Labour Day: President Kenyatta's speech in full

President Uhuru Kenyatta in November 2020.

President Uhuru Kenyatta.

Photo credit: File | PSCU

Fellow Kenyans,

It is with great pleasure that I join all workers of Kenya, and, indeed, the rest of the world, to commemorate International Labour Day.

On this day, we come together to celebrate our workers as creators and makers of things, and to recognize the best efforts of their labour.  From factory to factory; from field to field and from office to office, the labour of their hands has transformed this country from year to year and from generation to generation.

It is a fact, without labour, there is no prosperity. As one philosopher noted, labour is what brings the difference to everything. Evidently, without a doubt, labour is the game changer of all progress.

This is why today we celebrate the fruits of our labour with thanksgiving in our hearts, as instructed by our national anthem.

Fellow Kenyans,

When I addressed you on this occasion last year, the first wave of COVID-19 had just hit the country. Little did we know that, one year later, we would be celebrating Labour Day under a third wave of this virus.

Fourteen months later, after our first COVID case was reported, the economy has slowed down. The informal sector has shrunk; and in the hospitality sector, some enterprises have literally closed.

Similarly, the cogs in the manufacturing sector have stopped turning as fast as they did. As your fellow worker it is not lost on me, that the people most affected by these unfortunate events are the workers.

But in these unprecedented times, not only in Kenya, but globally as well, Kenyans have a way of intuitively pulling together, coming up with innovations and building resilience.

Our Founding Fathers engrained our national motto of ‘Harambee’, or pulling together in our national psyche. I am particularly grateful to the labour movement for keeping the Spirit of Harambee alive during the COVID crisis.

The labour movement has not only pulled together the workers during the dark moments of this pandemic, it has also been a robust co-worker with the government in trying to contain the crisis.

And this is because during moments of crisis, like COVID, those who suffer the most are workers, women and children.

This ability to step in to fill the gap during times of crisis is not new to the labour movement in Kenya. When the colonizers banned all political parties in the mid-1950, creating a crisis of political expression, the labour movement stepped in and continued with the struggle for our independence.

It became the funnel for political agitation. And when the leaders of our independence movement were detained during the emergency period, the trade unionist quickly stepped in and held fort until they were released.

Undeniably, it was on the tide created by these acts of Harambee that some of our Founding Fathers rose. These include Tom Mboya, Clement Lubembe, Arthur Ochwada, Denis Akumu, Martin Shikuku, Makhan Singh, Fred Kubai, Bildad Kaggia and JD Kali, amongst others.

However, the effort by our labour movement to offer leadership and pull together the country in times of crisis, did not stop in the 1950s. During the post-election violence of 2008, our labour movement was the first one to begin mediation efforts between the warring divides.

Indeed, their efforts to resolve the crisis had been recorded way before the arrival of the first international mediator. This uncelebrated role of the Labour movement in Kenya must be put on record. More so, their ability to act swiftly in times of crisis.

Fellow Kenyans,

I have submitted in the past indicating that a crisis, like the COVID pandemic, represents both threats and opportunity. Those who get paralyzed by the hurdles amount to nothing. But those who see opportunity in the face of challenges produce innovations.

And because there are no workers without industry, I will make mention of two innovative industries during the last 14 months of COVID.

The first one is Hela Clothing Limited. When the COVID pandemic hit our country, this EPZ Company quickly discovered the opportunity and switched to the production of PPEs and facemasks. By rejecting paralysis and embracing innovation, this company saved 300 workers from joblessness.

As Hela Clothing Limited was making this transition, the World Health Organization indicated that there was a monthly deficit of 89 million masks globally to fight COVID.

Faced with this opportunity, Hela was swift to produce 10 million masks during the months of April and May 2020. This meant that one factory in Kenya manufactured 1 out of 18 masks globally, to close the WHO deficit.

The second industry is Bedi Investments, a Kenyan apparel company based in Nakuru. When the COVID pandemic hit, Bedi Investments retooled its productive capacity due to a fall in clothing demand from the west. Over 800 workers stared at unemployment due to falling demand from especially the U.S and Europe.

By July 2020, however, Bedi began producing PPEs, and masks. Their production capacity of PPEs shot with speed to 10,000 PPEs daily. Instead of firing its 800 workers, Bedi actually hired another 300 workers to cope with the heavy demand, not just from Kenya but from Uganda as well.

Today, Bedi Investments is responsible for the manufacturing of 80% of all the PPEs available in Kenya and for over 70% of all PPEs in Uganda.

The success of the two companies under mention was made possible because they were not paralyzed by the COVID crisis; instead, they seized the opportunity and created innovations. But, above all, their innovations preserved the much-needed jobs and even created new ones, in the case of Bedi investments.

Fellow Kenyans,

I have spoken about the swift actions of the labour movement and the innovative ventures of the employer in industry.  Now, I will turn to the unbroken spirit of the worker.

I lead the nation in celebrating our Doctors, Nurses, Clinical Officers, and medical support staff who have worked without tiring, for the last 14 months of this pandemic. Their current life of sacrifice and danger is a true testament that nothing is impossible.  They have taught us that if we put our hearts and minds to the service of others selflessly, we will find our true happiness.

