Kenya’s chief public prosecutor, Noordin Haji, has ordered a probe into $71 million in “irregular procurement” linked to the coronavirus by the Kenya Medical Supplies Authority (KEMSA).
Hard-pressed Kenyan hospital staff have staged strikes to highlight what they say are scandalous practices by the authority, which purchases medication and equipment for the nation’s public hospitals.
Three weeks ago, President Uhuru Kenyatta asked the national Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC) to investigate contracts granted to influential figures, including politicians, without respect for rules of public procurement.
Its report was submitted Friday to the prosecutor, who concluded that “irregular procurement and fraudulent payments” had been made totalling 7.8 billion Kenyan shillings (around $71 million).
Haji then instructed senior prosecutors “to undertake an independent and comprehensive review of the file” within two weeks, he said.
The EACC probe has already led to the suspension of KEMSA head Jonah Manjari and supply director Charles Juma.
Several Kenyan businessmen have already been accused of siphoning off around $400 million worth of public funds destined to pay for medical equipment needed in the battle against Covid-19.
KEMSA’s overall coronavirus budget is not known.
The virus has infected at least 36,800 people in Kenya, which ranks 137 out of 180 countries on a corruption perception index compiled by the non-governmental organisation Transparency International.
Sixteen-year-old Linnet covers her face bashfully, mumbling into her hands as she recounts how she met the young man who bought her fries and gave her money, before leaving her pregnant and facing even greater poverty than before.
She is one of thousands of teenagers who fall pregnant every year in Kenya, a problem experts fear is worsening during the coronavirus pandemic, with some girls pushed into transactional sex to survive while others have more sex as they stay home from school.
Shortly before the pandemic hit Kenya in March, Linnet’s farmer parents in western Busia sent her to Nairobi to find a job as they could no longer afford her school fees.
She moved in with her sister, her sister’s husband — the sole breadwinner — and their two small children in a tiny corrugated-iron room in the Kibera slum.
Food was scarce and the advances of the 22-year-old boda-boda (motorbike taxi) rider, and the luxuries he offered, were hard to resist.
“He would buy me some fries, shoes and also give me some money,” said Linnet, her dress of brightly-coloured flowers stretched tight against her four-month pregnant belly.
She said she had asked him to wear a condom, but he had removed it during intercourse. He has demanded she terminate the pregnancy, and the romance has dissipated.
“I am too young to be pregnant and now I am going to be a mother to a kid,” she said.
“A child needs porridge, milk, money. I feel bad.”
‘The tip of the iceberg’
Kenya has long grappled with high teen pregnancy rates.
However numbers had fallen from 82 pregnancies per 1,000 girls between the ages of 15 and 19 in 2016, to 71 per 1,000 in 2017, according to Save the Children.
Last month, figures from a leaked health ministry document showing thousands of girls had fallen pregnant during lockdown between March and May led to fierce debate on social media.
In Nairobi alone almost 5,000 girls fell pregnant, just over 500 of them between the ages of 10 and 14, according to the figures from a data unit within the ministry.
Both President Uhuru Kenyatta and his Health Minister Mutahi Kagwe have mentioned the rise in teen pregnancies during addresses to the nation.
“Teenage motherhood is a catastrophic, disempowering outcome in the life of a girl. More often than not it spells doom to the teenager’s attainment of life’s full potential,” Kagwe said last month.
Evelyne Opondo, senior Africa regional director at the Centre for Reproductive Rights, said evidence of an uptick in pregnancies directly linked to the pandemic was still “anecdotal”.
However she believed the numbers are merely “the tip of the iceberg” as most girls do not seek proper ante-natal care.
She said teen pregnancies were likely increasing during the pandemic because girls were idle at home, or “engaging in relationships for survival”.
Some children get free lunches or free sanitary towels at schools, which will remain closed until at least 2021.
Being home also places an added burden on parents who may have lost their jobs.
“So the young girls will turn to men who will be providing them with pocket money, money for pads,” Opondo said.
“We have seen this even before the virus so you can imagine how much worse it must be.”
