Government is failing the people as regards locusts, coronavirus

Wednesday March 18 2020
By ROBERT SHAW

The barrage of political toing and froing and the hype and loud talk over the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) is doing a great disservice to the country and its citizens. It is distracting and, indeed, stealing vital energy and attention from some of the key fiduciary functions and obligations of our government.

The government was elected by the people for the people to serve the people. It must do its utmost to protect and look after the interests of its people at all times without fear or favour. But if we look at two recent examples — the coronavirus and the locust invasion — it has failed in its mandate. Both are serious threats to Kenyans.

The former could easily spread throughout Kenya, test our fragile and tenuous healthcare backup literally to breaking point and snatch lives along the way. It is already in more than 60 countries and, for all we know, it’s here in Kenya.

The latter has eaten its way through tonnes and tonnes of food crops, not only ruining the immediate livelihoods of many farmers, but posing a threat to the national food security.

First, let us break down the meaning of the government’s fiduciary obligations. The public has entrusted it to act on its behalf and given it discretionary powers over its assets and interests. The government has the mandate, powers and ability to act on behalf of the public, and to act in its best interest.

Now let us test that against both the coronavirus contagion and the locust invasion.

Considering the severity of both in terms of social and economic disruption and pain, the government has taken a very lackadaisical — nay, negligent — stance. Kenya is, arguably, particularly vulnerable to coronavirus due to its regional hub status.

As other countries minimised their air transport interaction with China, we continued until the court halted it just the other day. Ironically, it took a whistle-blower to pull the plug.

Let us take this one stage further. If and when coronavirus comes to Kenya, how would the country cope with it? Kenya has a very underfunded and overstretched basic health structure that struggles on a hand-to-mouth basis day in, day out. Any untoward pressure on it would tear it into shreds. The likely scenario is that it would spread fast and wide and much of the treatment would be reactive rather than proactive.

Desert locusts are not a new phenomenon to Kenya or the region. Over the years, a residue of skill and experience has been built on how to deal with any locust onslaught. But from the way the government has gone about it, one would think it was something that sprang up yesterday. Spraying, often with questionable chemicals, can do more harm than good, besides being of limited value.

According to research, the name of the game is to deal with the pests at the breeding stage and not when they are flying all over and hopping around.

The government can argue that it is strapped for cash and resources to tackle such onslaughts, which is fair comment. But there are enough resources and goodwill around the world for it to tap into. Let it just be organised and willing to live up to the challenge and mobilise accordingly.

From another perspective, the overall damage such an outbreak could cause here could shake the social, economic and even political foundation and structures of the country. Therefore, the government must get its priorities right and work fast to take on and competently address both explosive issues.

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I am grateful to the Nema Acting Director-General Mamo Boru Mamo for communicating with me regarding my column, where I raised some untoward happenings regarding irregular approval of a concrete batching (mixing) plant on Ngong Road.

But the plant is still going full blast, even on Saturdays and Sundays, in spite of his assurance that it would be made to “cease all operations”.

Mr Mamo may well be trying to straighten out Nema, but the agency has some way to go to straighten out rogue operations. I wish him and Nema the best.

Mr Shaw is a public policy and economic analyst. [email protected]