How local administrators mobilised resources to beat Covid-19 in Mavoko

Covid vaccination

Mary Kusa Naomi receiving Covid-19 vaccination at Dagoretti Deputy County Commissioner's offices on February 3, 2022.

Photo credit: Evans Habil | Nation Media Group

While households struggled socio-economically to beat the Covid-19 waves, government officials were burning the midnight oil to minimise the spread of the virus. According to the findings of a 2020 study on the socio-economic impact of the Covid-19 pandemic among households in Mavoko Constituency in Machakos County, the national and county government mobilised resources to generate innovative response mechanisms to slow the spread of the virus.  

Mavoko sub-county in Machakos County lies within the Nairobi metropolis which has earned a new name with the construction of the Nairobi Expressway. The area which covers Mlolongo, Syokimau, Katani, Kamulu and Lukenya area is now known as Nairobi East, a region that is earmarked as one of the key development areas to fast-track the growth of the city of Nairobi.

In 2020 and 2021, Mavoko County registered some Covid-19 cases. Given the cosmopolitan nature of the region, which has been marked by a high influx of people – mainly Nairobians looking for affordable land to settle – the region registered a lot of new dwellers at the height of the Covid-19 period.

“Many Nairobians were in search of affordable land to build and settle and we had to help them actualise their dreams. In fact, that was our highest growth point, we fully automated our operations and tapped into this market,” shared Moses Muriithi, the founder and chief executive of Fanaka Real Estate Limited.

Spread of Covid-19

As such, given the high increase in its population, the county government through the office of the assistant county commissioner devised people-centric strategies to mitigate the spread of Covid-19. One of them was free mass testing at the Mlolongo market. “We deployed a Covid-19 emergency response team, which consisted of multi-agencies and was led by county health officials and worked closely with Nyumba Kumi officials and village elders,” Dennis Oganga, the Assistant County Commissioner, Mlolongo.

The national government provided face masks and hand sanitisers to the group, which ensured that there were enough supplies at any given time. Further, the multi-agency team had a focus group which conducted a distribution matrix to ensure that the population was widely covered.

“The most vulnerable groups among those that were on the frontline included security officers, boda boda riders, salespeople in open-air markets, matatu operators around Mombasa Road, churches, schools and children’s homes because of the high populations and the challenges surrounding social distancing in such places explained Mr Oganga.

So innovative and dedicated was this team that they would trade their comfort at night to visit revellers in entertainment joints such as bars, restaurants and nightclubs within Mlolongo Township and distribute masks while creating awareness on the management of Covid-19. Other than making arrests which were popular and common in many areas across the country at the time, the public officers wore a human face.

The team also started an initiative to make masks within the office premises of the Assistant County Commissioner, Chief, and Assistant Chief offices in Mlolongo.
“We really had to initiate the sewing of masks within our office premises because of reopening of schools and we had to equip all learners in public schools with masks. We also distributed to police stations and all police posts and later road users – boda boda – in particular,” Mr Oganga shared. The masks project provided employment to the youth within the Kazi Mtaani initiative.

School uniforms

To ensure that there was enough cloth to make the masks, the team partnered with Zang Enterprises, a school uniforms and supplies business within Mlolongo town, which provided them with cloth. Also, the office of Mavoko MP, Patrick Makau, provided water tanks at designated public points within Mlolongo, Athi-River, Syokimau, and Katani to promote handwashing hygiene and combat the spread of the virus.

But even with these measures, there were huge challenges. Beyond the threat to health due to the spread of the virus, a good majority of the residents within Mavoko sub-county had lost their livelihoods. Factories had closed down, there was also a lot of economic hardship as people were unable to put food on the table and pay their rent bills. The rent distress cases were so many that the local administration came up with an approach that brought together landlords and their tenants.
The focus was to have residents allowed to pay rent in installments and this, they managed very well. “We did not want to escalate the cases to the Rent Tribunal, as there would have been so many to be managed,” Mr Oganga shared.

Another challenge was that of people not wearing masks in public places. This laxity forced law enforcement agencies to act with the police arresting those found not wearing masks in public places. Another challenge that no one had foreseen was the high number of teenage pregnancies that came with the long school closures.

