A Nairobi high court suspended flights connecting Kenya to China on Friday after a recording of a China Southern flight landing in the capital triggered a widespread public backlash the day before.
The Kenyan government has refused to repatriate Kenyan nationals stuck in China as the communist country continues to impose a quarantine on several major cities to contain the ongoing Wuhan coronavirus outbreak there. The fact that Kenyan officials would not allow Kenyans into their own country, but allow Chinese citizens to fly in, outraged many on social media and prompted angry remarks from many lawmakers.
Three separate groups of plaintiffs filed court complaints on Friday against the move, leading to the high court ban, arguing that allowing the flights violated the spirit of the World Health Organization (WHO) declaring a public health emergency of international concern and that “the landing of the Chinese plane amidst coronavirus fears caused anxiety and psychological trauma among Kenyans,” the Daily Nation reported.
“Upon perusal of all petitions and prayers sought, I find that unless a conservatory order is issued, Kenyans will be exposed to the deadly disease,” Justice James Makau wrote in his ruling, which bans all flights from China for ten days and orders the government to find the 239 people who flew into Nairobi on Thursday and place them in quarantine at a military facility. The Kenyan president’s office insisted on Thursday that Kenyans should not worry about those flying in, as officials had requested that they “self-quarantine.”
Kenya cancels all flights to and from China as result of #CoronaVirus outbreak. Kenya President also orders compulsory 21-day quarantine for travellers from affected areas. Kenya also appointed a national emergency response committeee comprising ministries and Govt agencies. 1/2 pic.twitter.com/SdPTeaOvQI
— Harun Maruf (@HarunMaruf) February 28, 2020
Following the ruling, China Southern Airlines issued a statement saying that it would choose to no longer fly to Kenya – not because of the ruling, but because of “the decreasing volume of passenger flow.”
Friday was a tumultuous day in Kenya, where for months the BRI has bred distrust and concern among Kenyans about President Uhuru Kenyatta’s decision to make the country increasingly dependent on China.
“Self-quarantine is an oxymoron. We are inviting coronavirus with a bouquet of flowers,” Senator Mutula Kilonzo, Jr., wrote on Twitter following reports that 239 people had flown in from China. The Kenyan Senate immediately moved to force cabinet public health officials to testify on what the government is doing to ensure that the virus does not start spreading in Kenya and to explain how the flight in question was approved. Prior to the suspension, China Southern had scheduled four flights a week into Kenya.
President Kenyatta announced an executive order Friday in response to nationwide concerns that would create a 21-member task force assigned to preparing for an outbreak and amassing the necessary equipment at hospitals.
“Kenya is a major international transport hub, with 70 percent of international passengers in transit, and there is a significant threat arising from the spread of the coronavirus to Kenya from countries that have new and ongoing outbreaks of the pneumatic disease,” Kenyatta’s executive order read in part. “There is demonstrable and compelling public interest in further upscaling Kenya’s level of preparedness and capacity to prevent, respond to and contain this emerging global threat.”
China and Kenya have expansive economic ties through the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), a global infrastructure project meant to ensure Chinese Communist Party control of the world’s most important roads, ports, and railways. Kenya has taken China’s position in the past following revelations that Chinese workers in the country have imposed racist workplace systems, abused Kenyan nationals, and refused to hire Kenyans for skilled labor on BRI projects, instead shipping in hundreds of Chinese workers.
Kenya also has a significant illegal Chinese immigrant problem. Dozens of Chinese workers have been caught illegally acquiring tourist visas to go to Belt and Road construction sites and take Kenyan jobs. On Friday, Kenyan police released ten Chinese illegal immigrants arrested without travel documents while working at a Kenyan company.
Just as Kenya’s economy relies heavily on China, its healthcare system is precarious and relies heavily on Cuban slave doctors, many of which are often insufficiently educated to address severe cases and who are paid only a meager “living stipend” to work in the nation’s most dangerous places.
Kenya’s Cuban slave doctors are so poorly educated by the Communist Party in their native countries that the government ordered the creation of a “mentorship” program in which Kenyan doctors would help fill gaps in the Cuban doctors’ knowledge.
Ties to China significantly increase the possibility that Kenya will soon log a coronavirus case within its borders, though it has yet to do so. In sub-Saharan Africa, only Nigeria has documented a case of coronavirus; elsewhere in the continent, Algeria and Egypt have also identified carriers.