Oriema Otieno, a 30-year-old doctor in Embakasi on the outskirts of Nairobi, says he has seen more pregnant girls than usual at his clinic, which is run by a reproductive health NGO.
“Normally with schools open and teens in school we see two in every three months. Now there has been a rise, about seven to eight in one month in this community.”
No sex education
According to Opondo, one of the main drivers of teen pregnancy is ignorance.
“We know that in Kenya there is no comprehensive sexuality education… a lot of girls lack information on how to prevent unintended pregnancies,” she said.
Implementing comprehensive sexuality education in Kenya is a persistent challenge, drawing fierce pushback from religious institutions and conservative groups.
A 2017 analysis by the Guttmacher Institute found that, while various policies exist to provide sexual education in Kenya, topics are limited and do not include information on contraception.
It noted that “messages conveyed to students were reportedly fear-inducing and judgemental or focused on abstinence, emphasising that sex is dangerous and immoral for young people.”
Meanwhile, the topic is taboo at home.
“Let us not lie to ourselves, our kids are having sex,” said Ritah Anindo, 22, a youth advocate for the NGO Reproductive Health Network Kenya.
“Now children are at home, they are not studying. Rich kids, probably they are having online classes but kids in (poor communities), what are they doing?” Anindo said.
“Our kids are idle so what do you expect at the end of it all? Teenage pregnancies, new HIV infections, unsafe abortion.”
For many girls like Linnet, hopes of ever returning to school will be fully dashed once they give birth.
“Most of them will not be able to go back to school… it requires a lot of support, financial support, emotional support,” Anindo said.
“We may have more teenage pregnancies than COVID cases and it is so sad.”
Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta on Monday announced a “phased reopening” of the country, with the resumption of international flights from August 1 as well as the lifting of internal travel restrictions.
The move comes as pressure mounts to kickstart the country’s ailing economy after nearly four months of coronavirus restrictions that have devastated key industries such as tourism.
Kenyatta said in a televised address that “international air travel into and out of the territory of Kenya shall resume effective 1 August 2020.”
He also announced that a ban on movement in and out of the capital Nairobi, the port city of Mombasa and northeastern Mandera, would be lifted from July 15.
However, a curfew from 9pm to 4am will remain in place for another 30 days.
Kenya has recorded just over 8,000 cases of the virus and 164 deaths — the highest official figures in East Africa — and has seen a steep increase in numbers in recent weeks, with a fatality rate of 2.09 percent.
Health Minister Mutahi Kagwe on Sunday warned “our healthcare facilities risk being overwhelmed”.
Fewer than 200,000 people have been tested in the population of 47 million people.
– Reopening ‘conditional’ –
In June, Kenyatta had said that before lifting restrictions, the country would need to have contained infections with numbers headed downwards; the health care system must be prepared to deal with a surge in infections; and the capacity for surveillance and contact tracing must be in place.
He said Monday that experts looking at those conditions determined “we have not met the irreducible minimum 100%”.
However, they agreed “we have reached a reasonable level of preparedness across the country to allow us to reopen,” he said.
Kenyatta also warned the reopening was “conditional”.
“Any trends that signal a worsening of the pandemic, we will have no choice but to return to the lockdown,” he said.
Kenyatta also announced that places of worship will be allowed to reopen, but with a maximum of 100 people attending.
He urged citizens to continue to implement social distancing, and to avoid travel as much as possible, asking them to, “exercise cautious optimism and avoid reckless abandon.”
Like many nations in East Africa, Kenya took swift action to combat the coronavirus, closing its borders on March 25 when it had only 25 cases, shutting schools and imposing a curfew while advising people to work from home.
The restrictions were a blow to millions of poor in the city who live hand to mouth.
“Jobs have been lost, businesses have closed and livelihoods endangered. And this is the sorry state of things the world over,” said Kenyatta.
In recent weeks Nairobi has become busier, with traffic jams returning to the streets of the capital and restaurants re-opening.
Masks are obligatory in the country, but Kagwe has warned of increasing laxity which he said could “spell disaster in coming days”.
“We have observed that many of our people are going about their everyday activities as if we are in normal times,” he said Sunday, citing overloaded public transport and house parties.