The cases ended up at the Assistant County Commissioner, Chief and Assistant Chief offices. The local administration worked closely with the office of the Mlolongo OCS, Joackim Kangangi and village elders. Underage girls were placed with rescue centres for assistance and the culprits were arrested, and charged in court. Domestic violence cases also escalated, and the administrators ensured that there were voluntary counsellors accessible to the population.
The study, which was commissioned by the Africa-China Reporting Project at Wits Journalism of the University of Witwatersrand in South Africa and was carried out in late 2020 and early 2021 also established that the long school holiday also exposed children to child labour.

Perpetrators of violence against children were arrested and the children facilitated to reunite with their parents. Through the Chief’s Forum and Assistant County Commissioners Forum – an online network of administrators throughout the country – many children who had fled their homes were able to be identified and reunited with their parents upcountry.

Mr Oganga remembers a case in which an underage girl who had a baby was reunited with his parents in Mavutuni village in Kaari location, which is in Maraa sub-County. Kazi Mtaani, a reprieve to the youth Covid-19 also saw an increase in the number of cases of petty theft within Mlolongo as many people struggled to cope with the economic situation. Kazi Mtaani came to the rescue of youth aged between 18 and 35 years, and priority was given to the most vulnerable cases.

A vulnerability mapping was conducted through the offices of the Assistant County Commissioner, Chief and Assistant Chief, where women, people living with disabilities, and persons with albinism were utilised in easy work.
What came out were legacy projects that will for many decades remain to be seen in Mavoko. The Chief and Assistant County Commissioner offices mobilised for building materials, and the Office of the Assistant Chief in Syokimau and some residents also contributed. The mobilisation was in top gear and what came out was a partnership that has conserved the environment through clean-ups, gardening and tree planting.

Over 1000 tree seedlings have been planted around Ngwata Primary School in Mlolongo, St Augustine Secondary School, Mlolongo Police Station, Sabaki Police Post and trees that had been previously planted have been distributed.
The local administration has also leveraged on Kazi Mtaani to promote a clean environment through solid waste management, unclogging of drainages, and bush clearing within government facilities along Mombasa Road and all over Mlolongo Township.
There have also been digging of feeder roads and backfilling within Mlolongo, and the improvement of government offices through beautification and gardening to improve on their image and outlook.
The Kazi Mtaani initiative within Mavoko has spelt a multitude of socio-economic benefits to the youth. The youths have formed self-help groups which have seen sustainable projects in garbage collection using carts bought with the money that they have saved from their earnings.

There is a group that is selling refined honey, while others are selling second-hand clothes at Masaku Market in Mlolongo town. Three other groups are doing mobile phone cover beautification using 3D graphics, while others are hawking shoes along Biashara Street in Mlolongo. Some of them who were involved in the mass production of cloth masks have secured work at Zang Enterprises as tailors.

Rescue team

 Covid-19 also exposed the need for community-led emergency response approaches, and this has seen about 16 youths who are involved in Kazi Mtaani form a rescue team – Mtaani Rescue Team. Among the members of Mtaani Rescue Team are First Aiders, and National Youth Service-trained rescuers all coming together to beef up the response to emergencies within the Mavoko sub-county.

Kenyans have expressed optimism that President William Ruto’s administration will bring sustainable solutions to Kenya’s youth unemployment burden. Before his election,
President Ruto had hinted that Kazi Mtaani was not a sustainable solution to youth unemployment in Kenya and pledged to set aside Sh150 billion for start-ups.
He has set off on a high note. First, by freeing all Kenyans listed in the Credit Reference Bureau (CRB) and starting a new mode of credit referencing where Kenyans earn credit scores.

He has also stated that his government will establish 20 market centres across the country to spur enterprise development and create job opportunities for young people.
To reduce recurrent expenditure, President Ruto has asked the Treasury to cut Sh300 billion from annual government spending this year. He hopes to further save on recurrent expenditure next year and see the country gain a surplus in his third year. He has also tasked individual Kenyans to save to ensure sustainable socio-economic growth.