Old Town residents demand answers for May lockdown - Beaking Kenya News

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Thursday, 1 October 2020

Old Town residents demand answers for May lockdown


Residents of Old Town in Mombasa are demanding answers from the state over their lockdown in May and June.

The government imposed a cessation of movement order in Old Town Mombasa and Eastleigh in Nairobi on May 6 for 15 days. 

No one was allowed in or out of the areas, which were designated as Covid-19 hotspots.

On May 20, the order was extended for a further 15 days before it was lifted on June 6.

During this time, Old Town residents say they suffered massive economic losses. They demanded compensation on August 18. 

Old Town has 1,500 shops and business premises.

Residents association chairperson Mbwana Abdalla, Okoa Mombasa and Muslims for Human Rights said there was no justification for locking down the area because other densely populated areas like Kawangware and Kibera were not locked down.

On Tuesday, Mvita MP Abdulswamad Nassir sought a statement from the Health CS Mutahi Kagwe to explain how the decision to lock down the area was arrived at.

“It is important that we know what criteria or scientific evidence was used to lock down these two areas of Old Town and Eastleigh in the whole of Kenya,” Nassir said in Parliament.

The MP said the government ought to have conducted a socio-economic audit of Old Town after the lockdown to assess the economic situation of the residents and come up with a structured plan. 

“What plans does the government have to ensure Old Town and Eastleigh residents get back to their feet economically after being locked down?” Nassir asked.

The MP demanded that the government channels funds to the affected areas, through the Emergency Response Fund to help the residents recover.

He said the economic situation of an area can easily trigger chaos among its residents.

At some point, Old Town was a no-go zone for non-residents because of panga-wielding youth who attacked and robbed people including tourists.

The cases have since subsided after Nassir held a meeting with the youth and helped them start projects like garbage collection to generate income.

“Wisdom is solving these economic problems in such an area to avert the chaos,” Nassir said. 

The MP said he would have sought answers earlier but feared the government might have responded by locking down the area longer. 

He said Old Town and Eastleigh are historically known for business where hundreds of thousands of people go shopping.

In August, Old Town residents said there was no justification for the lockdown after a survey done by Muhuri and Okoa Mombasa disputed the statistics of deaths and Covid-19 cases provided by the government.

The residents said the lockdown was a punishment meted on them by the national government through influence from the county government, after Governor Hassan Joho lashed out at them saying they would be tested whether they liked it or not.

This was after residents defied pleas from the county government to get tested, going as far as blocking a county Covid-19 ambulance from picking a patient in the neighbourhood.

Muhuri chair Khelef Khalifa said the secretive manner in which the government handled the information on Covid-19 cases made the residents doubt whether the disease really exists. 

“With lack of information, people will always speculate. We do not understand why the government has failed to respond to our inquiries about all the relevant information that we needed,” Khalifa said.

“Although the CS indicated how many positive cases were from Eastleigh and Old Town, there was no evidence presented to justify identifying these two areas as hotspots or necessitating cessation of movement,” Okoa Mombasa and Muhuri’s report reads.

A significant proportion of Old Town residents fall under the age group of 18-60 years, constituting a working population.

“Over 300 households have at least one unemployed person and 162 households have at least two unemployed persons,” the report reads. 

Over half the population (58.6 per cent) of Old Town do not believe Covid-19 is real. 

About 41.3 per cent of the population believe the disease is real but do not believe it is in Africa, Kenya or Old Town. 

“Some respondents were of the view that the numbers or effect of the virus is exaggerated in Kenya,” the report reads.

However, the most significant statistic is that 91.5 per cent of the respondents have not been tested for Covid-19 given their belief that the disease is either not real or not in the country. 

The report says that a vast majority of the respondents did not know anyone who has been tested for Covid-19 in the neighbourhood.

Only 8.5 per cent of the respondents knew people who tested positive for the virus.

The survey, which took four days, involved approximately 1,015 respondents who answered questionnaires distributed to them by 30 volunteer youth from the area.

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