The stringent measures announced on March 26 by President Uhuru Kenyatta as part of the country’s efforts to curb the spread of Covid-19 have had major ramifications on individuals and households.
Few industries have been worse hit than sports and entertainment – which sustain the livelihoods of millions of Kenyans, many of them youth.
Suspension of all sporting activities and the closure of bars for an indefinite period, coupled with the suspension of in-house dining, ban on sale of alcohol in restaurants and 8pm curfew in Nairobi and surrounding counties have resulted in job losses, wage cuts and business closures and, now, the frustration is threatening to boil over.
In addition to the viral cries of hoteliers, waiters and others in the hospitality sector who have lost jobs and suffered losses as a result of the lockdown, the sustained traction witnessed in the #UnlockOurCountry campaign led by stakeholders in events, music and entertainment paints a clear picture of the dire situation many Kenyans find themselves in.
It is important to note that while this is the second major lockdown in 11 months, this time no relief programs, cash transfers or tax breaks have been offered to cushion individuals, particularly those in the locked down counties and working in hard-hit sectors.
Where does all this leave Kenyan footballers, athletes, match officials, DJs, artists, event planners, club and bar owners, waiters and countless others? Struggling, with few opportunities for economic progress rendering them unable to provide for themselves and their families.
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In sports, the situation is particularly worse as it also affects the preparation of national teams for various international competitions events including the upcoming FIFA World Cup 2022 Qualifiers, Tokyo Olympic games and the Paralympics.
While Kenyan footballers plying their trade in the Kenyan Premier League (KPL) are stuck at home, their counterparts in Uganda, Mali and Rwanda – their opponents in Group E of the qualifiers – have their top-flight leagues running.
Local-based players have also found themselves without a living, with the situation worse for players in the lower leagues. Compounding matters, many players who run various businesses as side-hustles have seen operations further affected by the lockdown.
With Harambee Stars scheduled to face off with Uganda in Nairobi on June 5 or 6, players’ fitness will be a key factor in determining whether or not Kenya makes it to the global showpiece. It is important to resume sports activities including leagues as soon as possible.
It was encouraging to see about 800 players and officials from 11 Nairobi-based Premier League clubs vaccinated against Covid-19 on Saturday, April 10 as it raised hopes of the leagues resuming faster.
Efforts to strengthen the country’s Covid-19 response – including the ongoing vaccination drive- should also be made with a view to reopening sports arenas to fans, the heartbeat of any sport.
Many community clubs in Kenya, for instance, depend on gate collections from home matches as opposed to sponsors, while sporting activities with spectators allow other businesses to thrive such as the ever-present candy and groundnuts sellers at football matches.
As for entertainment, it is time to allow bars and restaurants to operate, albeit under strict adherence to Covid-19 regulations such as mask-wearing, handwashing and physical distancing.
The cries of Kenya’s entrepreneurs and youth cannot be ignored, and they should not be made to suffer the consequences of a deeply flawed response to the pandemic by the government since the first case was announced in 2020.
In his speech, President Kenyatta highlighted his awareness of the socio-economic impact of the new measures.
“Whereas the foregoing measures will have adverse effects on the economy and constrain our usual way of life, the measures are temporary and necessary to contain the spread of the disease and therefore stop further loss of lives.
“I am convinced that the cost of not acting now would be far greater,” he stated.
If, indeed, the State understands Kenyans’ pain, it will unlock sports and entertainment activities or unveil targeted programs to cushion struggling citizens through the second lockdown.