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Hawkers’ failure to stay home lays bare deep-seated poverty

Sunday April 5 2020

CORONAVIRUS

Bananas are sold at Nairobi Bus Station on March 26, 2020, as Kenyans are advised to stay at home to prevent further spread of coronavirus. PHOTO | EVANS HABIL | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

KALTUM GUYO
By KALTUM GUYO
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As Kenyans entered panic mode for food and water following the outbreak of Covid-19, on the other side of the shore, developed countries rushed to stockpile toilet rolls.

Shoppers woke up as early as 4am to beat queues to get their hands on what turned into ‘paper-gold’ in this pandemic.

Fights ensued in supermarkets over toilet rolls. St Bernard dogs in Switzerland that were always depicted with brandy barrels on their necks and famous for rescuing victims of snow emergencies, had memes made of them with toilet rolls round their necks instead ready to distribute.

A satirical cartoon in a UK newspaper showed very expensive toilet rolls on sale with a two-bed flat thrown in to entice buyers.

It may as well be real given the rush for them. Toilet rolls? What a problem to have for developed countries!

Many Kenyans who use old newspapers in the pit latrines and grass in ‘jungle’ toilets, never saw the need to rush to stockpile on scented and gold coloured toilet rolls.

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Their rush was to maximise the time they had to try and sell their humble stock of sukuma and mitumba in makeshift markets, just to put food in their plastic plates.

POOR PLANNING

In a country such as ours, where there are allegedly more mobile phones than toilets, the priorities would always differ from those of the developed countries. Toilet roll rush embodies the level of inequality still in the world.

While the rich Westerners were concerned of what to do with the by-products of their hearty meals, the poor in Africa were worried where they would find water to wash their hands.

It is not surprising that India and Liberia found it hard to get hawkers off the streets to meet curfew deadlines and hence resorted to violence to enforce the rule.

When our government declared a dusk-to-dawn curfew, they never banked on the fact that they would also find it hard to kraal millions of Kenyans who eke their livelihoods from hawking.

The poor were reluctant to leave their makeshift kiosks that harboured hope for their next meal.

Nobody in the government perhaps considered how the other half lived before coming up with the curfew measure.

Not all Kenyans travel home in private jets and lucky to quarantine in a mansion.

POLICE VIOLENCE

Using one-size fits all policies of the developed countries was wrong from the onset in a country where majority of us are still unsure of shelter, food and water.

Where would a street family quarantine for example? Was their provision for the homeless? What would a hawker live on if he/she can’t hawk? Nobody can live on air!

Likoni Ferry and Mama Ngina Drive have been home to open-air market stalls for decades run by poor Kenyans who hedge their bets on last minute passengers using Likoni ferry.

They should have been given time to pack their wares and travel home safely and not be subjected to violence by the police.

How the police could mistake war on coronavirus with world war is beyond comprehension.

The shame and shock of turning on our citizens with guns and whips in the guise of managing Covid-19 went viral in international media.

REFORMS

The police spokesman is wasting his time to deny the obvious human rights abuse. The citizens might all be children, according to him, but they too deserve respect.

The president has rightly apologised and I hope he will go further to personally see that police reforms are reformed even more to eradicate impunity within the service.

The only way the poor can comfortably sit at home and obey the curfew is if they are assured of their next meal. A hungry man is an angry man.

The government should have been proactive to know whether it would be feasible to pay hawkers some allowance to live on during this epidemic until the coronavirus storm passes.

Any form of welfare to support the poor could have pre-emptied the tension between them and the police.

If the government could find me in the UK with Covid-19 texts, I am sure they could easily ‘M-Pesa’ financial support to the poor at such unprecedented time.

EMERGENCY FUNDS

If we didn’t pay our politicians first world salary to govern a third world country, we would have enough money to put aside for a welfare scheme to help the vulnerable members in our communities.

It is unjustifiable to have sitting, standing and flying allowances for the most paid individuals in the world while a majority of Kenyans go to bed hungry.

Setting up emergency funds to deal with contemporary problems is great but it is a temporary solution. The country needs long term plans to help vulnerable members of our society.

It is time the National Social Security Fund is reformed so that it caters for the social needs of Kenyans during hardship rather than set up as unlimited ATM for corrupt individuals.

NSSF is, by definition, the right organisation for a welfare scheme to tackle socio-economic challenges in Kenya. Covid-19 should inspire a more equitable country henceforth.

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