Six months after Chinese scientists notified the World Health Organization (WHO) of a new virus that caused deadly pneumonia, Covid-19—as the disease was later dubbed —has spread to almost every country around the world. Globally, cases have reached more than 14 million and the pandemic has killed close to 600,000 people. As of July 17, Kenya has confirmed 12,062 cases and 222 deaths.
Following the first confirmed case on March 13, the government moved swiftly to curb the spread of the pandemic through a number of measures. However, four months after the detection of the first case, the economic impact of the pandemic is already being felt. Treasury has lowered its 2020 growth forecast from 6.2 per cent to 2.5 per cent. Among the key sectors mostly affected are aviation, hospitality, tourism, and horticulture. Generally, the export sector, has been adversely affected.
The livelihoods of roughly 14.3 million vulnerable Kenyans have been affected by the pandemic. About 84 per cent of Kenyans are employed in the informal sector and movement restrictions have affected their income generation, which has reduced their ability to meet basic needs. Many went into the crisis without significant savings or liquid assets and have few personal assets to fall back on. The 36 per cent of Kenyans that live below the poverty line are disproportionately affected by decreases in income, more so for women.
The closure of borders has affected trade, including disruptions to the steady supply of staple foods from Uganda and Tanzania. The effects of the pandemic have strained an agriculture sector which was already suffering from locust invasion, raising food shortages concerns, particularly relating to maize, which is Kenya’s staple food.
Covid-19 will impact learning, especially for poor girls and boys because despite the school curriculum having been adapted for distance learning, underprivileged children could not afford internet and other tools needed to stay connected.
The pandemic reminds everyone, in the starkest way possible, of the price to pay for weaknesses in health systems, social protection programmes, public services and economic growth that is not inclusive enough and fails to eradicate poverty quickly enough. It also shows the world the risks to humankind created by its own reckless exploitation of natural resources, including wildlife.
The pandemic is laying bare the way in which the formal economy has been sustained on the back of an informal economy and invisible and unpaid care labour.
As Kenya responds to the spread and impact of the coronavirus, it has the choice to rapidly go back to the old economy and societal model or chart a path forward. Building forward better would embrace a fair and sustainable transition to a new social contract, capable of avoiding, mitigating, withstanding and recovering from such extreme crises in the future.
Building a better, post-pandemic future for Kenya will require environmental, social and economic interventions that lead to greater resilience. Recovery efforts need to accelerate, rather than undermine decarbonisation and protection of the country’s natural capital.
A clear recovery path that recognises the role that environmental and natural capital will play, is critical so that everyone in Kenya can be whatever they aspire to be in life. Attention must also be paid to peace, good governance, gender equality and empowerment as well as the protection and promotion of human rights for all.
Rogers Dhliwayo is an Economics Advisor at the UNDP Kenya Country Office and Julius Chokerah is a Development Coordination Officer/Economist at the United Nations Resident Coordinators’ Office, Kenya. Both authors provide policy advisory services to UNDP programme in Kenya.