Of Kenyans’ worrying defiance for directives

Thursday, April 16th, 2020 00:00 | By
Some of the waiters arrested at Castle Inn bar in Nairobi for contravening guidelines, at the Makadara Law Courts last week. Photo/PD/PHILIP KAMAKYA

Noah Cheploen @cheploennoah

Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe’s commanding voice has become a household name since the onset of coronavirus epidemic.

But despite his strong demeanour, Kenyans’ penchant for disobeying rules has been his biggest source of frustration—at least in public.

For several weeks, Kagwe, whose appointment on February 28 this year coincided with the outbreak of the pandemic, has been pleading with Kenyans to obey government directives or brace themselves for tough times ahead.

“If we continue to behave normally, this disease will treat us abnormally,” he warned Kenyans in one of his initial briefings.

“I will not tire from urging you to make the war against Covid-19 a personal one because indeed it is.”

In discouraging Kenyans from unnecessary movement and interaction at social places the CS has emphatically said times without number: “The virus won’t travel unless you ferry it and when all is said and done, it is not the Republic of Kenya that will perish from abused directives, but rather us: the living, breathing fabric of Kenya that makes our country the envy of many.”

Kagwe’s warnings have often been punctuated with threats and not-so-kind worded especially on noticing the defiance Kenyans demonstrate in disobeying  guidelines issued by his ministry to help stop spread of Covid-19.

He once warned, via a Facebook post: “It is only the stubborn fly that follows the corpse to the grave.”

Complication war

And on Tuesday, Health Chief Administrative Secretary (CAS) Mercy Mwangangi noted with concern that defiant Kenyans are complicating the war on the pandemic and promised that the law will catch up with them.

“For those who are disobeying orders and even holding house parties, we shall catch up with you and ensure you face the law.”

Despite the stern warnings, a vast majority of Kenyans continue to operate in a business as usual manner, especially when it comes to social distancing in public places.

Many others are holding house parties and attending social gatherings albeit indoors, in contravention of government rules. 

This comes as the number of those infected by the virus rose to 216. 

Kagwe highlighted a case where some mischievous youth hired an ambulance to take them to a party in Nairobi.

One would ask: What is it that makes Kenyans defiant and attracted to the temptation to go against rules?

Sociologist Lucy Maina says  from a behaviour change perspective, changes in common practices require preparedness, alignment with existing structures and should respond to people’s expectations and aspirations and ought to be nuanced with self-motivation and immediate social support systems.

“They should also be packaged in culturally responsive manner. In the case of Covid 19, this is an emergency response, which does not afford for the time required in achieving positive, gradual, more impactful and meaningful change.

Hence behaviour response is more driven by panic, legal framework and at times self-preservation rather than spontaneous, rationalised thinking,” says Maina.

“It’s more complicated because the threat is not immediately observable by a majority. That means there are bound to be lapses here and there until genuine change builds over time.

I hasten to add that government action is so far quite commendable,” she adds.

Another sociologist, Gladys Nyachieo, says human beings are social beings and it is natural for people to talk and hug and social distance is something they have to re-adjust to.

“Nobody wants change and especially abrupt change. So this is also a natural response to change.

People resist change. So social distancing, stay at home, wear a mask.... not welcome. These are ‘new’ things, we want the old.....we want to maintain the status quo,” she said.

Nyachieo believes the notion that people may not know someone close to them who has been affected by the disease may make them think the virus cannot affect them.

Banning travel

The coronavirus, which originated from Wuhan city in China, has killed more than 120,000 people across the world with the United States, Italy and Spain being the worst hit by the virus which attacks the respiratory organs.

  By last evening, about two million infections had been reported in more than 200 countries across the globe with the US leading with over 600, 000 infections.

The number of infections in Kenya has passed the 200 mark with 40 recoveries and nine deaths reported so far. 

Last week, President Uhuru Kenyatta announced a raft of measures to combat the disease such as enforcement of a dusk-to-dawn curfew in the country and banning travel in and out of Nairobi, Mombasa, Kwale and Kilifi counties.

The conduct of majority of Kenyans during this health crisis has not escaped the attention of behavioural experts such as Dr Geoffrey Wango, a senior counseling psychology lecturer at the University of Nairobi who maintains that it takes time for people to adopt a new style of living. 

According to him, some Kenyans have not taken the Covid-19 disease seriously and that is why they are treating government directives casually. 

There is also a general apathy by Kenyans towards government directives. The anti-government attitudes by many Kenyans make it easy for them to disregard official directives, forgetting that they are putting themselves and others at risk.

He attributed the don’t-care attitude to lack of proper sensitisation, reinforcing the need for civic education.

However, Agatha Mumo, a lead counsellor at Arcadian Counseling Centre in Nakuru, attributes the current state of affairs to three things: ignorance, social and financial aspects; saying human beings are naturally social animals.

“Ignorance in the sense that people see the disease as far away and two, human beings are naturally social,” she said. 

According to her, more men are contracting the disease locally and abroad because they are the providers and that is where the financial aspect comes in, she explained.

But speaking to People Daily on phone, Kenya Films and Classification Board chairman Bishop Jackson Kosgei said more than 60 per cent of Kenyans were already obeying the rules adding that, generally human beings need time to “arrange” themselves. 

“Orders cannot be obeyed almost immediately like in discipline forces because communities are so informal in their organisation so much that the social capital of the society would naturally require more time to absorb certain instructions and therefore it cannot be construed that Kenyans are indiscipline,” he said.

Pete Odera a musician and senior pastor at Waterbrook church said the sin nature makes us constantly wired to break the law-moral law as well as the civil law.

Secondly lack of understanding of the severity of the pandemic and it’s vectors.  - Additional reporting by Harriet James and Evelyn Makena

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