On the afternoon of March 23rd, there was great anticipation when word went round that President Uhuru Kenyatta would be addressing the nation. As he walked to the lectern, a country held its breath for some major announcement, possibly more bad news about Coronavirus or some sort of breakthrough.
But when he started his address, it was not so obvious that he was going to fall short and disappoint many Kenyans. After going over the background on Covid-19 situation in Kenya – more cases being detected and preventive efforts in high gear – Uhuru Kenyatta lost the script.
Food first, tech later
Instead of outlining how the government plans to handle the partial lockdown and annihilate the virus, he chose to talk about something many Kenyans affected by this situation could not digest: 4G rollout.
Well, for starters, 4G is techie shorthand for Fourth Generation (network) for mobile communication. It started with 1G, then 2G, 3G, with every upgrade increasing connection speeds and efficiency. Currently, 4G is the in-thing, even though 5G is already on the horizon.
The 4G Uhuru was talking about is no different, only it will be delivered across the country by a partnership of Telkom Kenya and a company called Loon, owned by Google’s subsidiary Alphabet. Why high-speed internet superseded the welfare of Kenyans who have heeded the call for self-quarantine could be a typical clash of business interests and social concern, if not, a generational crisis.
Most Kenyans wondered immediately after the Presidential address if they were to eat 4G. That’s no mean joke.
True, Kenyans can’t eat 4G. They want food, water, reliable healthcare, and a Covid-19-free life. Giving high-speed internet to people facing movement restrictions and possible starvation as incomes run out is like giving a blind-person spectacles to enhance his vision.
We certainly agree that it is important for people to work from home and internet is key to that, besides aiding delivery e-learning to students. But isn’t it more critical to first plan how people survive if the lockdown were to be upgraded to ‘total’ and takes longer?
At such crisis moments, life should be more important than work or luxury. In any case, many Kenyans already have access to an internet connection, 4G or not.
With confirmed Covid-19 infections at 25 as at 24th March, Kenya is headed for a lockdown. This is the time for the government to get into serious mode and address the most urgent things which include, among others, training more health workers, beefing up security, and planning how to get and distribute relief food and medicare to people.
That is if the situation gets worse. But we can avoid getting to that level if the Cabinet Secretary for Health Mutahi Kagwe and President Uhuru Kenyatta focused on more groundwork than issuing press briefings in Nairobi.
Stop more infections
Of more urgency is supervising so-called self-quarantine to ensure that it’s being observed being a key plank in reducing spread, as well as social distancing, which is more honoured in the breach. Even the CS himself, during his briefings, has not been following his own instructions. Secondly, there’s need for education in rural areas. While towns are on high alert, rural populations are living in ignorant bliss of false ‘safety’.
Voluntary testing should be encouraged to back up ongoing random testing. As many confirmed cases emerge, counselling centres should be set up to help people cope with their unique situations.
Issues that touch at the core of the Coronavirus are more urgent than giving Kenyans 4G, Mr President.