By PROF DR HALIMU SHAURI
(Dean; School of Humanities and Social Sciences, Pwani University)
Kenya, like many countries in the world has a dichotomy based on where her population hails from.
This dichotomy is clear with some of her population residing in urban areas and the rest in the rural areas. Conservative figures show that 80% of Kenya’s population is rural based and the remainder, 20% urban based.
Going by the data available since the first COVID-19 positive case was announced in March 2020 in the country, there is a clear pattern showing the urban areas of Nairobi and Mombasa leading the pack with infections, now acquiring a new common name, COVID-19 epicenters.
One may argue that yes it started in Nairobi and the population is dense that’s why rates are higher! Wait a minute! Kilifi and Kwale Counties, which are relatively rural were also in the radar almost the same time with Nairobi in confirming their first COVID-19 positive cases, Mombasa was nowhere then.
But look at the high speed Mombasa County has come almost overtaking Nairobi as the leading epicenter. Mombasa is no longer raha (a place to Enjoy) but chungu (bitter) with the spread of COVID-19.
While this is happening in the increased COVID-19 infections in Mombasa and Nairobi counties, auto competing each other, Kilifi and Kwale, relatively rural counties by all standards, COVID-19 infections have remained stable and lower in the two counties respectively.
However, one may argue that this probably is due to low capacity to testing the population in these counties.
But I will tell you without fear of contradiction that if COVID-19 infections were high in these areas the ensuing deaths could have revealed it. Interestingly, death rates have remained stable, meaning Corona may not be rife in these areas. But then why the rural-urban differentials? I hear you wondering.
Drawing from the work of Ferdinand Tönnies, a German sociologist, economist and philosopher and a major contributor to sociological theory and field studies, best known for his distinction between two types of social groups, Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft.
Gemeinschaft often translated as ” community “, is a concept referring to individuals bound together by common norms, often because of shared physical space and shared beliefs, while Gesellschaft, often translated as ” society “, refers to associations in which self-interest is the primary justification for membership.
Accordingly, Gemeinschaft, is characteristic of a rural Community, while Gesellschaft, characterize an urban Community.
The common norms, shared physical space and beliefs are advantageous to the fight against the spread of COVID-19.
What this means is that rural population can easily be bound by common norms, in the face of COVID-19, the new norms of washing hands, sanitizing, social distance are evidently becoming the fad in the villages I have had privilege to visit during this time.
The share physical space makes it even easier to diffuse new information such as that of COVID-19 in the village.
While the shared beliefs are facilitative of the adaptation and adoption of the new norms in the context of the COVID-19, probably explaining the low infection rates in rural areas compared to urban areas.
This resonates to the seriousness as captured in the now famous quote from health CS Mutahi Kagwe that:
“If we behave normally, this disease (COVID-19) will treat us abnormally”.
It seems rural counties have heeded the call by behaving abnormally, following the COVID-19 preventive guidelines, while the urban community is still behaving normally.
People still congregating in social places, hiding and imbibing alcohol breaking the COVID-19 guidelines of social distance and staying at home.
Escaping from quarantine centre or entering locked down counties irregularly, having meetings and weddings, etc.
Gesellschaft, according to Ferdinand Tönnies, often translated as ”society“, refers to associations in which self-interest is the primary justification for membership.
It’s clear in Nairobi from the voices of the residents with regard to what they will eat over staying at home.
Some have come out saying it better to die of COVID-19 than of hunger! Self-interest is written over the faces of residents in Nairobi and Mombasa counties.
Even under cessation of movement some residents in Mombasa castigated the quality of relief supplies they received.
They in fact want to eat better than under normal circumstances, imagine! The uncaring characteristic of urban life is the precursor to the high COVID-19 infections in Nairobi and Mombasa.
Finally, urbanism and ruralism, referring to the urban and rural way of life respectively seem to be responsible for the rural-urban differentials in COVID-19 infection rates.
When looking for an understanding of these rates, looking at the rural-urban dichotomy and ways of life may help a great deal.
Indeed, it emerges rural life is better than urban in the face of COVID-19. I hope my article will not spark reverse stream migration, from rural- urban to urban to rural or rural to rural. When it happens, the better for development in the country as such flow of urban elites may spur and catalyze development under devolution.