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In Samburu's Archer's Post, it's life as usual despite Covid-19

Monday April 27 2020

Boda boda operators at Archers Post, Samburu County

Boda boda operators at Archers Post, Samburu County on April 26, 2020. Life in the populous town has not changed despite coronavirus. PHOTO | WAWERU WAIRIMU | NATION MEDIA GROUP  

WAWERU WAIRIMU
By WAWERU WAIRIMU
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While the Ministry of Health continues appeals to Kenyans to adhere to safety guidelines such as social distancing in order to stem the spread of Covid-19, life in Archer's Post, Samburu County continues as if the disease does not exist.

For hundreds of traders in the small but populous town sitting next to Ewaso Nyiro River that separates Samburu, Laikipia and Isiolo counties, measures like frequent handwashing and social distancing are things they only hear about.

Residents at the town along the Sh13 billion Isiolo-Moyale Highway continue to mingle freely as they go about their day-to-day activities.

They comfortably greet each and hardly wash hands while eating, seemingly oblivious to the changing social climate in the rest of Kenya as a deadly virus snakes its way through parts of the country.

WATER SHORTAGES

Compounding the danger is chronic running water shortages in the town known for its tasty nyama choma joints.

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Water is expensive for residents, perhaps pointing to why many locals consider regular handwashing a luxury.

Bodaboda operators, most of whom are young men, have no hand sanitisers or face masks, and sit next to each other conversing freely while waiting for customers.

Being a major transit point to Northern Kenya, Archer's Post is at high risk considering the high number of interactions among traders and travellers, especially those sneaking in from Mandera and other counties with confirmed coronavirus cases.

A visit to the town paints a clear picture of lack of public awareness on the devastating effects of Covid-19 whose current confirmed cases stand at 355.

'NOT INFORMED'

And while one may quickly deduce that traders and residents are wilfully breaching Ministry guidelines on handwashing, social distancing and wearing of face masks, they insist that they have not been sensitised about the precautionary measures.

“We have not been told about the virus and have been hearing it from people visiting from Isiolo and other counties. We also do not know its impact,” said 70-year-old James Lemeruas.

Surprisingly, there is only one public handwashing station in the town that is placed outside a mini supermarket.

Residents have lashed out at the county government and elected leaders for abandoning them at their hour of need, noting that none had visited them in the wake of coronavirus.

“The county government has neglected us and is doing nothing to protect us from the deadly virus. We fear for our people in the remote areas,” said activist Ibrahim Hassan Jamaica.

Another worrying trend is ongoing male circumcision rites that has seen young men assemble in groups.

NO QUARANTINE FACILITY

Additionally, the county government has not established any quarantine centre within the area as residents demanding operationalisation of a nearby health facility that has been lying idle.

Locals who have on numerous occasions appealed to the devolved unit to open the health facility have been seeking health services at Isiolo Referral Hospital about 40 kilometres away. Others forced to visit a local private hospital whose charges are relatively high.

Ibrahim Ekidor said they were trusting God to save them from the pandemic, saying that the Moses Lenolkulal-led government, MPs, Senators and
Ward Representatives had neglected them.

“It is so unfortunate that a time like now when we need our facilities to be well equipped, the only one that would have helped us is not operational,” he said.

Traders also complained that their businesses had been hard hit by harsh economic times and called on the government to provide them with relief food as could not comfortably fend for themselves and their families.

“We are hardly making Sh200 in a day and the motorbike owner wants more than that. Life is so hard...we appeal to the government to cushion us from the loss,” said Kelvin Letoiye, a boda boda operator.

Youth leader Sammy Kania Lengunana says hundreds of locals who solely relied on the National Reserves had been rendered jobless due to reduced number of tourists and many businesses being shut.

A number of groups including sand harvesters have already started mobilising resources to provide vulnerable families with food.

“We want to know how the county is assisting people who are at home and not working. If we can as a small group pool resources together and help a village with food, what about the county that receives billions from Treasury?” posed Joseph Lekupes, the sand harvesters chairperson.