When lockdowns go, Naivasha scenes will look like a tea party

Wednesday July 07 2021
Safari Rally.

People watch a side-by-side super special on June 24, 2021 ahead of the 2021 Safari Rally Kenya PHOTO | AFP

By Charles Onyango-Obbo

Late June, the World Rally Championship returned to Kenya after 19 years, with the WRC Safari Rally Kenya 2021.

The cream of world rallying were all in the fray, for a saga that left Kenyan petrolheads dizzy with excitement. Thousands of young people from Nairobi and other cities flocked to Naivasha, in the Rift Valley, where the rally was held, and possibly drank more booze than all of the last 15 months combined, and committed enough sins of the flesh to last them a lifetime.

The country’s moral guardians, pastors, bishops and parents, were scandalised. What they saw in Naivasha on the sides of the rally was the biblical Sodom and Gomorrah descending into damnation.

But, given the ravages of the Covid-19 pandemic that people have lived with since the beginning of 2021, Michael Jackson’s all-time bestselling 1984 hit "Thriller", perhaps best explains the reality from which the revellers in Naivasha were running from:

The foulest stench is in the air

The funk of forty thousand years


And grizzly ghouls from every tomb

Are closing in to seal your doom

And though you fight to stay alive

Your body starts to shiver

For no mere mortal can resist

The evil of the thriller...

After more than a year of pandemic horrors, Naivasha was a mass escape to clutch at the good life again, before the zombies take them away. They were not the scenes a parent would have liked to see their church-going daughter or son in, but the surprise is if it hadn’t happened.

For those looking to see Africa’s future, it was the canary in a coal mine. With another coronavirus wave sweeping the continent, in East Africa, Uganda and Rwanda have already swung back into strict lockdown. In Kenya, the restrictions in the “hot zones” have been extended by 60 days, and President Uhuru Kenyatta suggested a degree of normalcy might return only in late 2022, when all adults could have been vaccinated.

Mid-2021, people are already going crazy in lockdown. More months of it will bring the kind of pressures that are almost impossible to comprehend. When vaccines eventually bring them freedom, they could make Naivasha look like a tea party at a convent.

On one of my visits to Ethiopia while the cerebral and mercurial Meles Zenawi was prime minister, a good friend said he would take me to an exclusive private club in Addis Ababa, so I could see “what the years of denial, of people hiding away, of cowering in fear had really done” to the country.

The sight was shocking. People were hopelessly drunk. They were smoking marijuana, falling over each other, men were groping women, women were groping men. He explained that these were the cream of Addis Ababa society. Virtually all the men and women were married.

“By day, they are respectable, the best of Ethiopia”, he said, “but those difficult years have broken them. They come here to get it out of their system. To find something pleasant in their lives”.

There, their bodies shivered. They were mere mortals who couldn’t resist the evil of the thriller.

The reckoning with Covid will come too.

Charles Onyango-Obbo is a journalist, writer, and curator of the “Wall of Great Africans”. [email protected]