I do agree with her that the danger of a strike that passes week 3 (in fact, I usually say week 1), is that the public loses interest and moves on to the next thing. And what makes that even sadder is that a strike depends on public support. When the public does not embrace the agenda of your strike, your strike is difficult to push, because the employers give in to save their public image more than out of care for workers. I've said this many times on social media and on my blog.
Even by the very word, a “strike” is supposed to be a swift action with immediate results. In that sense, the doctors keeping away from the public hospitals for almost two months now, could mean that the struggle has failed. However, I believe that the doctors’ struggle for the implementation of the CBA does not meet this criteria, because the struggle has stopped being a strike. It is now a class struggle. It is a struggle which the doctors are leading, but which many of us wananchi have joined, because we understand what is at stake if the doctors lose and if the vultures in government win.
It is public knowledge that the Jubilee government never had any intention of expanding the public healthcare. In the party manifesto for the 2013 elections, Jubilee already indicated that its grand plan was to turn Kenya into a health tourism destination, like India is. And by the end of 2015, it became clear that the interest of the president and the first lady was in a 10bn shilling market. And even though the manifesto talked of free maternal care, it baffled many of us that the first lady took it upon herself to reduce maternal deaths to zero through marathons to raise money to purchase vehicles, saying nothing of the medics who would actually do the safe delivery of babies. And as it is, horror of horrors, doctors have told stories of babies dying due to lack of basics like oxygen, and some even having to go on ARVs because they assisted HIV positive mothers without the necessary gloves.
There are already many articles on the internet about Kenyan and foreign investors salivating at the windfalls they would enjoy from the collapse of public healthcare. In 2015, the People Daily reported that the World Bank, Gates Foundation, Norway and Sweden were among the parties which would be "singing their way to the bank" as the government starved public healthcare of staff to boost healthcare business. In October last year, the New York Times article quoted an investor of the Abraaj group gloating that Kenya is a "sweet spot" with a huge enough middle class that is ready to run away from public healthcare into the private hospitals.
The poor? Oh, these guys don’t care. The poor are collateral damage in the push to squeeze Kenyans into seeking healthcare in business entities. As the Abraaj Group investor said, the investors cannot cater for what they call “that part of the population," because "the business is just not sustainable.” Investors are using the plight of the dying poor to make the salaried and the small business people to run scared into private hospitals.
The other windfall from the collapsed public services comes in terms of the many doctors – with excellent and diverse experience – that the hospital businesses are going to capture. Within the last few weeks, Aga Khan Hospital, Nairobi Hospital and MP Shah have announced massive expansions to be financed by the foreign groups I've just mentioned. MP Shah called the doctors' strike "a bright spot in Kenya's medical labor market" as it announced 200 new positions for medics in its plan to expand its hospitals, an initiative funded by the World Bank. And to grasp the injustice of hospital businesses, remember that most of these doctors have been trained by taxpayers. In other words, we're subsidizing these hospital businesses and then having to pay for health services in their institutions.
The president and the first lady, who are in office on the understanding that they have to represent public interests, have also presided over functions like launches and ground breaking for private initiatives, including the Nairobi Hospital Machakos branch, Tesla Cancer Center and now Beyond Zero (Marathon and proposed hospital). The hospital is rather worrying, because the only reason the first lady enjoys support is because of her husband's public office. And many of her huge donations come from public officers, including the deputy president, the ministry of health (the irony) and different counties. That means that tax payers are literally constructing a private hospital for the first family. And to add insult to injury, the first lady’s marathon secretariat launched its campaign for the 2017 marathon on the very day that KMPDU leaders were scheduled to go to jail for not ending the strike.
And now CS Rotich recently did us the favor of confirming to us, LIVE, that the concern of the government is to protect private hospitals from losing doctors for better terms in public service.
So the strike did not become political recently. It has always been political.
But #LipaKamaTender is no longer a strike. If it ever was. It's a struggle for the dignity of Kenyans, the affirmation that our lives matter enough for the government to put aside every railway or laptop, and to do everything to make sure that any sick Kenyan gets the best treatment. In Christianese, it's a struggle for a government to leave the 99 healthy sheep and rescue the sick one sheep. It's a struggle for universal healthcare that embodies that belief. It's a struggle for doctors' professional opinion and patients' needs to be the primary determinants of what kind of healthcare we have.
It is a struggle against foreign interests and local Uncle Toms who have decided that our dignity means nothing, and who treat Kenya like a slave plantation of the 21st century. A few centuries ago, when a slave got sick, the master wouldn't care whether the slave would get well; he would wonder about how much money he would lose with a slave not working in the plantation. In the 21st century, when we get sick, the investors still don't care if we will get well. What they ask is how much money they can gain from us.
But the foreign actors in this story do not scare us. We have Mekatili, Koitalel arap Samoei, Mary Nyanjiru, Elijah Masinde the Mau Mau, the demonstrators of the 1990s, Wangari Maathai and many other ordinary Kenyans who shocked the world by standing against regimes with nothing but a belief in our dignity. #LipaKamaTender is no longer a strike. It's a liberation movement. And we Kenyans who get the horror that is awaiting us if we give up, are in this struggle for the long haul.