In the last two weeks, the most recurring question among Kenyans online has been: Where is the philanthropic side of posturing billionaires like Chris Kirubi and raucous politicians who yap at every rally about BBI?
We have seen how grossly unprepared America, the world’s superpower is, as the viruses sweepts through their country. The country may need upwards of 7 million ventilators and they only have 150,000 presently. Italy and Spain, two countries with the comparatively adequate healthcare systems are overwhelmed. And for Kenya, we are not prepared. If you called your cousin who is a medical doctor or nurse anywhere in the country, they will tell you other than water and soap, there is so little the government has done, and if the numbers suddenly went up, it will be extremely embarrassing.
We know we are a poor country, and try as the government can, they will certainly be overwhelmed in the event of an escalation of the pandemic, currently standing at 31 confirmed cases. It is therefore a reasonable expectation of some Kenyans that corporates, with the billions they milk from Kenyans should step in and augment the commendable government efforts, not out of any responsibility they owe Kenyans, but the pure humane obligation in a time of an unprecedented global crisis.
There are those Kenyans who argue that no billionaire or blue-chip company owes Kenyans anything. They are right in their own ignorant way. Companies exist because people exist. If the disease, God-forbid, killed many Kenyans, who will buy their goods or services? Besides Kenyans are not asking for their entire year’s profits to be dedicated to Coronavirus. But sure, even if it is buying a few masks, a few Personal Protective Equipment (PPEs) and ventilators, as well as donating some ICU equipment to some hospitals, will definitely go a long way.
In Nigeria, banks and wealthy individuals contribute billions to fight coronavirus. that threatens the economic and the spiritual wellbeing of countries in Africa. Nigeria so far has 67 cases against their impossible population of 191 million people.
Tony Elumelu’s UBA Bank has donated $13 million dollars (about KSh 1.3 billion) towards fighting the monster bug. Others include Africa’s richest man, Aliko Dangote, Femi Otedola, Abdulsamad Rabiu, Herbet Wigwe and Segun Agbanje, who each has contributed $2.7 million (Sh 270 million). It is a gesture that President Buhari has saluted.
Maybe our billionaires are not as rich as Nigeria’s filthy oligarchs. But they can sure give something corresponding to their wealth. But our Kenyan billionare class has been slow and notoriously absent. Companies are curiously mum, other than some small consensions to their employees, of which only Vitafoam has done something sensible if circula that did rounds online is anything to go by.
There are two corporate behemoths that have tried some small measures, but their contribution honestly is not tangible, and very transactional at best.
Why are our rich very selfish? It is fairly common knowledge that some of the corporates are notorious at tax evasion, and the political class became billionaires, not because they invented Facebook or some elixir, but sheer pilferage of public coffers. But it seems, the people who make money by shortcuts are the ones most afraid of losing it.
But still, there are more diligent companies and individuals who are billionaires from genuine business. But philanthropy remains a foreign concept to Kenya’s rich class. It is like a dirty word. Even in the village, unlike in the old days where the rich readily shared their fortune. Modern day elite are only good at accumulation. Since 2010, many billionaires have died and none even donated Sh 1 billion to a university or any known cause. We only see their families embarrassing themselves in court of law.
There are several reasons why companies are selfish. Some genuine. Some selfish.
For starters, since Jubilee came to power, very few companies have posted positive results. Only giant banks and Safaricom have made humongous profits. Some years back companies were generous, notably, during the Turkana famine, a decade ago, when Kenyans came together to send aid up North. So, it is not that corporates are entirely selfish.
Secondly, corruption. The aforementioned Turkana famine alleviation drive left many corporates and individuals red in the face when it emerged most of the cash they donated may have been misused. It has been discussed in hushed tones how some blue chips swore never to participate in these CSR and philanthropy pageantry, they’d rather do it on their own.
Presently, the government is the least trusted entity, and nobody in their right mind can donate Sh 100 million to the government. Because they know the money may end up building hotels and skyscrapers around Upper Hill. Even so, individuals are not to be trusted too. Because, you can donate ventilators and PPEs and they may end up in someone’s private clinic, being sold expensively. Didn’t Germany say that 6 million face masks had disappeared from a port in Mombasa.
Thirdly, there is the absence of leadership. Since Bob Collymore died July last year, there aren’t corporate leaders who command respect or that aura of respect or foresight. Most don’t have a vision to step in, in a time of crisis like today. Because, all this crisis needs is leadership. The CS for health is a breath of fresh air to the blandest cabinet in the history. And if we had a few men and women like Mutahi Kagwe in the corporate sector, we would have seen some big moves that can assure the public.
However, still, this is not to excuse the lapse in judgment on part of the private sector. Private companies can strike deals with private hospitals. They can donate directly to some of the trusted private hospitals. I know private hospitals are not the most trusted institutions at the moment after their greed has been exposed lately, especially after the Nairobi Women debacle, but whoever who is donating has a hand in ensuring that the recipients, private or public are accountable.
The country is in dire need of a lot of medical equipment, medication, PPEs, ventilators, face masks and all. The poor and vulnerable may be affected in the event of a total lock down. Donating food stuffs, sanitizers, water, and anything will go a long way.
Kenyans always support these corporate giants whenever they need support such as when the government acts in bad faith as we saw with Keroche recently. We have seen how they have stood in good grace for Airtell and Telkom, wherever they take on Safaricom’s monopoly. Kenyans empathise when the rich fall sick or die.
Is it too much to ask the rich and the corporates to donate something towards fighting Covid-19?