Kenyan marathon runner Florence Jepkosgei Chepsoi is facing a jail term for presenting false medical documents to support her case against doping, the Anti-Doping Agency of Kenya (ADAK) said on Thursday.
The 36-year-old Chepsoi, who was banned for two years in 2017 for using performance-boosting drug Prednisolone, appeared in an Eldoret court on Thursday charged with the offence.
Her case will be heard on August 13, and if found guilty, Chepsoi will become the first Kenyan athlete to be jailed under ADAK’s doping jurisdiction.
ADAK’s Investigations and Intelligence Gathering Unit said Chepsoi had provided medical documents from Eldoret’s Uasin Gishu Hospital to support her defence case when she appeared before the Kenyan Sports Disputes Tribunal in her doping case in October 2017.
“Uasin Gishu Hospital confirmed those medical documents had been forged and that the athlete had not been treated or seen at the said hospital,” ADAK said.
Kenya’s 2016 Olympic women’s marathon champion Jemima Sumgong was given an additional four-year ban by World Athletics in January 2019 after she was found to have falsified medical documents in an attempt to tamper with a positive test for EPO.
Sumgong, the first Kenyan woman to win an Olympic marathon in Rio, was initially banned for four years by ADAK in October 2017 after testing positive for the blood-booster in an out-of-competition test five months after winning Olympic gold.
Kenyan police have been involved in the killing of 15 people since the country put a nighttime curfew in place in March to combat the coronavirus, the policing oversight body said in a statement seen by AFP Friday.
The Independent Policing Oversight Body (IPOA) said it had received 87 complaints against police since the dusk to dawn curfew and heightened security measures were imposed on March 27.
“After preliminary investigations, 15 deaths and 31 incidents where victims sustained injuries have directly been linked to actions of police officers during the curfew enforcement,” it said.
According to the statement, the complaints include deaths, shootings, harassment, assaults, robbery, inhumane treatment and sexual assault.
The IPOA statement was released earlier this week as the United States was gripped by anger over racism and police brutality that has prompted protests in the country and around the world.
The killing of George Floyd has not led to major protests in Kenya, with a solidarity march on Tuesday drawing only around 20 people.
However activists on social media have drawn parallels with Kenya’s scourge of police brutality, which often goes unpunished.
Kenya’s police force is often accused by rights groups of using excessive force and carrying out unlawful killings, especially in poor neighbourhoods.
In April Human Right Watch accused the police of imposing the coronavirus curfew in a “chaotic and violent manner from the start”, sometimes whipping, kicking and teargassing people to force them off the streets.
It described the case of 13-year-old 13-year-old Yassin Hussein Moyo who died in the capital Nairobi on March 31 after being shot while standing on his balcony as police forced people into their homes on the street below.
In others, a tomato seller died in western Kakamega after being hit by a teargas canister, while four men were beaten to death in different parts of the country.
In January, HRW said at least eight young men had been shot in three low-income neighbourhoods since Christmas, and a 2019 report detailed the killings of 21 young men and boys by police “apparently with no justification”.
“Although many killings by the police have been well documented by both state institutions and rights organisations, the security officers have rarely been held to account, including by the police oversight authority,” said HRW.
Interior Minister Fred Matiangi on Friday criticised police excesses, but “took exception to painting the entire service with the same brush”, his office said in a statement.
“We have challenges in our law enforcement, and we must all rise and start dealing with them collectively instead of creating a stigma around the police,” Matiangi said.
According to the statement, the country’s chief prosecutor Noordin Haji has formed a specialised unit to speedily handle cases of police violence, and is currently working on 171 cases of such brutality, 81 of which are in court.
On Thursday the IPOA announced six police officers would be arrested and prosecuted, one for the killing of Moyo, another for shooting dead a secondary school teacher while responding to a burglary at a market in western Siaya, and four others for seriously assaulting a man during an arrest.
Watching from afar as much of the world was brought to its knees by the coronavirus, African scientists, engineers and innovators have turned to homegrown solutions to prepare for the worst-case scenario.
