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Bring Kenyans trapped in Wuhan back home

Friday February 21 2020

coronavirus

Government Spokesperson Cyrus Oguna. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

FAITH ONEYA
By FAITH ONEYA
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The shambolic response by the Kenyan government to the plight of the Kenyans stuck in Wuhan, the epicentre of the coronavirus (Covid-19) outbreak, surprises nobody.

Kenyans have learnt the hard way to keep their expectations of the government low, and in political leadership, even lower. But we keep hoping that we are wrong.

The plight of women like Ms Lilian Morara, who had no answer when her daughter asked her if her father, a PhD student in Wuhan City, was coming home, has done nothing to make the government, through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, jump to action that would include the evacuation of the students.

“How can I reassure her that he will be alright and that he will come back alive? Do I have to wait for the day he is dead to pick her from school and tell her that her father is finally home?” asked a distraught Ms Morara during an interview with the Daily Nation.

UNENDING ANXIETY

Ms Morara’s husband, Yuvenalis Morara, is among the 100 Kenyans who have literally begged the government to bring them back home.

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The decision to evacuate, according to Treasury Cabinet Secretary Ukur Yatani, who is ready to release funds, rests with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which has said the students have to stay on until the epidemic, which has killed over 2,000 people in China to date, is brought under control.

Imagine being trapped indoors in a country you don’t call home because of a deadly virus. Imagine the desperate fear that grips your heart each morning you wake up to the news of another infection, another death.

Imagine being unable to afford basic necessities because everything is hard to come by and therefore expensive.

Imagine not having anything to eat and watching your body waste away, and the mental anguish of knowing that you don’t know what the end will look like.

EVACUATION PLAN

This is the kind of life our parents, siblings, children and friends are undergoing. Those they left back home are equally traumatised by the events.

Kenya's Ambassador to China, Sarah Serem, rightly expressed fear for the lives of the Kenyan students and then asked Kenyans to pray for them.

Now, prayers are important for any religious person but what’s more urgent for the trapped students is an evacuation plan.

The students have made this crystal clear. Their relatives have pleaded with the government to help their loved ones, even offering to contribute to the evacuation exercise.

So prayer in itself is not the answer here. It’s the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ duty to be the answer to the students’ prayers.

Other governments have evacuated their citizens so it’s not a miraculous affair. It can be done. But, as we know, the government’s response in times of disaster often exposes its ineptitude.

POOR DISASTER RESPONSE

Think of the locust invasion, for example, and how the responses from some political leaders could be an automatic script for a sitcom.

Former Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Mwangi Kiunjuri fell short of asking Kenyans to take selfies with locusts when he asked them to take pictures of insects they suspected to be locusts and post on social media so that the ministry could confirm if they were desert locusts.

Mr Kiunjuri’s successor, Peter Munya, has not fared any better, as he said the locusts in Meru and Embu counties are too old to pose any threat to food security.

Perhaps someone needed to remind him that he was serving the country, not just the two counties.

It’s no surprise then that the interventions to curb their spread so far have been bungled, and affected Kenyans have resorted to desperate measures, including prayers, shooting at them and shouting.

The government has repeatedly shown us we are on our own, but there’s a huge opportunity here for it to redeem itself by bringing its children home.

The writer comments on social and gender issues; [email protected]; Twitter: @FaithOneya

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