Kenya-based journalist, Joy Doreen Biira shares her thoughts on COVID-19’s impacts in the Kibra slum in Nairobi, the community response, and what the priorities for a ‘new normal’ should be.
Since the outbreak, COVID-19 has sent shockwaves across all key sectors in Africa and particularly Kenya where I’m based. Schools that did not have the option of e-learning have no choice but to adapt to the new normal. Wearing a mask and carrying hand sanitizer is a requirement for majority leaving their houses to run errands in public spaces. It is the new normal. However, with this pandemic has also come job losses for millions in the informal sector who earned daily wages. Take Kibra (Kibera) Kenya largest informal settlement that houses over 500,000 people. The majority of people who live in these corrugated shelters are low income, daily wage earners. Since directives to flatten the curve of the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19), very high percentages of slum dwellers have lost their sources of income.
Community response in the Kibra slum
One of the initiatives that has stood out through this pandemic is the ‘Adopt-a-Family,’ an initiative founded by Moses Omondi who was born and raised in the Kibra slum. This initiative, one project of the Kibra Community Emergency Response Team, raises funds from the public through social media platforms and converts them into the equivalent of USD$15 vouchers handed to the most vulnerable families in the informal settlement so they can do their own assorted items shopping.
Moses Omondi, the founder Adopt a family initiative says, “Some of the families have not earned a single dollar since the pandemic broke out and measures including social distancing, stay at home were effected. These families include single parented households, orphaned or child-headed households and households with people living with disabilities within the informal settlement.”
The initiative also directly links needy families in the slum to donors.
The ‘Adopt-a-Family’ initiative has raised nearly USD$10,000 and fed over 100 households with between 4 to 11 people per household. “While 15 dollars is what pays the bill for a single meal for some,” Omondi says, “this is what feeds an entire household for a week.”
Looking ahead towards a ‘new normal’
COVID-19 has brought with it a new normal that cannot be reversed. Going forward, developing countries, especially in Africa, Kenya included, will have to put in place measures to cushion the lowest-income earners who are most-affected by crises, in whatever form they take.
We also hope to see more basic services such as access to water and electricity extended to millions more. The importance of having access to clean water has never been more emphasized than it has been during this pandemic.
Access to electricity, one of Africa’s biggest challenges, will need addressing too. Many other sectors in the new normal are highly dependent on access to energy. Africa has for long slowly implemented renewable energy solutions and will have to rethink its strategy if e-learning is what the future new normal will be. Without access to electricity and the infrastructure needed to light up homes, millions in the developing countries will take a while longer to catch on with e-learning, if it ever is considered as a universal mode of education.
This pandemic has also exposed how developing countries have poorly documented their citizens. In Kenya for instance, zero income households in Kibra informal settlements have missed out on the weekly government relief stimulus package due to poor documentation i.e. no personal identification numbers. Going forward there will be need for a proper record system for easy delivery of services to all citizens.
About the author
Joy Doreen Biira is a career journalist, media personality, and speaker based in Nairobi, Kenya.
COVID-19 Africa Watch tracks major developments and policy announcements from across the continent and also offers a curated selection of analysis on how the pandemic will impact African economies and development efforts. The site is a project of the Milken Institute’s Global Market Development Practice.
The views and opinions expressed in this publication are solely those of the author. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of COVID-19 Africa Watch or any affiliated organization.