All political gatherings, including the campaigns to amend parts of the 2010 Constitution, stand banned at least for the next 60 days, President Uhuru Kenyatta said yesterday while announcing measures to combat the rising spread of Covid-19.
The guidelines include an extended curfew for 60 days, capping those allowed in places of worship, weddings and burial at 100. Burials, he said, should be done within 72 hours after one dies.
The ban on rallies has likely hit hard the campaigners for the Building Bridges Initiative Bill – which is now undergoing public participation in anticipation of passing by the Houses of Parliament – and slow down Deputy President William Ruto’s campaign for next year’s presidential contest.
Dr Ruto, whose UDA party has been aggressively seeking elective posts in by-elections, suffered a setback in the last round of mini polls but has been gaining good ground among the so-called Hustler Nation, yesterday announced a cessation of the rallies after he addressed several political rallies in Busia County.
The One Kenya brigade, comprising former vice presidents Musalia Mudavadi and Kalonzo Musyoka and senators Gideon Moi and Moses Wetang’ula also announced a break from their busy schedule to comply with the new directives.
Mr Musyoka announced a suspension of a series of rallies he had planned in Machakos ahead of the senatorial by-election on Thursday. He had planned rallies in the county drumming up support for Agnes Kavindu, the Wiper candidate, through the weekend to Monday. Ms Kavindu is running in a divisive election in which UDA chairman Johnson Muthama, her ex-husband, is supporting another candidate, Ngengele Muthama.
Covid-19 infection rates
Dr Ruto said due to increasing numbers of Covid-19 infection rates, he is suspending his public engagements.
“The Covid-19 infection rates have become a serious source of concern making it necessary for government of Kenya to take remedial measures to manage and contain the pandemic. With the President’s announcement of containment measures, I forthwith suspend all public engagements until further notice,” said the DP on his official Twitter handle.
The DP was in Busia for empowerment programmes and drumming up support for his presidential quest. He was also scheduled to be in Kapenguria and Sigor in West Pokot County for a similar activity today and on Thursday, he was set to open a technical institute in Sossiot, Kericho County.
Dr Ruto is expected to retreat to his homes in Nairobi, Taita Taveta and Uasin Gishu. It will also give him some breather from his tight campaign schedule. Dr Ruto recently was in Kericho, Meru, Trans Nzoia, Nandi counties among other selling his Hustler narrative’.
Meanwhile, ODM leader Raila Odinga, the BBI chief crusader, has had to put “reggae” on pause as he is admitted to Nairobi Hospital receiving treatment for Covid-19 which he is believed to have contracted while on political campaigns.
A week ago, he toured the coastal counties of Kilifi, Mombasa and Kwale where he pushed the BBI agenda while trying to save his support base who have recently been drifting away.
The pause in political activity and his health is a cause for worry among his handlers amid his dwindling support base.
But yesterday’s ban comes as a relief as political temperatures have been rising over the 2022 succession plan pitting the Raila camp and the Ruto camp. In the last mini elections, there was violence in Kabucha and Matungu constituencies in Western Kenya and London ward in Nakuru which saw several people injured and at least five leaders charged in court. The country has been on tenterhooks since, with fears of election violence next year.
The Handshake side, too, has also seen shaky moments recently after a section of Mr Odinga’s circle accused senior civil servants close to President Kenyatta of working against the deal and BBI and trying to block the ODM man’s path to the 2022 elections.
But it is not clear whether the reviewed Covid-19 guidelines will be adhered to this time round as there has been wanton disregard to public health rules even by the President himself and other political and public leaders.
During the January 12, 2021 address to the nation, the President banned political gatherings for 60 days in the guidelines that expired at midnight. But little seemed to change, as political rallies continued uninterrupted, with Kenyans not seeing the need of observing the safety protocols by the Ministry of Health, like putting on masks, maintaining social distance, washing hands and avoiding crowded places.
Yesterday’s guidelines came as the country battles the third wave of the virus, whose mutation into lethal strains around the world has hit Britain, Brazil and South Africa hard.
“To secure the implementation of the order on political gatherings, public ceremonies, I, hereby further direct the national government administration officers to strictly enforce this Public Order regardless of the social and political status of the conveners of the political gatherings,” President Kenyatta directed.
He also directed the National government administration officers to work jointly with the National Police Service and the county governments enforcements officers in fulfilling this. Whether this gets implemented, only time will tell.
When the President relaxed the measures to contain the virus in September last year, the positivity rate hit 19 per cent in November. By January this year, the positivity rate was at two per cent. But by yesterday, it had risen to over 13 per cent, with no indication of slowing down as the number of those infected reached 111,935.
A year since the first Covid-19 case was reported in the country, the economy has been battered, with Sh560 billion of the GDP loss reported.
The first six months of the pandemic saw the government impose curfews, declared secession of movement from certain counties like Nairobi and Mombasa, and enforced specific lockdowns in areas like Eastleigh in Nairobi.
While a majority of Kenyans hoped that the 10pm to 4am curfew will be lifted, the President had bad news. Essential service providers, factories and construction sites that operate night shifts have however, been exempted.
As the President acceded to the request on construction and manufacturing sectors, the eateries will be forced to close by 9pm.
To ensure this succeeds, strict enforcement of border health security, “with a greater emphasis on informal entry points” as the country remains at high risk of importation of new variants of Covid-19, shall be key.
The Ministry of Health, working closely with the National Government Administration Officers (NGAO) have the responsibility to ensure this succeeds.