How did we get to this abnormal disruption of life?

Wednesday April 21 2021

Migrants wait to be rescued by the Aquarius rescue ship run by NGO SOS Mediterranee and Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) in the Mediterranean Sea on August 2, 2017. FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP


Mutahi Kagwe, Kenya’s Health minister, might just be another government functionary whose tenure, when it mercifully ends, will have left behind the same inefficiencies and corruption he found.

Few, if any, of our officials radically change the way we manage our affairs, re-engineer our work ethic or teach us, by personal example, to master the art of the impossible and, by so doing, create a hopeful vision of the future.

Our officials only give more reasons for pessimism and despair.

But Kagwe has a knack for memorable phrases. One of them came to mind when I was thinking about the ever-worsening refugee crises in the world.

Urging Kenyans to change their behaviour in the face of the deadly Covid-19 pandemic, Kagwe warned: “If we continue to behave normally, this virus will treat us abnormally”. His meaning was either we radically changed our behaviour in line with guidelines issued by the ministry, or Covid-19 would occasion an abnormal and deadly disruption to our way of life.

When one thinks about the refugee crises, the question one asks is: How did we get to this abnormal disruption to the normal way of life. The answer? The international community has treated governance that goes against basic democratic and humanitarian ideas and practices normally which has resulted in the abnormal disruption of life.


Over the years, the world watched, encouraged, and supported governments which abrogated the ‘social contract’ with the governed. These governments — protected by an elaborate police apparatus — serve a fabulously wealthy elite while the masses of the people are reduced to mere ‘hewers of wood and drawers of water’. In many of these cases, criminal cartels have infiltrated government.

The result has been refugees fleeing from poverty and/or gang or state violence. In the 80s, thousands of Kenyans fled the Kanu dictatorship to live as undocumented migrants on the fringes of host societies in Europe, America or southern Africa.

In the 1990s, it was the turn of Zimbabweans to flee Mugabe’s authoritarian rule. We watched hundreds of thousands of Rohingya muslims escape a murderous military in Myanmar.

Europe is desperate to stop African migrants crossing the Mediterranean Sea. And Kenya, too, is determined to send thousands of refugees at the Dadaab and Kakuma refugee camps back to their countries. This anti-refugee backlash is replicated in many other places.

There is something fundamentally inhumane about sending people back to countries that are death traps or which offer no hope for the future. This is especially true given the fact that we are all to blame for the refugee crises.

We rolled out the red carpet to leaders of these regimes even when we knew they were killing or robbing their people. When the international community treats these kinds of regimes normally, it should accept blame for abnormal disruptions to life in those countries.