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Phew! Curfew is over but this is why I’ll not drink to it

FINANCIAL STANDARD
By XN Iraki | October 26th 2021

Revellers enjoying drinks at a club in Uthiru, Kiambu. [Wilberforce Okwiri, Standard]

Cheers greeted Mashujaa Day’s lifting of the nighttime curfew that had lasted 18 months to contain the spread of the coronavirus pandemic. 

Curiously, it was the last item in President Uhuru Kenyatta’s long speech.

Why would we celebrate the end of a curfew with wild cheers? For me, there is nothing to celebrate for various reasons. You are free to disagree with me. One, it was anticipated on the back of falling infection rates of the virus.

More poignantly is that we seem to be used to Covid-19, either because we know someone who has contracted the disease or died from it, which leaves many wondering privately: “What’s the worst that can happen now?”

To confirm if the lifting of the curfew was anticipated, just check if the stock index rallied yesterday. Two, curfew hours were only six out of 24 hours, 25 per cent of the day.

What will you do in six hours that you could not do in 18 hours?

Nairobi, the heart of Kenya’s economy, is usually asleep during those hours even without a curfew.

People in rural areas tend to sleep early. The few Kenyans who are active beyond 10pm were already allowed by the curfew rules to continue working.

Just because a few drinkers will have more hours to enjoy their favourite drink is not a reason to celebrate.  

The Economic Survey 2021 gave the key contributors to GDP as agriculture (23 per cent) followed by transport and storage (10.8 per cent) and real estate (9.3 per cent), arts, entertainment and recreation (0.2 per cent).  

Let’s be real; what percentage of Kenya‘s GDP is generated between 10pm and 4am?

That celebration was more symbolic than anything else. If ours was a 24-hour economy, there could be a good reason to celebrate. 

The curfew was not the biggest impediment to economic growth. [Sammy Omingo, Standard]

By the way, I have never supported the curfew from day one. I called for a 24-hour economy to “distribute” the crowds. 

We ended up paying the price with the contraction of the economy. The anticipated 6 per cent growth rate should be treated with caution; we are coming from a very low growth rate.  

Three, the end of the curfew will not benefit everyone. Those in the entertainment industry stand to gain the most, including those running pubs and other “joints.”

Refer to the sector’s contribution to GDP above. But many jobs run between 8am and 5pm. If you think of the interconnectedness of the Kenyan economy, lifting the curfew makes sense, but it is overrated. It is more symbolic than anything else.  

Four, imposing a curfew might be an admission of our own failures. Remember how we blamed Kanu for all our problems or the old constitution, which we neither read nor saw?

Have we done our part in turning the reluctant wheel of progress before blaming the curfew? By lifting the curfew, we have run out of excuses. But I am sure we shall get new excuses. After all, we are human, aren’t we?   

Five, the curfew was not the biggest impediment to economic growth. We have drought, bad policies, hatred of work, over-regulation, too much focus on local issues, and non-recognition of those who go beyond the call of duty.  

Six, we had already adapted to the curfew by going home early or working online. It is unlikely we shall start going home late just because there is freedom after 18 months. Do you have money to spend after 10pm?

The few Kenyans who are active beyond 10pm were already allowed by the curfew rules to continue working. [Benjamin Sakwa, Standard]

Seven, what if crime and Covid-19 infection rise? Do we have personal and national plans on how to use our newly acquired freedom?

Did we put our freedom from the colonialists to the best use? Do students put freedom acquired after high school to good use? Are we ready for the unintended consequences of lifting the curfew? 

By giving us an economic stimulus package, the President was passing a message: Lifting the curfew is not enough, a lot still needs to be done to get the economy out of the Covid-19-induced contraction.  

Eight, other curfews were more brutal. Think of the Mau Mau era curfew or the curfew that followed the 1982 attempted coup. Maybe some are too young to recall that. 

The just ended curfew was friendly, and there is no good reason to celebrate its end.

Nine, on October 14, I drove through Nairobi’s central business district at around 11pm. I noticed the absence of the police, with many people milling around the streets. I even noted that the “ladies of the night” were back. I had a feeling the curfew was either not effective or being ignored. By the way, I was not breaking the curfew rules.

Again, on October 21, I happened to have been out until 10.30pm. I did not notice much difference in economic activities. Ama mwezi iko kona? (street parlance for that time of the month when a majority of Kenyans are broke). 

Ten, the only people who should celebrate the end of the curfew are researchers. They can study ex post facto how we behaved before, during and after the curfew. How did we innovate around the curfew? I recall restaurants serving beer in teacups to distract the police. 

Finally, I hope whatever your position in society, you learnt something useful from the curfew. That could be handy in facing future crises. After all, Winston Churchill long ago advised us not to waste a good crisis. 

Covid 19 Time Series

 

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