No hugs, masking up and empty pockets; 2020 lessons

What a year!


Just what a year that was 2020.

When the usual fireworks graced the skies of each corner of our republic at 0000EAT on 1st January 2020, as we ushered in a New Year in style, as is our tradition, we were all a jovial and optimistic people.

As some of us, who found themselves welcoming 2020 in posh city restaurants and lounges, popped a champagne, in unison with our counterparts seated in some dingy downtown joint, proudly raising a toast with cup of Keg beer and enjoying each moment, another huge section of our populace, mostly the rural folks, was in an overnight church vigil somewhere, popularly known as ‘Kesha,’ praying, praising, worshiping and thanking the Lord for another New Year. 

We were all optimistic of about 2020 in our own small/big ways.

Even at State House Mombasa, optimism reigned the air. In his New Year Address, President Uhuru Kenyatta promised that, in 2020, we will continue to make Kenya a better nation for all her people, as we build bridges of brotherhood by weaving a stronger fabric of patriotism and nationhood.

At that particular point, no one ever imagined, perhaps even the President himself, that 2020 will be a very different year, whose story would be twisted by a single surprise, which would throw everyone off balance, both locally and globally, and force us back to factory settings of 100 years back.

A few days before New Year, a rare infection known as Coronavirus had been reported in a Chinese City called Wuhan. The virus was reportedly killing people there in a quite alarming manner but who of us cared about a rare virus in a distant city anyway. I mean, we are in the era of top notch science and our medicine has no doubt advanced greatly to deal with, and contain such stuff.

If anything, Swine Flu, Avian Flu and their ilk had come and gone without much fuss. Even the dreaded Ebola we had overcome.

Little did we know that this thing would leave Wuhan, make it way to Kenya and make 2020 the most unpalatable year.

COVID~19 did not just become the global health disaster of the century, the first such since the Spanish flu of 1918; it also completely changed our life; socially, economically and politically.

COVID~19 has indeed left a permanent damage. For the first time in our independence history, our health ministry has been forced to do a daily press briefing, struggling to keep us informed on how much more dent the virus has caused. The Health CS, PS and CAS have become the bearers of sad news about COVID~19 deaths and new infections. The virus has claimed lives of prominent and ordinary Kenyans in equal measure. 

COVID~19 robbed us the legendary comedy talent that was Papa Shirandula, whose skill and wit lit our sitting rooms every Thursday evening.

Our economy has ground to a sudden halt. 

Our social life has been compulsorily paused. No more hugs, handshakes, and kisses. No more enjoying a beer while dancing to a good Mugithi tune at your favourite joint. Hundreds of thousands of jobs have been lost. Families have been irreparably hurt. No more charged political rallies, which we are highly addicted to. 

Masks, which we all grew up knowing belong to doctors and nurses, have become our new golden possession.

Life is no longer the same. Honestly, it has just been a damn rough year.

Yet, in it all, as 2020 comes to a close and we welcome 2021, even amidst all the challenges, I choose optimism.

Even as we reflect on the hard times, I choose to focus on the lessons. Because we have to continue fighting for survival.

So, what are our lessons as a people from the year that was 2020?

To begin with, 2020 offered a rare opportunity for national reflection on our priorities as a people. COVID~19 has awakened us to the reality that, perhaps, we need to set our priorities right. When the virus first struck, it found us with a struggling healthcare system which we are yet to fix fully. It is a wake up call for us to remember how important it is for us to fix our healthcare. This is particularly so because, unlike before when those responsible for our healthcare would have the option rescuing themselves via advanced healthcare abroad, because they can afford it, COVID~19 has had no special escape route for anyone, even the who is who. 

Secondly, COVID~19 is a perfect reminder to our Governors of what the original idea of devolution, as envisioned by the framers of Constitution of Kenya 2010, was. Devolution was meant to take development to mashinani and that must always remain the guiding principle for our county chiefs. Healthcare is a largely devolved function. As I pen down this piece, COVID~19 has claimed a sitting governor! 

Thirdly, COVID~19 offers a rare opportunity for us to re~imagine our national cohesion. The unity and oneness we have witnessed as we all ganged up against the virus should outlive the pandemic. Never again should a Kikuyu view a Luo as a different Kenyan, a Samburu perceive a Turkana as an enemy, because we are all one.

Finally, this pandemic is a rare lesson to our larger political class. The age of divisive and selfish politicking, which hurts our nationalistic spirit is long gone. It is an excellent reminder to them all that, pursuing a more cohesive nation comes first; everything else aside. We either win together of sink together.

Karibu 2021. Please, be a little bit nice to us.