Why Kenyans are struggling with social distancing in the Coronavirus crisis

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We are at a peak when the Government of Kenya alongside experts from all over the world are reinforcing the essence of social distancing. This is in a bid to counter the spread of Covid-19 or in other terms Coronavirus, and while most people have heeded to this advise many are finding it difficult to give up on their social life and stay at home or better yet self-quarantine.

This can be seen by the masses still going to church, attending meetings or even going to places with large gatherings. But what could prompt this behavior even though it is a known fact that this global pandemic is as fatal as it is highly infectious?

Staying away from each other is easily said than done

Humans are wired to connect and as social beings it is only natural for people to crave friends, getting together in groups or being with each other. On the flip side, social distancing requires us to curtail our face to face interactions, rate of contact with other people, basically adapting to a new lifestyle in order to limit the spread of this virus. Not only does this go against our impulses but it is clearly a test on our collectivism and cooperation.

Kenya as a collectivist country

Kenya is a melting point of different cultures and with 47 communities in the country, we clearly take the titles of diversity and dynamism. This diversity, however, can infringe on the outlook of Kenya as a collectivist country prompting many to thinks that interconnected-ness between communities doesn’t play a central role over individualism.

In regards to social distancing, the big picture shows that it is about protecting the people you know against the infection as it is about limiting the spread to the people you don’t know and in the country at large. This of course requires cooperation and collectivism, which places what’s best for the society above individual needs.

However bearing in mind that Kenya is highly a collectivist society it can be hard for people to break away from the norm and habits that form as a result of the interconnected-ness between people. Particularly the collective effervescence. This refers to the shared excitement that comes from attending gatherings, religious events and ceremonies.

In rural areas where people display high collectivist behaviours as opposed to urban settings where research shows that, people lean more towards the individualized American culture, social distancing may be even more difficult.

Individualized American culture

Certainly even though Kenyans on Twitter might exhibit some traits of collectivism (whenever an outsider tries to cross us), Coronavirus is verily a test on how well we value whats best for our families, societies and the country at large.

Perhaps, urban areas are more likely to embrace social distancing in contrast to rural areas. But how should we explain the emerging news and photos on the media of people still attending large gatherings in Nairobi?

This takes us to the disadvantage of the individualized culture. It is highly oriented around the self and values only personal goals. A rational behavior influenced by such a culture is that it doesn’t factor the community and individuals may often make decisions believing they are loosely linked with other people in the community. Such decisions (going to clubs, church, weddings, ceremonies, events) may often not be healthy for those around, in the family or the individual in particular.
Channeling Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi kagwe on the matter, it is high time that Kenyans treat this pandemic with the seriousness it deserves. Considering that government decisions to diminish the spread of Coronavirus are informed by afflicted countries like UK, China and Italy, BBC News, couldn’t say it any better. “People who ignore the government advice are simply selfish.”

Stress

People have often stated that staying alone or cooped up can increase stress levels. Perhaps it might even be challenging to someone who’s accustomed to a social life to adjust to the practice of social distancing. On the other hand social distancing might also lead to the development of anti-social habits or exacerbate the negative effects of stress for people who are lonely.

Technology doesn’t compensate the downside of social distancing

Social distancing requires that people stay isolated and whenever need arises, any communication should be done through the readily available devices and technology. This is through emails, calls, Skype, Zoom, WhatsApp and face time. Needless to say communication is not solely dependent on the verbal. Therefore it shouldn’t come as a surprise if ever you feel aloof after talking to your loved ones or as if the communication is somewhat lacking.

Regardless even though we cannot attain the quality of face to face communication when we are forced to rely on technology, at the very least we get to limit the spread and risk of infection.

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