It seems right now in Kenya (and in fact across the entire Eastern African region), people are more scared about what to eat than about the virus. The government measures are too tough for many who are mostly wage earners and now find themselves with no work because systems have either slowed or shut down. As I write, there are 225 positive cases of COVID-19, 10 fatalities and 53 recoveries. The slums haven’t yet recorded any cases thank God; I just don’t want to imagine that. We run a slum-Parish here in Nairobi called Kangemi and they have rolled out a massive campaign of distributing foodstuffs to the needy.
Initiatives like these are being welcomed with open arms. How long will they last? No one knows. Which is a bit worrying because the government has put more emphasis on enforcing rules other than trying to figure out how people will survive. We fear that people may run out of their homes and start rioting because they have nothing left to eat – but thank God that hasn’t yet happened.
People are still calm but we don’t know for how long they will hold on. There is still a curfew but no total lockdown yet. Life is slow. The place has an impression of a ghost town. One of our own priests from Tanzania, now working in another Parish in Malindi, Kenya, has just finished 21 days in quarantine here in Nairobi after returning from the US sometime back. We are now spending time listening to his ordeals during that time; not a wonderful adventure at all in those quarantine zones!
Uganda, on the other hand, – neighbouring Kenya and part of our Province – has tried giving out food stamps and so many well-to-do individuals have joined in to assist the government in this campaign of availing food door-to-door. The implementation at first was a bit chaotic, but they are now finding their way around it.
We have locked out our Senior Jesuits’ Home here in Nairobi from any visitors so that we don’t expose them to any risks. So far everyone is safe. Easter celebrations were done in each community at a low-key level without any outsiders. I for one asked myself how we Jesuits could make this situation “our moment” to do something more (on top of praying!), but I still don’t know what!
Here in Kenya, there was a feeling that the government was on top of everything and capable of handling everything but as a matter of fact, I don’t think so. Tanzania – another neighbouring country and part of the Jesuit Eastern African Province too – has kept its unique policy of not locking down – all is business as usual (apart from schools and international borders, which are closed); some were hailing this as working, others saying it could backfire just like the Sweden case. And indeed, as of yesterday, the numbers of infection had risen from 32 to 88, with 4 fatalities and 11 recoveries! Well, this Coronavirus saga is becoming a mere gamble. We all seem not to know what exactly to do. South Sudan is still at its lowest of 4 cases.
Yet, as we are at it, the locusts seem to be fed up of the lockdown! They are back at full throttle and breeding like rabbits. The people who are supposed to keep social distancing at home, now have to come out of their houses in huge numbers to literary chase these locusts from their gardens because they eat tonnes and tonnes of foliage in record time; a double tragedy at the same time.
In Uganda, the army has been deployed to carry out a massive spraying exercise of these insects, but they seem only to move around in circles from one area to another, as they continue multiplying. The peoples have to brace themselves for tougher times when all this is finished because it’s clear the aftermath may be quite heavier than the catastrophe itself.
That said and done, the people remain positive and hopeful, just like Easter Christians!
May God spare us from more of these calamities. I hope you and your loved ones are all well.
Fr Allan Ggita SJ
Assistant for Development
(Banner photo: JRS Kenya, just outside the JRS Kenya Kakuma Camp)