ODM leader Raila Odinga yesterday penned a poignant, passionate letter calling on Kenyans to do all they can to stop the spread of the coronavirus. In what reads like a rallying call, the former Prime Minister also warned that the country is running out of time to contain the virus, whose effects are devastating.
Raila, who has been out of the limelight since the disease was declared a pandemic, shared the letter on social media. He evoked Kenya's past triumphs, insisting that the country had been through a lot more difficulty and emerged even stronger.
“I have known you for long. I know your strong faith and belief in friends, family, social networks and acquaintances. I know your determination, kindness and humour even in grim situations,” he wrote.
Since March 12, the driver of the Building Bridges Initiative has been keeping to himself. “I am calling on every Kenyan to use his or her existing personal social connections and ask them daily to protect themselves from coronavirus,” he wrote. “Let us make this a people-to-people moment, let us personalise this war.”
Raila joins other former leaders who have set aside political differences to address the global threat. His communication was devoid of the political undertones that had dominated statements from politicians before the pandemic.
This time, he sought to speak to Kenyans struggling to find meaning and reason in times of coronavirus, each affected by the disease in their own unique way. The curfew has translated to a loss of revenue for many wage earners and investors.
The global economic slowdown has resulted in job losses across various fields. The hospitality industry, a bedrock of Kenya's economy, has been crippled. The horticulture market, another source of revenue, is devastated. Small scale trade, a sector supporting millions, has been brought down to its knees. Breadwinners throughout the country are staring at job losses and pay cuts.
But these, Raila believes, can all be overcome, only on one condition: That Kenyans look out for their safety first.
“Let us go all out and tell our friends to tell their friends that the window is slowly shutting. If we don’t take personal control now, there will be no control to take later,” he wrote. “You remain in my thoughts and prayers.”
Raila, as he has often done in his long career in agitation politics, called for mass action. This time, though, of a different kind. He said the country needs "a new breed of patriots for this new breed of war."
“The war is not for the armed selected few. It is for every man and woman, every boy and girl. Here is my appeal, let’s personalise this war.”
He also spoke directly to the youth, a demographic that has been central to his politics. Kenya’s ratio of youth (aged 15-24) to the population stands at 20.3 per cent, above the world’s average of 15.8 per cent and 19.2 per cent for Africa. This translates to more than 9 million people.
For Raila, this segment, often looked at as a possible source of Kenya’s current and future problems by policy makers, has the opportunity to become heroes and help save a republic staring at the possibility of a lockdown as a possible, yet painful, attempt at curbing the spread of Covid-19.
“To the youth of Kenya, this is your chance to be our country’s new soldiers, new saviours. Use the advantages that technology has put in your hands like smartphones and social media to encourage your friends to stay safe and to keep them company from a distance.”
His underlying message though was that of caution in these unprecedented times. “Make phone calls, have video chats, emails, text messages to friends, family, chama members, prayer group members, business people, riders, touts and drivers, former and current school mates…and encourage them to avoid crowds, observe social distance, wash their hands and wear masks, even improvised or homemade ones,” he said.