Containment Challenges of COVID-19 in Kenya

Public perspectives on exposure risks and implications for the education sector

The imperative for adaptive resilience

In Africa, Lesotho has now joined the list of countries with confirmed COVID-19 cases. As at May 16, Kenya had confirmed 830 cases with a recovery rate of 36% and a case fatality rate of 6%. Africa had recorded 78,808 cases with a recovery rate of 38% and a case fatality rate of 3%. The global recovery rate on this date was 38% with a case fatality rate of 6.6%.

A previous article of the IBDSeries referred to COVID-19 as a warrior waging a mutating and wavy warring style of tactical retreat and overwhelming ambush. No one is safe anywhere as long as anyone is infected somewhere. To countries devoid of adequate technology infrastructure, the closure of learning institutions qualifies COVID-19 as a shaker of the very foundation of long-term societal transformation which is education.

Analyses of global COVID-19 data by Impact Borderless Digital (IBD) thought-leadership series derived the global equation

to predict the global COVID-19 cases to reach 4.6 million by mid-May and 6 million by the end of May. It has been observed that COVID-19 is a pandemic turning out to be an endemic problem to which countries must just adapt. As such, the pandemic awakens Kenya to the compelling need to cultivate renewed public policy resolve for adaptive resilience, complete with a long-term strategy that goes beyond “flattening the curve”.

Educational implications of a gaping digital divide

Using the spatial intelligence derived from global navigation satellite systems (GNSS) between January and April 2020, an earlier article observed how mobile digital access is unevenly distributed across Kenya. Only 12 out of the 47 counties returned sufficient mobile location data for analysing changing community mobility trends over the duration of COVID-19 containment measures. The immediate implication for the education sector is that 35 counties in Kenya are still largely too digitally deprived to support mobile digital delivery of informational resources. A major investment in technology infrastructure must precede any meaningful attempt to fully deliver digital learning contents as a “digital public good” to the learners widely spread out across these digitally deprived locations.

Public perspectives on exposure risk levels by sector in Kenya

To get the big picture of the activity areas affected by COVID-19 in Kenya and how containment measures can be managed to give a lifeline to the key sectors, common stakeholder views have been consolidated and mapped as shown in the diagram. The issues of key public concern were spread across transport, businesses (various), faith-based and recreational areas, and education.

In the lower part of the quadrant are the areas viewed to be least disrupted by COVID-19. They are also perceived to be of a lower exposure risk level. Notably, they include non-motorised transport (NMT) such as walking and areas that are digitally leveraged such as e-commerce and webinars. Open markets, bars and clubs, and conferences are perceived as extreme exposure risk areas. Salons, restaurants, gyms, and matatus (common public service vehicles in Kenya) rank as high exposure risk areas, too. Interestingly, motorcycle taxis (Boda boda) are perceived to be less of a COVID-19 exposure risk than matatusJua kali (open-air artisanship) appears to be a low exposure risk area in the eyes of the Kenyan public. Faith-based fellowship areas such as churches and mosques, if they can be strict and innovative enough to implement recommended social distancing and congestion-reducing measures, may justifiably deserve some easing of restrictions in the near future.

The consolidated views in the diagram show clearly that if push comes to shove, Kenyans would rather have candidates at the basic education level go back to school, but only once strict measures of social distancing and hygiene are in place. Besides being highly disrupted by COVID-19, public primary and secondary schools are perceived to belong to the high exposure risk levels. Being in the highly disrupted category, schools highly deserve long-term solutions. Sound and strict long-term containment measures are essential because of the infectious and enduring nature of the pandemic. College graduating classes deserve priority, too, and are perceived to be of a lower risk category because of their higher maturity and risk awareness level. The congestion levels witnessed in colleges are also lower than in Kenya’s primary and secondary schools. Suitable COVID-19 educational policy responses, therefore, require and deserve adequate investments of time, human and infrastructural resources.

The elusive target of flattening Kenya’s COVID-19 curve — explained in numbers

Going by the recent COVID-19 trends in Kenya since May 7 and assuming that further tests will continue to be mostly yielding new daily cases between 20 and 25, basic calculus based on the trend equation

shows that the most optimistic scenario will reach a peak around July 18, 2020, with a cumulative total of some 1450 COVID-19 cases. This is a highly optimistic scenario indeed, considering that Kenya’s normalised mean testing index by May 16 was still low, at only 10.8 tests per million per day, below Uganda’s 27.5, Rwanda’s 56.8, Ghana’s 85.2, and Mauritius’ 930.1 by the time. The high record of 49 new cases announced on May 16 also goes against this highly optimistic assumption.

Mauritius, Africa’s splendid example with a population of about 1.3 million, had reduced her active COVID-19 cases to zero by May 16, 2020. The challenge of large country populations appears evident in these statistical measures of effectiveness in containing COVID-19, hence immersing Kenya in the inescapable web of having to contend with the tougher challenge of potentially more explosive community transmission trends and stricter border controls.


As the situation in Kenya stands as at May 16, 2020, a continuation of the COVID-19 containment measures is justified, the current dusk-to-dawn curfew being among the softer measures. Sectors that can easily shift their working modes online are absorbing the shocks better. Some business areas such as ICT services and e-commerce are benefitting as the crisis has crippled the conventional brick and mortar operations.

Educational service delivery has been highly affected as one of the classical enterprises, calling for urgent mitigation measures. The challenge for Kenya’s education sector is particularly immense given the millions of young learners across Kenya’s digitally deprived environments and the congestion in public schools, which is aggravated by the surging numbers so far boosted by free public primary education over the last two decades. The emerging public consensus is that the graduating classes in colleges and candidate classes in primary and secondary schools deserve the first attention when considering a phased reopening of learning institutions.

Nashon J. Adero

Nashon, a geospatial expert, lecturer and trained policy analyst applies dynamic models to complex adaptive systems. He is a youth mentor on career development and the founder of Impact Borderless Digital.