A BETTER NEW NORMAL IS NOT PROMISED
For more stories on insurrection from East Africa, please visit the Insurrectionist magazine’s website.
The following is Stella’s article as published in the Insurrectionist magazine.
A covid-19 commentary
I recall how it began. Covid-19 was spreading quite fast in Wuhan, China. At the time, there wasn’t much of a worry in Kenya. It was still literally happening ‘from a distance’. Then it spread to Europe and America, and right there I knew, it was coming. The general mood at the time was, somehow (weirdly), that Africans were immune to covid-19. Maybe occasioned by the lag- before there were any cases in Africa. Reading the mood from countries affected at the time, tissue paper seemed worth stocking. This was about 2 weeks before our first Kenyan case was reported. Then the case landed, and reflexively, some shelves went bare for a while.
For many Kenyans, life changed ever so slightly. They still had to venture out. By this, I’m not only referring to those who couldn’t afford to work from home. Many others didn’t access the WFH luxury. Weeks into the curfew and cessation (with no lock-down installed), and people had gotten tired of the go-slow. I repeat, without a lock-down in place.
Covid-19 exposed the inequalities in our communities; exposed and accelerated them. Pre-covid information gaps for example, are bound to get even wider, with devices and internet access falling further back in the list of necessities. Information doesn’t usually travel well in the rural macrocosm, but even more-so now. Considering other pre-covid gaps, it is possible that on the other side of this pandemic, Africa will come out, not just a few steps behind, but a lot more (based on pre-covid development metrics).
The need for change, for a better new normal, #buildbackbetter, has been more of a constant realization, than an event. Also, most likely than not, a series of events as opposed to a singular one. All these consolidated in the presence of covid-19; the opportunity to make the elusive shift to a new world presented itself. Doing away with wet markets seemed obvious. But it became clear, that just as urgent, was the need to tame our expansive footprint that continues to encroach sensitive ecosystems.
While some conjured up a new normal (just, green and sustainable), others were up to no good. Case in point, in Kenya, there has been the ongoing ‘save Nairobi National Park’ campaign. All because someone thought, to develop a hotel within the park ‘would go unnoticed if we did it now’.
Somewhere else in Africa, in the DRC, militiamen summoned by greedy leaders, have taken over control of farms in Ituri and other places. A friend (James) told me, there are more than 80 militia groups in the DRC. ‘Surprise’ would be an under-expression, even though it makes sense; there’s a lot to covet. The rainforest, minerals….. The forest burns or is logged, while minerals leave the country in militiamen’s hands.
Further west, in the US, was the weakening of EPA rules. One that limited toxic mercury, comes to mind as among the early instances- globally- of ‘backsliding,’ with regard to the shift to a new normal. Then I realized, just because I/we wanted a new normal so badly, didn’t mean we’d get one with haste. Also, we hadn’t defined this new normal. We assumed everyone was reading from the same script. There have been a lot more ‘backsliding’ events since, triggering activists to venture out into the streets.
Aside from feeling that the promise of a new world was broken prematurely, there is on the other hand the fact that, even if we were all on the same ‘new normal’ page, it would still take ages to undo the systems that exist today. How long? I’m not able to guess, but I feel that we need to accept that this might take a while. I have no doubt that the ‘better’ new normal will come. The youth that most demand it today, will go on post-covid, to study and work with the conscious and/or subconscious assignment, to birth the ‘better’ new world. It will take time; but given the ‘time’ (disregarding the uncertainties climate change presents), they will deliver this better new world. And it will be on time.
Zooming out of this event, historically, it seems humanity needs a ‘reset’ every couple of decades. One where there’s an overhaul/transition of systems; from communism to capitalism being among the most recent examples. During these ‘reset’ events, do we capture the basics of going back to the drawing board? Do we have an evolving ‘reset’ strategy, that applies when triggered or initiated? Because, a ‘reset’ triggered by covid-19 (one that was overdue), will be far from our last.
Stella Nyambura Mbau PhD
Founder & CEO LOABOWA