Covid-19: Why Kenya has suffered more than other African countries

BY VICTOR ADAR

The damage caused by the second wave of Covid-19 seems to vary from nation to nation as per a survey by GeoPoll, a provider of remote and mobile-based research solutions in Africa, Asia, and Latin America.

In November, it found that 43% of 3,000 respondents reporting their emotional wellbeing had declined in 2020. While this has led to a far greater degree of disruption to normal routines, Kenya is the most widely affected financially and emotionally by the pandemic, reporting extensive income cuts and distress compared to Nigeria, Ivory Coast, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mozambique, and South Africa.

Across all the countries polled, 50% of respondents said that their routines had been changed a lot by the pandemic, but, in Kenya, 66% of respondents reported considerable changes to routines, with only 6% saying their routines had not changed at all.

According to GeoPoll’s vice president of marketing, Roxana Elliot, South Africa had a lockdown at the early stages of the pandemic, but measures in that country have since eased. She notes that other nations polled have had fewer long-lasting restrictions.

“Only Kenya has had extensive restrictive measures throughout, remaining under curfew, and delivering economic cuts that have caused a parallel deterioration in respondents’ emotional wellbeing,” said Elliott.

Ms Elliot notes that Kenyans are also gloomier, as an election year approaches, about the amount of time it will take before they start to see any improvement in their financial situation. In essence, 56% expect return of normalcy to take over six months, and 35% anticipate over a year.

More than ten months after the first case was reported in Kenya, a good number of businesses have grinded to a halt, and most are struggling to stay afloat. No wonder full three-quarters of respondents in Nairobi said their emotional health was worse than last year, with most citing a surge in financial pressure as the main cause.

Incomes have fallen nearly everywhere, from March to June and by more still since June, more people have been affected by severe cuts in earnings in Kenya than in the other nations. Around 52% of the respondents across all the six nations reported a large drop in earnings since June, but 64% of respondents in Kenya suffered the same.

Concerns are on why the once flourishing East African country is unable to get out of the woods yet others are managing to absorb the shocks. As an example, Nigeria has been facing insecurity issues because of a rising number of jobless young people. But it might be the best bet compared to Kenya.

Even though the pandemic has really stood on the way, Kenya is the most bearish as far as economic outlook is concerned, with 44% expecting the economy to improve over the next year compared to 40% expecting it to deteriorate. This is much more impressive than South Africans, who reported the next most negative outlook, and a long way from the ebullience of Nigeria, where 56% believe the economy will improve over the next year, and only 25% that it will get worse.

United Nations data estimates that as at June 2020, Kenya had a population of more than 53 million while that of Nigeria surpasses 208 million. Why is Nigeria, which happens to have a larger population than Kenya, typically doing well in containing the pandemic’s effects? What is the West African country doing right that the East African country has overlooked?

“The prolonged disruption of routines in Kenya, combined with a larger second wave of infections than seen in many other countries, and a greater economic impact, has brought a general level of distress and anxiety to the national psyche that is reflecting across people’s attitudes and decisions,” said Roxana.

What makes this very discouraging is the fact that businesses have grounded because of a tough year, and there are plenty of those struggling to balance paying loans and retaining workers. Since there is no clarity of what to expect, it is important to be careful not to contract the virus by following safety measures provided by the ministry of health. After all, staying at home might not yield much especially going by the fact that most economies are on their knees.

During a press conference by Amref Africa, experts argued that Kenya might need at least Sh30 billion in order to vaccinate 60% (which is about 30 million people) of its population. Dr Githinji Gitahi, chief executive of Amref says strategies to meet the needs must be well thought out.

“We need to take into account many things. These include the actual giving of the vaccine to people. Do we have the right syringes? Are the right people being vaccinated? Is it the right time to administer the vaccine? Does the country have enough doses for everyone?” he pondered.

Hope might be in sight if all the hard questions are answered. It has not been smooth sailing but the fact that coronavirus vaccines are now with us, a big percentage of the population should not give it a second thought.

This is backed by the latest GeoPoll survey which shows that more and more Kenyans are poised to take up any available vaccination than the average for the six nations, with 47% saying they will definitely get a vaccination as quickly as possible, and another 21% saying they probably will.

In the meantime, companies and individuals will be forced to perform highly (and do more) to compensate the lost time and incomes. At the same time, how to stimulate economic growth while creating jobs especially to the youth is another thing that must be given a priority.

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