Adopt participatory communication strategy to curb the spread of COVID 19

By Sialo Felix

Benjamin Franklin once said ‘Tell and I forget, teach and I may remember, involve me and I learn’. Certainly, nobody is in doubt of the government’s effort to curb further spread of the Corona virus pandemic in Kenya. Thumbs up to president Uhuru Kenyatta and the entire ministry of health for the indefatigable efforts experienced ever since first Corona case was identified in Kenya. We all know that it has been a sleepless night for the president and the other arms of government first to ensure that Kenyans life is saved from the pandemic as well as caution the citizens against the Corona virus pandemic effects both social and economically. The raft measures introduced no doubt have bore some fruits despite the fact Covid 19 cases still emerges.

World over, it has been over emphasized that Corona virus disease that was first experienced in Wuhan Chine in December last year (2019) spreads primarily through droplets generated when an infected person coughs or sneezes or through droplets of saliva or discharge from the nose. The WHO in conjunction with world governments have agreed as a matter of principal that to protect yourself from COVID 19, clean your hands frequently with alcohol-based hand rub (sanitizer) or wash with soap and running water on top of maintaining a physical distance of 1-1.5 metre and wearing mask whenever in public places. In Kenya, though with partial lockdown, the government has introduced other raft measures to enhance preventive measures against the spread of Corona virus. Among them is the introduction of the curfew as from 7pm to 6am, closure of all leisure points including hotel & hospitality industry, bars, social gatherings, reduced number of funeral attendances to only family members limited to 15 people and immediate burials of within 24 hours once someone passes on. Of course, the scaring one is how Covid 19 victims are buried. If you care to rember, think of what happened in Siaya. A man who succumbed to Covid 19 was hurriedly buried at 1am. In-fact by unknown and unidentified people and again in a shallow grave. Such has far reaching effects on our cultural belief system. Most communities in Africa believe that even the dead deserves descent send off for obvious reasons. Infact among the luhya and Luos of Kenya, burying is a whole ceremony of slaughtering. Now with Covid 19 as a game changer, that is a thing of the past.

Covid 19 and African culture will be a subject for another day. Back to the pint, I want to categorically state that as a Kenyan and now in the village and at home as per the public health guidelines as emphasized by various government agencies, am puzzled with the manner in which Kenyans are responding to the government directives in line with curbing the spread of Covid 19? Many times I sympathise with the energetic and flamboyant Health Minister whenever he appears on my screen for Covid 19 updates. Kagwe as a typical Kenyan has at times militarized his speech in cautioning the Kenyans of the effects of the Covid 19 pandemic should they trivialize the government efforts in curbing the spread of the virus. He once said, “ If we continue behaving normally, this disease will treat us abnormally”. To me this was a resounding warning and a call to Kenyans to change their behavior. However as if nothing is going on, Kenyans have kept on inventing ways to avoid government directives on curbing the spread of Covid 19.

Shocking to me has been when I hear one just hires an ambulance as a means to violate the public health guidelines. Others travel with empty coffins from lockdown areas in pretense without minding of the risk they pose to their kin.

Probably the government communication has been heavily top down without the involvement of the critical stakeholders who are Kenyans. Therefore, a call for participatory communication strategy as a key component in the fight against further spread of Covid 19. Participatory communication is an alternative approach to linear communication based on dialogue, which allows the sharing of information, perceptions and opinions among stakeholders and thereby facilitates their empowerment. Hence the aim of adopting participatory communication strategy will be to strengthen household and community leadership for the reduction of Covid 19 by enhancing the ministry of health guidelines at various dimensions. This will incorporate social behavior change communication as a force for unifying and promoting integration between government laid down measures to curb the spread of corona virus with the aim of strengthening effectiveness and impact of the government raft measures and creating more spaces for citizen participation and involvement of the very local population susceptible thereby promoting covid 19 preventative measures.

Participation in development is the conscious decision to reach out to and involve those people that would be most affected by the proposed development programme. Specifically, participation refers to involving the un-empowered, the marginalized and the poorest people in any society. Its observed that communication is the complex process of creation, transmission, maintenance and transformation of information and ideas, using a mix of interpersonal and mediated channels, which are sustained by political, economic and social structures.

I wish to note that participatory communication is a social process in which groups with common interest jointly construct a message oriented toward the improvement of their living conditions and the change of unjust social structures. It should be noted that participatory communication provides all people, including the marginalized with access to information and communication systems and an equal opportunity to participate in creating new information and challenging existing unjust social practices.

Therefore, participatory communication is a powerful tool to facilitate this process, when it accompanies local development dynamics and it involves encouraging community participation with development initiatives through a strategic utilization of various communication strategies Importance of Community Participation. Community participation (CP) is an indispensable part of many development programmes and projects encouraged by national governments, the World Bank, UN agencies and non- governmental organizations (NGOs). Despite the differing perspectives of these various agencies, all agree that CP should be encouraged. Actions by the poor to influence decisions making through direct and informal means have emerged as an alternative way by which they can gain access to decision-making- processes and to resources, and thereby improve their wellbeing.

Other the business as usual attitude and the application of treacherous means by Kenyans is due to the belief that it’s the duty of the government to fight the Covid 19 virus. However alternative media advocated by participatory communication or participatory development would be effective in changing the social behaviour of many Kenyans. Let ordinary villagers be trained and allowed to educate the rest of the friends on the dangers of certain behaviours.

Sialo is a media trainer at Maasai Mara University in the department of Media Film and Communication and accredited journalist by the media Council of Kenya

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