To honour the sacrifice made by our health workers, therefore, we the citizens must exercise continuous civic responsibility. We must not overwhelm our health system by acting irresponsibly and raising the rate of admissions into our hospitals, unnecessarily. Let us repay their sacrifice with civic responsibility.

I lead the nation in celebrating our law enforcement and administration officers on this Labour Day. These are probably the most unappreciated workers, but the most stretched by the COVID pandemic.  We as a caring nation have noted their service, dedication and sacrifice, for which we thank them.

I lead the nation in celebrating the ‘invisible workers’ of our markets during COVID. These are the invisible suppliers, who have kept our nation running in the face of difficult times. 

From the truck drivers who deliver our food from far, to the marigiti women who have to distribute the food from 4.00 a.m.  From the boda boda riders who connect the delivery dots, to the digital sellers who make this possible. I thank you all.

And fundamentally, I wish to thank every Kenyan whose unsung efforts support our resilience against the challenges we face today.

Fellow Kenyans,

Let me end with some reflections on our current COVID-19 status as a nation. When I issued the second Public Order of 2021 in March, announcing the obtaining containment measures, our COVID caseload in Nairobi was 56,815.

This caseload has now gone down to below 15,000 for the month of April, signifying a 74% decrease in infections in Nairobi.

Data from our medical experts suggests the same trend in the zoned area we put on lockdown during my March 26th 2021 address. After one month of lockdown, COVID caseload within the zoned area has come down by 72%. In other areas of the Republic, the COVID caseload fell by 89% in Mombasa and 90% in Busia between March and April 2021. 

Given the expert evidence we have received and on the counsel of the National Security Council and the National Emergency Response Committee on Covid-19, I have on this day issued Public Order No. 3 of 2021, as follows:

  1. With regard to the Zoned Area comprising of the counties of Nairobi, Machakos, Kiambu, Kajiado and Nakuru, it is directed that the cessation of movement into and out of the Zoned area be and is hereby lifted;
  2. That the hours of curfew in the Zoned Area  are revised to commence at 10:00pm and end at 4:00am, with effect from mid-night on this 1st day of May, 2021, until otherwise directed;
  3. That in-person and congregational worship shall resume in strict fidelity to the guidelines issued by the Inter-Faith Council and Ministry of Health. However, the attending congregation is capped to 1/3 (One-third) of the capacity of the place of worship;
  4. That the operations of restaurants and eateries in the Zoned Area shall resume in accordance with the guidelines issued jointly by the Ministry of Health and Ministry of Tourism and Wildlife. Restaurants are encouraged to utilize outdoor spaces to maximize on physical and social distancing.

For the entirety of the Republic of Kenya, it is directed as follows:

  1. That all our education institutions in all levels of learning shall re-open in accordance with the calendar issued by the Ministry of Education;
  2. That the resumption of sporting activities shall be guided by the regulations to be issued by the Ministry of Health jointly with the Ministry of Sports;
  3. That all bars in the territory of the Republic are to operate until 7:00 P.M;
  4. All employers and enterprises are encouraged to allow employees to work from home, with the only exception being with respect to employees working in critical or essential services that cannot be delivered remotely;
  5. That all hospitals are directed to limit the number of visitors for hospitalized patients to one visitor per patient per day;
  6. That the prohibition against political gatherings is extended until otherwise directed; and
  7. All the other containment measures and guidelines that are not expressly set-out in this Address remain in force, and shall be enforced dutifully.

Fellow Kenyans,

The containment measures we have instituted today and all the interventions that the Government has made over the last fourteen months are geared towards responding to the unprecedented health threat that has gripped the world. We have instituted those containment measures and restrictions with no joy.

However, as a caring Government, we fully acknowledge that the responsibility bestowed upon us calls for action to secure the lives of our people.

Over the last year, we have witnessed challenges in other parts of the world, where the surge of infections has nearly led to collapse of globally acclaimed health systems. In moments like this we are all called upon to make sacrifices for one another for the collective good, it is never the intention of the Government to make life difficult or unbearable for any of our citizens.

Finally, as we prepare for the re-opening of schools, let me emphasize again that our staying power in the fight against this pandemic is our greatest arsenal. 

I say so, because, if public responsiveness to the health protocols goes up, then the possibility of further de-escalating the containment measures is within reach. Sadly, a surge of infections will necessitate an escalation of the containment measures, a possibility we all dread.

Let all step up together for our motherland; step up for our families; step up for our neighbours; step up for our beloved Nation Kenya.

Fellow Kenyans, I wish to conclude my Address to you with a reflection from the third Stanza of our National Anthem. “…may the Glory of Kenya, and the fruit of our labour, fill every heart with thanksgiving” this labour day.

There is no doubt, without labour there is no prosperity. Labour is the game changer of all progress; we must, therefore, celebrate our workers as creators and makers of things, during COVID and in good times.

I wish you all a Happy Labour Day, one full of thanksgiving for the fruits of your labour to the nation this year.

Happy Labour Day, Stay Safe and Stay home.

God Bless You and God Bless Kenya.