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Where are the Kenyan Billionaires?

We cannot force African and Kenyan billionaires, millionaires, and politicians to do the right thing and emulate Jack Ma, Mark Zuckerberg, Richard Branson, Jim Ratcliffe and the likes amidst the sweeping spread of COVID-19 across the continent. After all, we have no right to dictate to them how to spend their hard-earned wealth and resources. What we can do however, and that is hoping they will see the sense, is to remind them that dead people can’t buy their products or services. And that the dead can’t cast votes. That is, if this viral cloud passes and there’s a semblance of return to normalcy once again.

Chinese billionaire Jack Ma has since donated millions of test kits and face masks to the United States, Africa, Latin America, and Asia in a bid to slow the spread and help in the fight of Coronavirus. He has used his platforms to further share a handbook put together by clinical practitioners on the front lines of China’s fight against COVID-19. The handbook outlines treatment and care protocols. British billionaire Jim Ratcliffe of Ineos Group is building two hand sanitizer plants­-one in England, another in Germany, to be distributed to hospitals for free.

On March 17, Facebook announced a $100 million grant to aid small businesses impacted by COVID-19. The social media giant has also committed to match $20 million in donations to the United Nations Foundation, the World Health Organization (WHO) and U.S Centers for Disease Control (CDC). On March 21, Zuckerberg further announced Facebook would donate its emergency reserve of 720,000 masks to health workers. At a time when Wuhan was gearing up its efforts to control further spread of the virus, Li Ka-shing, Asia’s most influential investor, donated $13 million to help the fight.

Across the globe, several company executives and leaders are either coming to the aid of their employees by ensuring they still get paid, taking pay cuts themselves, or aiding the efforts of healthcare workers across their countries. From Jeff Bezos, Michael Bloomberg, Silvio Berlusconi, Steve Ballmer, Giorgio Armani, Roman Abramovich, to Mark Cuban, the list is endless. The question of what our Kenyan or African billionaires and politicians are doing both in their official and individual capacities as this viral pandemic ravages on has been asked many times. Often, it has been met with pessimistic remarks, and we have reminded ourselves that they don’t owe us their wealth or resources. Except they do.

I have recently read on the dailies about some Kenyan billionaires taking advantage of the current market dip to boost their shareholdings to the tune of billions. I can hear the loud silence by most of the leading companies in the country on the plight of their employees, especially casual ones. These companies are also blind to the looming healthcare crisis in the country, and are not doing enough to chip in. There are several successful business executives, tech firms and entrepreneurs that have totally gone silent, even quarantining their creative knacks, at a time when companies such as Facebook are on the frontline pushing for #BuildForCOVID19 global hackathons to help tackle some of the health, economic and community challenges resulting from the outbreak. But let’s forget about the business community for a moment.

Kenya has 47 counties, governed and operating with billions in budgets every year. Other than governors, we have 47 senators, 349 members of parliament, and some 2, 222 MCAs. Where are they now when they are badly needed? Parliament was quick to go on recess, and all county assemblies are not operating. While this may have been a sensible health precaution, most of these leaders have gone on to quarantine even their voices at a time they are needed the most. They have isolated with them their wealth and resources, and perhaps in the name of social distancing, they have given the electorate the widest berth possible. But the dead don’t cast votes. The dead can’t wear the t-shirts and campaign regalia they will somehow have the money to buy in plenty. The money that’s now absent to support households that can no longer hold, and communities with no water to wash their hands, and the people with no direction on how to go about navigating this pandemic.

This may not pass as the best argument, or the strongest case to be made on this issue, but it’s the card I’m going to play anyway. That is, this is the right thing to do. It is the moral humane obligation for everyone, and mostly the executives and leaders to step up both in their official and individual capacity to help save the day. After all, isn’t it said that to who much is given, much is expected? Any alternatives that involve indifference and passivity will only result in a mutually assured doom.