By Adhere Cavince
Disturbing footage of Kenyans confronting two Chinese nationals over coronavirus outbreak have been doing rounds in the social media. The incident, though isolated, risks fomenting fear and racial profiling of the Chinese community in Kenya even as the country stays on the edge over the COVID-19. So far, Kenya has no confirmed cases of the disease. In addition, in the African countries where the coronavirus has been reported, the infection path has been traced to Europe.
There is no denying that the potential entry of the disease has caused much understandable anxiety among Kenyans. It is also true that COVID-19 was first reported in China. However, antagonizing people based on their nationality is not a rational ingredient in the fight against the disease.
In this era of intense globalization, disease pandemics remain an existential threat to all countries. The COVID-19 has, for instance, been reported across all the continents. Both strong and weak countries have come under the spell of the disease.
Furthermore, regardless of their infection status, all countries are already affected by the disease. China is the world’s second-largest economy and a veritable engine for global growth. What stirs the Chinese economy, like the COVID-19 has done, reverberates globally. With reported deaths reported in the United States, experts predict that the coming weeks may see reduced economic activities in the hotspots; thereby putting additional strain in the global economy.
Here in Kenya, the supply of essential commodities sourced from China are already in decline. Kenya Airways has estimated losing up to Sh800 million per week, as a result of canceled flights to China. Small businesses are staring at huge losses and potential closure. This may lead to loss of livelihoods for thousands of struggling Kenyans, while consumers will have to contend with increased cost of living.
Given that China is currently Kenya’s leading investor, constructor, development projects financier, and trade partner, a dip in the Chinese economy, as a result of COVID-19 disease will eventually affect our economy. Add the potential impact of the disease on the 400 Chinese enterprises that currently employ over 50, 000 Kenyans and you get the grim picture that is already playing out, even with zero infections in the country.
Kenyans should, therefore, not fall into the trap of violence, stigmatization or other forms of discrimination against Chinese, or any other nationalities. Doing so will amount to weaponising a calamity that has zero regards for nationality, race or geographical space. Such discrimination will further dampen Kenya’s prospects of attracting high value foreign direct investments which is a key agenda for the government.
Instead of using the adversity to spread hate; Kenyans should extend a hand of compassion to China during this difficult time. Any discourse on the outbreak should be guided by scientific facts rather than lapsing into racial sweet-spots.
In order to create a safer and healthier Kenya, citizens must seek expert and actionable information while practicing personal hygiene and social distancing measures that can substantially reduce chances of COVID-19 entering our country.
Secondly, we must jointly nudge the government to invest in a robust public health system that can cushion our population from the vagaries of COVID-19, should it make landfall in the country.
Should the disease be reported in Kenya, China remains one of the partners that Kenya can work with to lessen the severity of the afflictions. This has been proven among the infected countries including Iran, South Korea and Japan.
As we look into the future, COVID-19 should not fray the solid relations that Nairobi and Beijing have consolidated. It should be a rallying call for the two countries to strengthen their collective capabilities in managing global threats including disease outbreaks of its magnitude.
The Writer is an International Relations Scholar and Belt and Road Tourism Ambassador. Twitter: @Cavinceworld.