President Uhuru Kenyatta is facing the gravest national crisis since he ascended to power in 2013.
The Covid-19 pandemic — the worst threat to humankind in modern times — has, in a quick succession of events, thrust him into an unprecedented emergency wartime mode. The aggressive actions he has taken in the past two weeks were last imposed on Kenyans by the colonial government in 1952.
They include invocation of emergency public health procedures; mass shutdown of schools; banning of public group meetings, including religious gatherings; and suspension of flights from many countries.
Going by the trend elsewhere, pundits should be perusing Chapters 4 and 11 of the Constitution on declaration of the state of emergency and suspension of county governments during crises.
The Constitution defines an emergency situation in terms of threats to the State by war, invasion, general insurrection, internal conflicts, any exceptional circumstances, disorder and “natural disasters or other public emergency”.
The recent actions by the President are primarily targeted at containing the spread of the deadly coronavirus, which has overwhelmed health service providers and spread panic within weeks of hitting even the most advanced of economies.
However, it is the impact on disrupted economic activities, production, supply chains and mass quarantines of workers that have wrought the greatest havoc and pain on individuals, families, companies and nations.
The spectre of governments falling or surviving depending on how they grapple with the pandemic is sending chills to many palaces and parliaments, which must contend with thinning patience among the populations enduring the pain.
President Kenyatta has been tested in crises before. He faced down a pitiless afro-pessimistic Western consensus sworn against his election in 2013 with an indictment hanging over his head at the International Criminal Court (ICC) and being compelled to run for presidency twice in 2017 after the Supreme Court nullified his first victory.
In both elections, he had to endure court challenges to his victory — an unprecedented challenge few leaders have had to face in the world.
But while these tests and trials held his political feet to the fire, they pale in comparison to the imminent danger posed by the coronavirus pandemic. It puts all the economic achievements his administration has strived for in mortal danger of a tearful roll back.
The devastation of the tourism sector, the third-highest foreign exchange earner, was the first major economic hit in the wake of massive ban of air traffic from major tourist source markets in Europe, North America and Asia.
Going by trends elsewhere, the next phase of the pandemic could hit through restricted movement of people and disrupted economic activities, which should culminate in a drastic drop in exports and hard currency inflows that finance imports of vital national needs, including pharmaceuticals.
The government should take urgent wartime actions to plug hard currency haemorrhage through imports of goods that can be easily produced locally and thus jump-start job creation to cushion the economy from forthcoming shocks.
The President should also not shy away from exploiting this crisis to teach commercial cartels patriotic frugality with the rest of Kenyans now losing jobs and taking pay cuts.
The decisions taken so far are timely defensive strategies. On the offensive side, saving unnecessary haemorrhage of scarce hard currency and cutting off the commercial cartels from exemptions should be rolled out as aggressively.
For the first time, on February 14, President Kenyatta directed the National Intelligence Service (NIS) to investigate manipulation of regulatory and budgeting mechanisms by cartels for commercial advantages at the expense of the taxpayer and consumer.
The President’s orders should be implemented urgently. Now.
Mr Kamau is a governance and public administration expert. [email protected]