Starting tonight, Kenyans will be subjected to a countrywide curfew from 7pm to 5am.
This is the second time the country will be put under such conditions since independence, with anxiety rising as the clock ticks to the magic hour.
Essential services providers are stuck in a dilemma on whether to close like other businesses due to an expected decline in foot traffic before 7pm or stay open.
The curfew, which will last indefinitely, will mean no one will be allowed outside their homes during the specified hours.
In a gazette notice issued Thursday, Interior Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang'i exempted workers and companies who offer 20 services he termed as essential.
These include those in the medical sector, retail, media, aviation, telecommunications, food supply chain, emergency services and security.
“Under this order, there shall be no public gatherings, processions or movement either alone or as a group during the period of the curfew,” said Dr Matiang'i.
However, with Kenyans forced to stay in their houses, businesses which have been left to operate during the curfew but depend on human traffic are wondering what to make of the situation since they will not have any customers.
Retailers say they might be forced to close before 7pm so as to give their employees time to get home before the curfew.
They say it might be counterproductive to open past 7pm if there are no clients to shop.
“We have been advised to get private transport for our employees to reach home since there will be no public transport,” Retail Trade Association of Kenya (RETRACK) chief executive Wambui Mbarire told the Nation.
“However, we expect that there will be very little footfall after 7pm. Unless you are a 24-hour branch, it will be very difficult to operate at night. And since we have to be responsible to both the shoppers and our employees, then there is a chance we will close earlier than the curfew,” she said.
Friday’s curfew will be the second nationwide movement restriction since independence.
The last time a Kenyan government restricted its citizens countrywide from moving after sunset was in the days following the August 1982 coup attempt.
While there have been other curfews before today’s, they have been applied in specific areas in order to deal with insecurity challenges like it happened during the 2017 post-election violence.
After a day-long meeting on Wednesday, the National Security Advisory Committee (NSAC) agreed to rope in officers from the General Service Unit (GSU), Kenya Prisons, National Youth Service (NYS) and the Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) to assist those from the Kenya Police Service.
It was determined that it would not be necessary to involve the Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) in imposing the curfew, for now.
Sources told the Nation the military will be roped in if the curfew is scaled up to a total lockdown.
There is a general agreement within government’s security machinery that should infection numbers rise exponentially in the coming days, there would be no option than enforcement of a full lockdown.
While announcing the government’s decision to impose a curfew, President Uhuru Kenyatta warned that he will not hesitate to effect a total lockdown if Kenyans continue ignoring government directives.
“We have taken these basic measures to protect the life and health of our citizens. If these actions are deemed inadequate, we shall take more drastic measures to ensure the rights of our citizens to life and property are maintained,” said the President.
Kenya Prisons Service has been tasked with setting up holding facilities for those who will be arrested for violating the curfew.
The facilities will be similar to the quarantine centres being used by the government to hold people suspected to have made contact with those who have tested positive for the coronavirus.
And since courts are not operating, those arrested will have to part with cash bail or be booked to take plea once the situation returns to normal.
This decision will, however, be made by the sub-county police commanders.
“Any person who contravenes any of the provisions of a curfew order shall be guilty of an offence and liable to a fine not exceeding Sh1,000 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding three months, or to both,” says the Public Order Act.
All the officers seconded to assist the National Police Service in implementing the curfew shall be under the command of the sub-county commander of the area of jurisdiction. This is to prevent duplication of roles and to ensure the exercise is carried out smoothly.
All the security agencies tasked with implementing the curfew will this morning present the logistical support they need from the Ministry of Interior in readiness for the exercise.
Also to be decided today is if inter-county night travel will be banned during the period.
Areas identified as hotspots include Nairobi, Mombasa, Kisumu, Nakuru and Eldoret.
According to the Constitution, the curfew must be tabled before Parliament within 14 days for any further extension. “It is an emergency measure subject to parliamentary oversight,” argues lawyer Omwanza Ombati.
The National Assembly may extend a declaration of a state of emergency by resolution adopted by two-thirds of all members for not longer than two months at a time.
However, key among the questions is how the police will handle cases of individuals staying out past 7pm.
“If arrested, to which courts will they be taken as most of court operations are suspended? If they take them to holding cells, will that not increase the risk of getting the virus?” tweets Joackim Atenya.
Political commentator Herman Manyora observes that a curfew is the euphemism for lockdown. “With this lockdown, workers will suffer badly,” he said.
Lawyer Clifford Ombati warns that if people are locked out without provision of food, water and necessities, the situation might lead to anarchy.