By the time the virus hit Africa, where cases have risen relatively slowly, images of overwhelmed hospitals and stories of health workers strapped for protective gear had been streaming in for weeks.
Mehul Shah from Ultra Red Technologies, a 3D printing company in Nairobi, said he and his partner Neeval Shah quickly realised they could be “first responders” in producing locally-made equipment.
In only three days they put together a working design for 3D-printed face shields made up of a visor that clips onto a plastic sheet. They currently produce around 500 a day.
“It’s very important that we can show Kenyans that we can do this here and we don’t need to rely on importation. We have got the innovative know-how and the means to get this done here,” he told AFP.
The team is also helping produce components that would allow ventilators to be used on more than one patient, as well as printing parts for locally-made ventilators.
While Kenya only has 912 cases and 50 deaths after a little over two months, “we are preparing for the worst-case scenario,” Mehul said.
He said it was “a first” to see manufacturers in Kenya and even worldwide collaborating so much.
“All the companies are looking at how they can use their resources to help out. All the competitors who would be fighting against each other are all coming together.”
In Benin, the start-up Blolab — a digital fabrication laboratory – has also been printing 3D face shields.
– Contact-tracing apps –
Developers in Kenya’s thriving tech scene are among several on the continent working on contact tracing apps.
FabLab, an innovation hub in western Kisumu has developed an application called Msafari (Safari means journey in Swahili) which can track passengers on public transport.
With it, passengers entering a minibus taxi — known as a matatu — can input a simple code on their phone along with the vehicle registration number.
“If one of those passengers tested positive we are now able to trace all the contacts who checked in on that particular vehicle, ” said Tairus Ooyi, the lead app developer and data scientist at FabLab.
– Low-cost ventilators –
Another busy area of innovation has been the production of ventilators, which have been in short supply even in rich countries as COVID-19 patients needing oxygen have swamped hospitals.
Most African countries have only a handful of the machines and 10 have none at all, according to the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.
In Kenya, engineering students in collaboration with the medical department at the Kenyatta University, produced a low-cost ventilator at a tenth of the price of an imported machine — estimated at $10,000.
Doctor Gordon Ogweno, a medical professor at the university said Kenya had about 50 working ventilators for a population of more than 50 million.
“We are making machines with locally available material … pandemics can come and go but other conditions also require critical care,” he said.
The ventilator is undergoing clinical trials.
In Ghana, the Academic City College in Accra and Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology in Kumasi managed to produce a ventilator costing between $500 and $1,000 which takes only an hour to assemble.
A group of Rwandan biomedical scientists at the Integrated Polytechnic Regional College in Kigali have also been testing a locally made prototype ventilator.
Meanwhile in Somalia, which has limited capacity to respond to its growing caseload, 21-year-old Mohamed Adawe has invented an automated resuscitator.
While doctors normally need to pump oxygen via an Ambu bag valve mask by hand on patients struggling to breathe, Adawe’s contraption — made up of a wooden box, pipes and an electric system — pushes oxygen from an air tank into a mask placed over the patient’s mouth.
“I saw people having difficulties in breathing and many have died because they could not get a machine to help them provide vital oxygen,” said Adawe, who is studying public health.
– Drones and robots –
Aside from locally-made items — African countries are also employing other technology to tackle the virus.
Rwanda last week began using four humanoid robots in coronavirus treatment centres to minimise human to human contact. They can screen temperatures and monitor the status of patients.
In Ghana, the US-based company Zipline which uses drones to ferry medicines, blood and vaccines to avoid poor roads, has begun to transport coronavirus tests.
“The government told us that their biggest challenge is that the virus has spread out of the cities, they have suspected cases popping up in the rural areas and the logistics from the rural areas to the cities are very difficult,” said Zipline CEO in Ghana, Daniel Marfo.
Since Kenya confirmed its first coronavirus case on March 13, authorities have adopted various measures to curb the spread of the virus while stopping short of imposing a full lockdown.
AFP spent a day this week exploring how the measures are impacting the capital Nairobi and its 4.3 million inhabitants, as the health crisis exacerbates social inequalities and batters the economy of the regional powerhouse.
