“Proponents of the New Paradigm in Africa have a new milestone to celebrate, with the opening of a new segment of the Mombasa-Kisumu Standard Gauge Rail (SGR) line in Kenya. On October 16, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta led a celebration to open Segment 2A, a 120 kilometer (75 mile) extension from the capital (and current terminus) of Nairobi, to Naivasha, a large town northwest of the capital. Opening of this—admittedly rather short—segment nonetheless brings the SGR project one step closer to its planned destination: Kampala, the capital city of neighboring, landlocked Uganda.”

Vincent Malenya, a resident of Vihiga County in western Kenya, learned on Saturday that local politicians were going to hold a meeting in the region.

With tens of other villagers, a majority of them young people, they went to attend the meeting.

While police did not allow the meeting to go on for fear of the spread of COVID-19, the number of people who had congregated at the venue put themselves at the risk of contracting the disease since some did not even have face masks or observe social distancing.

Kenya has witnessed an increase in the number of political meetings in the past weeks as politicians intensify activities ahead of the 2022 elections.

President Uhuru Kenyatta is expected to leave the office at the end of his second and final term in 2022.

That he would be leaving office has fanned succession politics among both opposition and ruling party Jubilee politicians.

The gatherings range from meetings inside closed spaces to those in open grounds and along the roadside.

The meetings, which are happening across the country, are now being blamed for the spike in COVID-19 cases in the East African nation.

While some of the activities are covered on mainstream media, most of them are publicized on social media as politicians seek to outmaneuver each other.

“I was pleased to join the Mulembe Youth Movement in Bungoma County. We all agreed on the development agenda we want,” wrote Kizito Temba, an opposition politician, on social media sites Twitter and Facebook, with photos of the event showing most of the attendees did not observe social distance and had worn their masks improperly.

Government minister Eugene Wamalwa, who is in charge of Devolution, similarly on Monday publicized a meeting he attended which brought together tens of people, with few observing COVID-19 health protocols.

Such political meetings, according to the Ministry of Health, are exposing hundreds of people across Kenya to the virus as cases spread.

“The rise in COVID-19 cases means the transmission is well-entrenched in the local communities. Therefore, when people congregate, they are putting themselves at risk and there are high chances if one has the disease, they will pass it on,” said the Chief Administrative Secretary for Health Rashid Aman.

On Monday, 418 people tested positive for the disease, the Health Ministry announced raising the total COVID-19 caseload to 13,771.

The East African nation has in the last two weeks recorded between 400 and 700 COVID-19 cases every day, with the situation being blamed on the opening up of the country on July 6 and the political activities.

“We are not happy to see politicians holding gatherings where people are flouting all the laid-down rules. The speed and ease which virus spreads during such meetings are alarming,” said Aman.

He noted that the government would take measures to ensure such political gatherings cease.

Cabinet Secretary for Health Mutahi Kagwe has appealed to the youth who attend such gatherings to cease to help curb the spread of the disease

“If you don’t attend such events, politicians would not hold them because there would be no one to address. Take responsibility, don’t put your life at risk,” he urged.

Analysts blamed poverty and joblessness for the throngs that attend the rallies since they go for handouts.

“COVID-19 has rendered many people jobless, worsening the job crisis. Such people, therefore, attend political events in the hope that they will get some money given by the politicians but with COVID-19 danger lies,” said Ernest Manuyo, a lecturer at Pioneer Institute in Nairobi.

COVID-19 has spread to 44 out of 47 counties in Kenya, meaning the disease is virtually in every town and villages. Enditem

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