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Kenya's COVID-19 curve has been flattening in recent weeks. /CFM-FILE.

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Personal sacrifice vital in defeating COVID-19 and violent extremism

In their speeches to the Nation since March 19 when Kenya recorded her first case of COVID-19, President Uhuru Kenyatta and Health CS Mutahi Kagwe have consistently reiterated the value of personal discipline and sacrifice in the fight against the pandemic.  

Defeating the coronavirus is primarily premised on individual responsibility besides strict adherence to COVID-19 health protocols.

We must all make it our cardinal civic duty to protect ourselves and others from this invisible enemy, through social and physical distancing, wearing masks, regularly washing and sanitizing hands.

However, following the lifting of the cessation of movement into and out of Nairobi on July 6, and easing of the curfew from 7pm to 9pm, disturbing trends have emerged indicating that many Kenyans are yet to fully grasp the enormity of the threat posed by the coronavirus.  

The regression is manifest in social places like bars, restaurants and wine and spirits shops operating with lax impunity in blatant disregard for COVID-19 prevention measures. This not only exposes those patronizing such places to the risk of infection but also innocent persons they happen to come into close contact with.

Indeed, quite a number of Kenyans have mistakenly assumed that easing of restrictions meant that the disease was no longer a mortal threat. Hence the business-as-usual attitude seen in the rising number of people arrested for contravening COVID-19 regulations.

Another undesirable trend is the resumption of political gatherings. Our political class should emulate the religious institutions, who are observing rules set out by the Inter-Faith Council, regarding phased re-opening of places of worship.

It is not disputed that life must continue and that we have to put food on the table and meet other basic needs but no need for reckless behavior.  

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We must also address some misconceptions, for example that COVID-19 is a disease for people living in Nairobi and its environs which is not true. The virus does not discriminate and can infect anyone young or old, poor or rich, urban or rural.

This grim reality speaks to a collective right and responsibility to protect each other from the disease. As Kathryn Sikkink, Professor of Human Rights Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School writes, “To protect our collective right to health in the current pandemic situation, we need to balance our individual rights with collective responsibilities.”

This balancing of rights and responsibilities, she argues, is recognized in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which talks of “duties to the community” as part of individual civic responsibility.

We are exhorted to protect others and not just ourselves from the coronavirus. This collective duty is anchored on personal sacrifice, the ability of each one of us to forego certain personal desires so that others may remain safe. It is no longer about ME but WE.

But even we progress the full-scale war on COVID-19, we must not lose sight of another equally insidious enemy. The same vigor directed at combating COVID-19 must be applied to preventing and countering violent extremism (PCVE). Like the coronavirus, extremist violence and terrorism lurk in our midst waiting to attack.

Although COVID-19 containment measures like the ban on public gatherings may have, to an extent, reduced opportunities for extremist attacks on the population, the threat however remains real.

Unfortunately, terrorism is viewed by some as a problem afflicting communities living in north eastern and coastal regions. However, the attacks at Dusit and Westgate served as a poignant reminder that extremists can strike where least expected, so we must remain vigilant.

In addition, PCVE experts warn that radicalization and recruitment to violent extremism is gaining traction in what were previously considered non-hot spot counties, where suspicion of extremist activity is low. Like COVID 19, extremist violence may spread virulently in our communities if not checked.   

Importantly, PCVE efforts should focus on the drivers of extremist violence currently being exacerbated by COVID-19, like unemployment, hunger, poverty, marginalization, exclusion and gender discrimination and violence.   

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As political scientists Nisha Bellinger and Kyle Kattelman correctly state, “Across the developing world, the coronavirus is magnifying existing societal problems, worsening food and financial shortages that give rise to terrorist violence.”  

All said, personal sacrifice is paramount if we are to defeat the twin enemies of COVID-19 and violent extremism. Personal sacrifice entails denying ourselves unnecessary social interactions while maintaining vigilance against suspicious activities around us.

Personal sacrifice means strictly observing COVID-19 control measures while refraining from spreading misinformation, propaganda and fake news on social media. It is about exercising fortitude in these hard times while not being complacent about our own safety and security and those around us.  

It also about sharing the little we have to alleviate the suffering of others, while reaching out to the vulnerable among us.

Above all, it’s about being each other’s keeper. That way, we shall ultimately vanquish both the virus and violent extremism.  Our personal sacrifices are heroic in one way or the other.

Mr. Mwachinga is an Advocate of the High Court of Kenya and a Partner at Viva Africa Consulting LLP.  

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