– 6:45 am, Ndenderu police checkpoint –
The sun has just risen and morning mist envelops a valley on the outskirts of Nairobi. On this road heading north towards the Rift Valley region armed police monitor vehicles and pedestrians.
“The only people who can go through are the ones with the authorisation: the lorries carrying food, doctors, etc,” explains police inspector Julius Kariuki Mugo.
Edward, a 25-year-old driver, shows a stamped pass from his boss that enables him to continue on his route to deliver flour to a town 75 kilometres (45 miles) northwest.
Since April 6 Kenya has blocked movement in and out of Nairobi, three coastal towns, and the northeastern county of Mandera. Two refugee camps have also been cordoned off, as well as one suburb in Nairobi and one in Mombasa.
After initially creeping up slowly, virus cases this week began to jump, with authorities fearing rampant community transmission in slums and poor areas of the capital and second city Mombasa.
There have been 582 cases and 26 deaths, and Health Minister Mutahi Kagwe has urged citizens not to make a “mockery” of two months of efforts as social distancing fatigue sets in.
– 8:30 am, central Nairobi –
Normally congested during rush hour, central Nairobi is quiet.
In a store that sells bicycle spare parts, brothers N. Shah and S. Shah, both in their fifties, are feeling the impact of the pandemic on the economy.
“We’re doing 10 percent of our usual business,” says N. Shah.
“People don’t have money. If you don’t have money to pay your rent, you don’t have money for shopping,” says S. Shah.
Java, with 2,500 employees in total and 50 restaurants in Nairobi alone, plans to reopen gradually after the government last week approved a supervised resumption of restaurant activity.
To comply with the new rules, employees must be tested for COVID-19 and customers must undergo temperature screening.
Once inside, no more than two people can sit at tables which have been spaced out to allow for physical distancing.
– 3:00 pm, Foodplus supermarket –
Grocery stores, one of the few sectors still booming during the pandemic, have also had to make changes.
Masks are required, thermal screening takes place at the entrance and shopping carts are regularly wiped down with disinfectant.
At the registers, markers on the ground indicate where customers must stand to keep an appropriate distance.
“They’re more than cooperative,” Daniel Mutuku, the manager of the Foodplus store in the Kilimani neighbourhood said of customers.
– 5:00 pm, La Tasca tapas restaurant –
Normally open from noon “until the last customer leaves”, Maurizio Fregoni’s restaurant in upscale Lavington is almost completely dead.
The 7:00 pm to 5:00 am curfew imposed since March 25 has brought Nairobi’s nightlife to a standstill.
The restaurant is currently relying on a limited takeaway business and hoping for better days for its 14 employees, most of whom are taking unpaid leave.
Fregoni, an eternal optimist, says the quiet period has given him “time to rethink the menu”.
– 7:00 pm, Kibera slum –
This settlement in the heart of Nairobi, home to hundreds of thousands of Kenyans and often billed as the largest slum in Africa, continues to buzz with activity.
Cans of soap and water have been set up in front of stalls and masks are common, though some wear them around their chins.
A handful of cases of the virus have cropped up here and in other slums in the capital, sparking fears of a massive outbreak in the crowded settlements where social distancing is near impossible.
It is residents of such areas who have been hardest hit by the economic slump the virus has caused.
George Juma, a 39-year-old electrician, has not had work in a month.
“Everybody is afraid of the disease so they don’t want to bring you in their home,” he says.
Juma managed to convince his landlord to let him pay rent “when it’s over”. In the meantime, his family of four is scraping by thanks to a food donation from a NGO and the benevolence of vendors who sell to him on credit.
As curfew approaches, a police helicopter shines its spotlight on Kibera.
Joel, 45, rushes to pack up the stall where he sells fried fish — which used to stay open until 9:30 pm.
With the curfew in place, his earnings have been cut “around 25 percent”.
– 9:00 pm, downtown Nairobi –
The city centre is deserted. At the headquarters of the Nation Media Group, a sign broadcasts prevention messages: “Stay home”, “Wash hands”.
Lilian, one of the few people around to actually see the sign, sweeps the streets of the capital.
