As Kenya is ravaged by a third wave of infections and deaths, the government has instituted a partial lockdown in an attempt to limit the spread of the virus. He pledged to step up vaccinations, aiming to have at least 16 million people vaccinated by June of next year.
However, the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccination program in Kenya was, unsurprisingly, hampered by outright cheating, confusion and profit.
Much of the international angst over equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines has focused on “vaccine nationalism” or the monopolization of vaccine supplies by Western countries at the expense of the poorest populations in much of the world. part of the rest of the world. This has, predictably, led not only to a shortage of supply in richer states, including members of the European Union, but more importantly, it means that access remains a mirage for poorer countries. located further downstream.
Escaping scrutiny is the question of what governments like Kenya do with the few supplies they can pick up, beg for, or buy. The Kenyan government’s approach to the pandemic has been characterized by ill-conceived and brutally enforced lockdowns that view Kenyans as problematic children to be beaten into submission, and not as citizens to be persuaded and consulted.
The approach has had limited success and, coupled with public disregard for the measures by senior officials, including President Uhuru Kenyatta himself, has instead generated widespread resistance to government impositions that have ignored the circumstances and needs. people.
It has also turned out to be a cash cow for politically connected “bidders” who quickly set up businesses with the sole aim of stealing part of the $ 71 million allocated to purchase emergency personal protective equipment for them. healthcare workers and hospitals across the country.
In Kenya, politicians and their business friends rarely waste a crisis. For example, in 2008, as the country faced famine following the disruption caused by the post-election violence they sparked, elected officials came together to set up a subsidy program that channeled public money. in their pockets while a quarter of the country starved.
The same fate has now happened to the deployment of the vaccine. The plan outlined by the Ministry of Health consisted of three phases, the last two of which were to be carried out simultaneously. In the first phase, between February and June 2021, 1.25 million health, security and immigration officers would be vaccinated. In phases two and three, from July 2021 to June 2022, nearly 10 million people over 50 and over 18 with underlying health problems and five million people considered vulnerable, such as those living in informal settlements would be vaccinated.
However, the plan collapsed almost as soon as its deployment began. Politicians have argued loudly that they should be given priority to instill confidence in the population, even though the health ministry said it encountered little resistance. Because the state ignored the need to explain its plan to the public, there was widespread confusion over where and when people were supposed to line up.
Soon the elite, including politicians, business leaders, government officials, and even journalists, flooded social media with stories of their queue-jumping exploits and experiences, safe in the impunity which has always protected them from responsibility. This – as their elders endured long queues following a last-minute government decision to speed up phase two in recognition of wave three.
Worse yet, an unseemly war has broken out between bidders linked to different factions within the government pushing different vaccines. While one faction supports the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine that was being deployed, another purchased the Russian Sputnik V vaccine and began distributing it at private facilities.
The state has now banned the private importation of vaccines, arguing that it is guarding against counterfeits. While this is a danger that should not be dismissed, it has not been suggested that what is on the market is wrong. In addition, rather than tightening its regulatory regime, the state throws the baby out with the bathwater, further reducing, rather than expanding, the stock of vaccines available to the population.
Much of this could have been avoided if the Kenyan government and its global partners, including the World Health Organization and Western governments, treated Kenyans as partners in the deployment rather than as colonial subjects to be brutalized and to exploit. Unfortunately for Kenyans, their colonial state does not know how to act differently.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of Al Jazeera.