Kenyans Protest China Flights: ‘Inviting Coronavirus with a Bouquet of Flowers’

An Air China Boeing 737 MAX 8 plane is seen (back C) as a China Southern Airlines Boeing 787 (top) lands at Beijing Capital Airport on March 11, 2019. - China on March 11, 2019 ordered domestic airlines to suspend commercial operation of the Boeing 737 MAX 8, citing the …
GREG BAKER/AFP via Getty Images

Kenyans expressed outrage late Wednesday as their government announced it would allow China to resume flights into the country and request that Chinese citizens “self-quarantine” to prevent the spread of the Chinese coronavirus.

Kenya has not yet documented any cases of the new coronavirus, but its government maintains extensive ties with China through the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), China’s campaign to control all global transportation infrastructure. In Kenya, China is building the “Standard Gauge Railway,” a train line meant to connect Nairobi to other capitals in eastern Africa.

Kenyan officials are paying Chinese workers millions using a loan China granted it to participate in the program. China had initially promised that the plan would bring jobs to local Kenyans and build the economy, but instead has only maintained some Kenyans as manual labor, implementing a racist apartheid system on construction grounds and preventing Kenyans from eating, taking vans to construction sites, or otherwise interacting with the Chinese.

Prior to the resumption of flights, the Kenyan newspaper Daily Nation published an exposé finding that Nairobi had spent millions on lavish hotel stays for Chinese workers on the railway, money that could have gone to paying local Kenyan workers. The money came from taxpayers’ funds.

Amid an already tense situation in which Kenyans are growing increasingly outraged by China’s behavior, the federal government announced it would allow China Southern to fly from Guangzhou to Nairobi four times a week (a Kenyan government statement claimed only one flight a week would arrive). Guangdong province, where Guangzhou is located, has documented 1,347 cases of coronavirus and seven deaths. It also claims to have 890 “recovered” coronavirus patients, though doctors in Wuhan, where the virus originated, have begun re-quarantining “recovered” patients who once again tested positive for the virus.

Kenyans were alerted to the resumption of flights when a video surfaced on social media of a Chinese plane landing in Nairobi; prior to the video, government officials had said nothing about potential incoming flights from China. The Ministry of Health confirmed late Wednesday that 239 people had landed in Nairobi from Guangzhou. The individuals do not appear to be Kenyans, as the Kenyan government refuses to evacuate its nationals, particularly those stuck in Wuhan, over concerns the virus may spread. It has trusted the 239 people to “self-quarantine,” without enforcing the request, for 14 days.

“All 239 passengers were screened onboard, cleared and advised to self-quarantine for the next 14 days,” the department said in a statement.

As multiple Kenyan news outlets noted, Kenyans on social media and Kenyan lawmakers erupted in anger over the confirmation, demanding to know why the executive branch allowed the flights and why no other officials had been consulted on the move, particularly in light of Kenyan citizens being denied the right to turn home.

Senator Mutula Kilonzo questioned the effectiveness of “self-quarantine” on Twitter, later arguing on the Senate floor that Kenyan officials had no trustworthy emergency to contain the virus once infections begin to occur in public.

On Thursday, Senate Speaker Kenneth Lusaka ordered the Senate’s health committee to summon health officials to testify and take questions from the alarmed lawmakers. Kenyan Foreign Affairs Secretary Raychelle Omamo spoke to the Defense and Foreign Relations Committee on Thursday but offered unsatisfactory answers in the eyes of lawmakers as to why the flight had made it through. She told lawmakers the government is “treating Kenyans in Wuhan in a more delicate and sensitive way than China flights arriving in Kenya.”

About 100 Kenyan students are stuck in China with no scheduled date of return. Cyrus Oguna, Kenya government’s spokesperson, told reporters that “the safest place for the students to be is Wuhan which is in lockdown.”

“You may need to walk to the minister or use whatever means but we want a proper response by Tuesday next week. We do not doubt the competences of those people in those dockets but some of the things they are talking about are making Kenyans even more worried than they had been,” Lusaka asserted.

At press time, the World Health Organization (WHO) has documented 82,548 cases of coronavirus worldwide, most of them in China. Every province of China has documented at least one case. Of those affected, 2,810 people have died, most also in China. Africa has documented two cases – one in Algeria and one in Egypt – and no cases in sub-Saharan Africa. Many of the most vulernable states are in sub-Saharan Africa, however, as they have the closest diplomatic ties to China.

Follow Frances Martel on Facebook and Twitter.

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