She will finish at midnight, then sleep for a few hours in a shelter before curfew lifts at 5:00 am so she can take a share-taxi home.
Kenya’s foreign ministry Tuesday called for a swift investigation after a humanitarian plane helping the fight against coronavirus crashed in Somalia in “unclear” circumstances, killing all six people onboard.
The Kenyan private cargo plane was undertaking a humanitarian mission related to pandemic when it crashed Monday afternoon in Bardale district in southern Somalia, the ministry said.
Officials said at least six people were on board for the short flight from Baidoa to Bardale, some 300 kilometres (180 miles) northwest of Somalia’s capital Mogadishu.
“The aircraft was about to land at the Bardale airstrip when it crashed and burst into flames. All six people on board died in the incident,” Abdulahi Isack, a local police official, told AFP by phone.
“We don’t know what exactly caused the aircraft carrying medical supplies to crash, but there is an investigation going on to establish the details.”
Kenya urged Somalia “to thoroughly and swiftly investigate the matter because it impacts humanitarian operations at a time of highest need”.
“The incident occurred under unclear circumstances,” the foreign ministry said in a statement, expressing its “deep shock and regret” and offering condolences to the families of the deceased.
Kenya has banned movement in and out of two huge refugee camps with effect from Wednesday, in a bid to curb the spread of coronavirus.
Interior Minister Fred Matiangi said the restrictions apply to the Dadaab camp in eastern Kenya, home to 217,000 people, and the Kakuma camp in northwestern Kenya, home to 190,000 people.
“The government has ordered for the cessation of movement into and out of both Kakuma and Dadaab Refugee Camps effective … Wednesday, April 29, 2020,” Matiangi wrote on Twitter on Tuesday.
Kenya, which has recorded 384 cases of coronavirus since March 13, has yet to report any cases in the two camps, which house refugees from Somalia, South Sudan and Ethiopia — some of whom have lived there for almost two decades.
However humanitarian organisations say an outbreak in the crowded camps would be catastrophic.
In Dadaab, “a possible outbreak of the coronavirus would be a disaster with a quarantine capacity for only 2,000 people in place and only one dedicated COVID-19 health facility including 110 beds for more than 270,000 people,” Philippa Crosland-Taylor of Geneva-based organisation CARE said on Twitter.
CARE’s figure of 270,000 includes undocumented refugees and people living in host communities.
Kenya has not imposed a full lockdown, but has imposed a dusk-to-dawn curfew and similarly blocked movement in and out of Nairobi, three coastal towns, and the north-eastern county of Mandera.
UN refugee agency spokeswoman Eujin Byun told AFP the new restrictions would not mean a “significant change” for the refugees.
She said the issuance of movement passes allowing them to travel out of the area have been halted since the end of March.
However host communities are now also blocked from leaving the area, and movement into the area is restricted.
Humanitarian movement will be allowed on a “case by case” basis, and aid and vital cargo will still be allowed into the area.
A German army shipment of six million face masks needed to protect against the novel coronavirus has vanished in Kenya, the defence ministry in Berlin confirmed Tuesday.
“We are trying to find out what happened” to the massive order of protective equipment meeting the FFP2 standard for protection against particles and aerosols, a spokeswoman said.
News weekly Der Spiegel had earlier reported that the masks went missing at a Kenyan airport at the end of last week.
It was not immediately clear why the shipment was transiting via the east African country, the spokeswoman said.
The German army’s procurement office — plagued in normal times by equipment shortages and breakdowns — is providing the health ministry with logistical support during the coronavirus crisis.
Due to arrive in Europe’s largest economy on March 20, the missing mask shipment was one of the first major deliveries needed to gird Germany’s health system for its battle against the coronavirus, Spiegel reported. That makes the loss “more than irritating” for the German health and government workers on the front line of the crisis, Spiegel wrote citing official sources.
According to the Robert Koch Institute disease control authority, the country had 27,436 confirmed virus infections Tuesday — an increase of almost 5,000 over the tally on Monday.
The defence ministry spokeswoman said the German government would not suffer a financial loss on the lost shipment as payment for the masks had been due on delivery.