By Thomas Bwire

According to google search, it is estimated that the distance between Kenya and China is 7797 km. The distance covered by COVID-19 virus to find its way into the Kenyan space.

China is a country that continues to play a bigger role in the  world economy. It is one of the world’s fastest growing countries and is the tenth largest exporter.

China’s  global economy also offers important opportunities for trade, investment, and international cooperation to promote world prosperity and stability. Their support to developing countries like Kenya has kept it afloat on supporting some developmental projects 

However the tides turned when the first human cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus causing COVID-19, subsequently named SARS-CoV-2 were first reported by officials in Wuhan City, China, in December 2019.`

The announcement of COVID-19  brought the world to a standstill grind. Life changed and health precautions had to be strictly observed at all costs. These included measures such as wearing of face masks, washing of hands, maintaining social distance among other measures.

Workplaces such learning institutions had to make hard decisions to close down operations among key revenue avenues  such as the hotels industry.

Kenya was not exceptional too, they too had to tore the line and strictly come up with measures to minimize the spread of COVID-19 virus.

The ministry of health through its Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe became a well known personality to Kenyans.  Each day he would appear live on national TV screens and read COVID-19 figures. That moment Kenyans would freeze and keenly follow the live briefings on new data being released each passing day by the health CS.

However the pandemic came with its own share of challenges, an open window of mis-information found  an easy entry point among human beings.

Abigael Makungu is a parent in Kibera informal settlement. She runs a small  business enterprise located within Olympic Estate in Kibra constituency, Nairobi County.

She vividly remembers how she had invested a lot of stock on school stationery in early March 2020. But with learning institutions operations coming to a total grind, she had to think of alternatives  commodities to keep her business afloat. 

At her workplace, some customers among them close friends fell prey to in-correct information about COVID-19.  “Corona is a government gimmick to make money on our heads, there is nothing like corona, have you ever seen with your naked eyes a corona patient?” a close friend openly  shared this sentiment while laughing at her. “You know our government, people are hungry, they just need to eat our money.” added another friend. 

Makungu says she did not trust such hearsay information she kept hearing from close friends. TV news updates gave her reasons to believe that COVID-19 was indeed real.

On the other hand, a one on one open chat with one of the pre-school teachers in Mukuru Kwa Njenga slums. Teacher Lilian Atieno,  revealed the  other side of the coin. “From most of my close friends, I have heard several versions of the misinformation on COVID-19.

One of them has been that COVID-19 was a punishment from God to finish Africans” 

In her heart, Lilian admits, she believed this information for one reason. Schools were closed and denied her a monthly salary. “You see this was indeed a punishment from God, why did we have to close schools and not work that long? ” she poses. 

The teacher says she does not spread false information about COVID-19. However the messages have contributed to her convincing her husband not to get tested for the virus or even get the vaccine jab. A mission she has successfully accomplished to date. 

“Me and my husband will not make any effort to get the jab or even get tested, why should I even make an attempt?? The teacher also shared this link from her Whats App wall that she keeps religiously. The video link was shared by one faithful member from their local church located in Kibera.

 In this video interview, it showcases one Dr. Stella Immanuel issued  a warning about COVID-19 vaccine; She notes that it is a Luciferian agenda targeting humanity. The 41.25 duration  talks about there being no pandemic at all on COVID-19 and that everything that is being done was orchestrated.  The video clip had 57,830 views with a total of 173 clicks.

Mr. Raphael Juma, from Kibera slums is among the 88,405 Kenyans who have recovered from covid19 in Kenya according to the Ministry of Health data as of March 14,2021 on the Brighteon website.

Juma was among the first ever 15 reported people from Kibera to have been taken to quarantine at Kenyatta University Referral and Teaching hospital, after he tested positive for coronavirus last year in 2020.

“I used to be ignorant that coronavirus would never be part of me at all, In fact it was meant to Kill the white people,” were Juma’s sentiments His fortune changed when a close friend results came out positive following mass testing exercise that was conducted in Kibera in the month of May 2020.

