These posters were posted on the entry door of a Kenyan rural town butchery. The top sign refers to anyone with COVID-19 as a 'suspect' who is unwelcome in the butchery. The bottom sign provides directions in graphical form for how to wash one's hands, just above a container with fresh water. It is set outside for customers to wash their hands before they enter the butchery. The hostility and caution reflected in the two signs reflect the multiple, sometimes contrasting views held towards the Corona Virus pandemic. The signs indicate an acceptance and recognition of the pandemic's spread and reach, as well as a stigmatisation of those infected with the virus.
This legacy media article highlights an outcome of the Corona Virus where certain foods have become expensive as people use them to boost immunity. The story is one illustration of the multiple, occasionally politicised narratives around COVID-19. One narrative emanates from official sources (e.g, government) which prescribe handling the disease as per particular protocols (e.g. wearing masks). Another narrative emanates from people's lived experience (e.g. a resident of a densely populated low-income urban area telling me his personal experience of buying raw ginger to eat even as he downplayed the virus) where people do what they need to do to survive (e.g. wearing masks when police are in the vicinity to avoid arrest) and doing what is within their ability to help them fight the disease (e.g. eat foods that are associated with better health, etc). The media article - which is one among many that speak about different aspects of the pandemic - serves to highlight one of these aspects.
The legacy media (print, television and radio ) have been important contributors to the sharing of the information about the Corona Virus pandemic. Through a variety of stories - survivor accounts, the spread of the disease,rates of infection, government management of the pandemic, etc - in multiple languages, the media have contributed towards a greater understanding of the disease among the Kenyan citizenry, and exposed the strengths and failures of government management of the pandemic (e.g. through reporting questionable events/practices related to COVID-19 monies). This is even while the mostly commercial media are undergoing severe challenges including paycuts, job losses, and heavy losses in advertising revenue.
The need for credible, balanced information has remained evident, even as a traditional primary source of that information - the legacy media - has provided it amidst tough challenges.
Kenya's Ministry of Health has been at the centre of providing information related to the COVID-19 pandemic including a series of infographics posted on its website. Daily pronouncements related to the illness are presented by a senior official at an afternoon press conference outside Ministry headquarters in Nairobi to a waiting press corps. The officials are typically the Cabinet Secretary, the Chief Administrative Secretary (of which there are two in the ministry of health, while other ministries have one), and the Health Director-General. The president has also communicated periodically while announcing a significant event e.g. introduction/removal of curfews, imposing/lifting limitations of movement between counties.
Other than ad-hoc off-the-cuff comments/responses to questions in Kiswahili, the government's sharing of COVID-19 information on its own officially platforms has typically been in English, and from Nairobi. It raises the question as to how effectively the information reaches most Kenyans (who are based in rural areas and speak a variety of languages other than English).
WW: New media companies/outlets have emerged in the past few years in Kenya. The Elephant is one such outlet that has contributed to the sharing of information about the Corona Virus. The outlet has devoted a section of its website to the sharing of information, analyses, commentary, and data visualizations about the pandemic at local and global levels. What stands out also is how The Elephant has positioned itself as free of the limitations imposed/experienced by the traditional news media outlets. Here is one phrase from The Elephant's COVID-19 website: "At a time when good journalism is constrained by corporate interests, a deluge of fake news, state propaganda and sensationalism, The Elephant seeks clarity for its audience in this age of corona."
WW: Al Jazeera, a global news organization, focuses on grassroots' technological responses to the Corona Virus within the Kenyan context. Technological responses across a range of sectors are highlighted, emphasizing local and individual solutions/practical responses to the pandemic.
WW: The information related to the spread and management of COVID-19 has often been from the position of leaders speaking to the citizenry or directing particular insitutions/entities. The nature of the communication has tended to be top-down and:
- informative (e.g. sharing the symptoms of COVID-19 and how to avoid infection);
- authoritarian/authoritative (e.g. curfew hours, lockdown of certain areas, etc);
- prescriptive (e.g. how sectors such as education should be run in the wake of the pandemic, etc).
However, in this article, a citizens' group proposes a different model of government engagement by calling for a participatory approach. The call comes from a civil society group that works in Mathare, a low-income residential area that has often suffered from harsh government actions and edicts, including reported incidences of extra-judicial killings at the hands of the police. The residents of Mathare also tend to earn low incomes, making the government's calls for social distancing and remote working very removed from the Mathare residents' reality.
WW: The Kenyan media has reported on the spread of the Corona Virus since the government's Cabinet Secretary for Health announced the first case. In this article, two government officials are reported to have been infected with information coming from an anonymous source. The use of an unnamed source suggests the sensitivity of the information being shared and to the secrecy with which African governments often handle information that is in the public interest.
WW: Gado, an editorial cartoonist, uses satire to present the range of responses to the Corona Virus pandemic from a range of prominent people and leaders, some real (e.g. the US president), and others a composite (e.g. religious leaders). The responses presented by the cartoonist include unproven cures or downplaying of the virus' strength. Editorial cartoons are typically associated with the news media, and are a medium of commenting on a topical issue as well as sharing information by use of humour/satire. This cartoon exposes some of the ideas that have been shared on prominent platforms, ome of it outrightly incorrect.
Kenya's Ministry of Health has been the starting source of much of the COVID-19 information on various platforms, including this website. The English-language site carries a variety of useful information including daily number of infections recorded globally and in Kenya, links to press releases and multimedia information (e.g. videos), updates on the ministry's work countrywide in relation to the pandemic, etc. The communication approach used presumes an audience that speaks English and has Internet access.
How the information is communicated and availed (on a website, in English, and in piecemeal form) reveals a top-down approach to communication - from a faceless authority figure to an assumed (faceless) audience that speaks English and has Internet access.