessons which we can draw from this pandemic. Probably the biggest lesson of all is that when a leader develops a region it is not a favor being done to the people, but rather it is for the good of all.

In addition, as a result of peoples’ geographical mobility, unequal development within a country is detrimental to the health care system management.

To conclude, the politician’s absence from action is creating the impression that the magnitude of this pandemic is way beyond their comprehension. The electorate is longing to feel their presence of the leaders they elected. There is need to be constantly in touch with the electorate, identify with their needs, help them to mobilize resources and articulate their most urgent needs.

Silence is sending the wrong message that the society cannot rely on them in times of crisis. It’s time to rise to the occasion.

I appeal to each citizen to take individual responsibility to prevent the next person from adding to the numbers of those infected. Lock-down, self-quarantine, maintain socials distance, sanitize and maintain social groups online.

For our leaders, it’s time to come to the forefront. You word counts, after all you are called for such a time like this. Speak.

Mr Mungai holds MSc. Governance, Peace and Security, BA, Peace and Security Studies (Africa Nazarene University), and Cert, Environmental Health (Kenya Medical Training Campus). He hails from Loitokitok Sub-County. His work experience includes more than 7 years in managing the US Peace Corps Public Health Program across Kenya and more than ten years of community health work in the Public Health Department, Ministry of Health. His expertise has made him travel across the continent to South Africa, Senegal, Ghana, Rwanda, Zambia and Ethiopia. Currently he resides in Seattle City, Washington State, USA

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