“ I used to feel some funny headaches, sometimes l lost taste of food, but I never gave it so much thought that l would be among the Kenyans who would test positive. I suspect l got it from a close friend whom l stay not so far from him.”adds Juma. Their tests were conducted at CDC Kibera facility and on May 20th,2020. 13 of them found themselves as guests of the state at Kenyatta University Referral And Teaching Hospital.

“ l was still in shock while at the facility as stories had emerged that once you test positive you will never come back home.” Adds Juma. “Quarantine was a death sentence, back then in the lips of Kenyans. I knew if l survived it would be through God’s grace.” After 21 days of full recovery they were all fit to go back to the community.

Upon coming back, Juma shares how he was stigmatized by close friends. They feared him, some even didn’t want to associate with him fearing they may be infected with the virus,

“ I felt stigmatized knowing that some very close friends of mine were now giving me their backs,” poses Juma.“However, through the counseling sessions we had, l initiated community dialogue gradually to start to make people understand that l was well.  Since then, he has become a champion of change and disseminates the right information about COVID-19 to community members. He often counters misinformation that some friends try to throw at him at times.

A more recent one is during  the month of June 2021, the city has  been experiencing lower temperatures. Juma says the chilly weather patterns have partly contributed to misinformed content among his peers.  

“This cold season is a good recipe for old men and women at risk of getting infected with COVID-19 virus. Just wait and see. By the time we are done with this weather, a few old men and women above 60 years old would have gone back to their maker.”  One of his close friends always openly shared this information without blinking in the eye. His swift intervention  however seemed to work and the friends finally got convinced that the above comment was a white lie.

On his part he says that the government has done a lot in containing the spread of the virus especially through the curfews and restricted movement that had been in place before.

All l ask of Kenyans is to follow safety guidelines, wear a mask correctly, wash your hands often, sanitize if you can and avoid crowded places.

Well, the misinformation net  in the deep seas, did not just attract the common man on  the streets. With extensive online search, for example,  I came across content that was  shared by the  former Nairobi governor Mike Sonko while still in office. As a politician, with a huge online presence, he fell prey to content that left tongues wagging.

Google research on  YouTube Data Viewer on this video link shows the former governor  claiming that Hennessy drink can cure Coronavirus. The video was first posted on Magical Kenya News platform on 17th April 2020 at 7.47pm.

What does the law say about the right to information?

Article 33 of the Kenyan constitution stipulates that

 1) Every person has the right to freedom of expression, which includes–

(a) freedom to seek, receive or impart information or ideas;

(b) freedom of artistic creativity; and

(c) academic freedom and freedom of scientific research.

Article 35 on the other side of the constitution states about the right to information and provides that…

Access to information. (2) Every person has the right to the correction or deletion of untrue or misleading information that affects the person. … (3) The State shall publish and publicise any important information affecting the nation.

On the other hand the Computer and Cyber Crime Acts 2018 clause 22 states as follows:

A person who intentionally publishes false information, misleading or fictitious data, or misinforms with intend that the data shall be considered or acted upon as authentic ,with or without financial gain, commits an offence and shall on conviction, be liable to a fine  not exceeding five million shillings or to an imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years or to both.

Clause 23 on publication of false information also states that:

A person who knowingly publishes  information that is false in print, broadcast, data or even a computer system that is calculated or results in panic chaos or violence among citizens of the republic, or which is likely to discredit the reputation of a person commit an offence and shall on conviction, shall be liable to a fine not exceeding five million shillings or imprisonment for a term not exceeding ten years or to both.

A good case study is from Blogger Robert Alai who had a rare opportunity of brushing shoulders with the law on March 24th 2020. This follows a tweet he shared from his personal handle alleging  that several people had passed on in Mombasa after succumbing to the disease.

 

This in depth piece was produced as part of IWPR’s Africa Resilience Network (ARN) program, administered in partnership with the Centre for Information Resilience (CIR), the International Centre for Investigative Reporting (ICIR), and Africa Uncensored.

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