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MUNGAI: Covid-19 era has invaluable lessons for post-corona Africa

A health officer at Ole Kasasi Health Centre in Ongata Rongai, Kajiado County. It’s one of the three recently opened coronavirus isolation facilities in the county, following the outbreak of the pandemic. Photo | File | Kajiado Star

As both the rich and the poor retreat to self-quarantine, they need to introspect; where have we erred that we feel so miserable and ill-prepared to manage emerging pandemics, such as coronavirus

By Mungai John

The coronavirus pandemic which is sweeping across the globe has come as a big lesson that long-term solutions to Third World countries lay in proper management of domestic resources.

The dependency syndrome which characterizes most of the developing countries has for long been attributed to the misconceived assumption that no matter how those entrusted with public funds mismanage them, the donors will always chip in to fill the gap.

The result is that donor funds are taken as free money which is kept in wait for any minor justification for its release.

Little do developing countries know that when a disaster like the Covid-19 affects donor countries, focus shifts to first address the problems at home. As the Swahili saying states, “Huwezi jenga kwa mwenzako na kwako kuna poromoka.”

Throughout post-collonial Kenya, media limelight has been awash with shocking reports of mega corruption scandals, which may lead one to imagine whether a regime’s performance is rated based on the magnitude of scandals it executes.

More often, the perpetrators put spirited efforts to cover up their crimes, but which becomes bare when a country’s economy is grounded with very little left to manage emergencies like the current pandemic.

Such disasters expose the weaknesses in the governance systems and put leadership on the spot.

Looking at the global corruption index, it’s evident that the more corrupt a country is, the less prepared it is in managing disasters.

Failure to have long term development plans and poor development strategies cost us a lot in the long run.

More than fifty years after independence we still rush to foreign countries for minor surgeries where millions of monies are spent. The same money would have been pumped back to strengthen domestic health care systems.

The lesson we fail to learn here is that the hospitals we rush to are the product of efficiency in running public resources in those countries.

As a sovereign nation, begging and congesting hospitals overseas leads to loss of credibility.

Like a man who waits until the last day of nine months to go and tell the neighbors that he has no money to take his due wife to the maternity, are countries which wait until when disaster strikes to go begging for assistance.

With basic planning its does not need rocket science to save enough money within a nine-month period, enough to transport a wife to the maternity. Same, with proper planning a country does not need to panic when emergencies occur.

After many years going to the Catholic nuns’ compound to beg for flowers the generous nun gave me a stern look on the face and asked me “young man, why don’t you plant flowers at your church to use for decorations during the many weddings you have? I have flower cutting for sale you can buy some.”

Today I am gray haired, and I have never returned to beg for flowers. It was a lesson learned.

At both the national and the county governments, the coronavirus pandemic has come to remind us how we have taken donors for granted, and how our systems are riddled with bad governance.

Our population keeps growing yet we have kept begging for vaccines for our children. We beg for funds to construct water treatment systems, yet we are busy polluting the same water sources.

What else has been left of our systems if collecting garbage from market centers can only be done after people threaten to do demonstrations.

As both the big and small retreat to self-quarantine, it’s time for introspection. It’s time to look at mistakes committed yesterday which has led us to feel so miserable and ill prepared to manage such a pandemic.

After we are through with this pandemic it is expected that both the national government and the county governments will learn big lessons and strengthen weak health care systems.

Coronavirus will eventually be defeated just like Ebola and others, but more “Coronas” never experienced before are laying there in wait, ready to pounce when least expected.

John Mungai is a health expert. He has worked with US Peace Corps in the Public Health Program, and in the Ministry of Health’s Department of Environmental Health. He hails from Loitoktok, in Kajiado South, though is currently residing in Seattle, Washington.

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