EXCLUSIVE: How Kenyan Celebrities Are Coping With Covid-19

  • Lawyer Cliff Ombeta pictured during a photo session at Sarova Stanley in November 2019
    Lawyer Cliff Ombeta pictured during a photo session at Sarova Stanley in November 2019
    Daily Nation
  • Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe on Wednesday, April 22 announced the launch of free counselling for Kenyans feeling mentally overwhelmed or distressed during the Covid-19 period.

    Stating that the ministry had realized the importance of considering people's mental health due to the disruption of regular life by Covid-19, Kagwe urged Kenyans to call 1199 to receive psychological support.

    "We have established a psychiatric and psychological care help framework over this period. If you feel distressed and needing counselling or psychological care please call 1199 and you will be attended to," he stated in his daily briefing.

    Kenyans.co.ke reached out to famous Kenyans including criminal lawyer Cliff Ombeta, comedian Eddie Butita and NTV presenter Dan Mwangi, as well as a psychologist, Esther Mbao, to find out how their lives had been disrupted by Covid-19 and how they were dealing with it all.

    Kenyans quarantined at Kenyatta University protest against the government on Wednesday, April 15, 2020
    Kenyans quarantined at Kenyatta University protest against the government on Wednesday, April 15, 2020

    Ombeta noted that the changes brought about by Covid-19 had opened people's eyes to new ways of doing things.

    He observed, for example, that people, himself included, were spending more time with their families and getting work done from home, one way of coping with the uncertain times.

    "It has made us realize that we can actually stay at home. It has also made us realize that you can't be out there all the time, usually, we're rushing all over the place filing things but now we're working from home.

    "It shows you can spend quality time with family and still do your work," he stated.

    Professionally, Ombeta admitted that lawyers were losing revenue as their clients were also in their homes and their incomes had been affected by the pandemic.

    He disclosed that he had found himself giving out a lot of free legal advice, including on Twitter.

    Ombeta also argued that with the government having failed to classify lawyers among those offering essential services, police had become ruthless particularly in enforcement of the curfew with those arrested unable to receive legal aid.

    "The thing it has denied us is clients, because people are not there and walk-in clients are also not coming. I believe lawyers should have been among those offering essential services.

    "According to me, for example, arresting people for breaking curfew and taking them to quarantine centres is totally unlawful. The reason you should go into quarantine is if you came into contact with an infected person. But now, the police have become judge and jury.

    "When they arrest people, they want to show their muscle, it's malicious. In fact, I'm informed that those who are taken in are those who refuse to speak lugha ya wazee (Those who are taken in are those who fail or refuse to pay bribes to be released).

    "But all in all, it has reduced revenue income for us as lawyers but it has also made us more humane. For example, someone will call you asking for some legal help but they tell you they don't have money due to the quarantine, they'll sort you later and we are helping them. I've been giving a lot of free legal advice including even on Twitter," he noted.

    NTV presenter Dan Mwangi noted that he had realized people were spending more time on messaging and social media applications than before.

    "Right now I still go to work but it's a mix of working from home and the office. One thing I've noticed is people are a lot more active on Whatsapp groups, and it's not just journalists.

    "There are some groups I'm in nowadays I'm always seeing more than 500 unread messages, so I think one effect has been people spending a lot of time on Whatsapp and social media," he observed.

    He revealed, however, that the limitation of social interactions due to the pandemic had affected him deeply at a personal level.

    "I've not been able to see my dad for some time. He's around 66 years old and he's unwell. I was planning to visit him but because of all the restrictions, I've been unable to do that. So there's also been an impact on the social aspect," Mwangi stated.

    The acclaimed poet-cum-journalist also revealed that the pandemic had helped him financially as he was saving more money because he had fewer errands to run and places to go.

    On how he was coping with it all, Mwangi disclosed that he was spending more time with his family in addition to creating more time for himself to reflect.

    "I'm making sure I get some 'alone time'. Every evening before I go to sleep I make sure to plug in and listen to some worship music.

    "I've also been spending a lot of time with my family, playing with my daughter. I know that for some it hasn't been a bad experience at home as we've seen with the increased cases of Gender-Based Violence (GBV), but personally, for me, I've enjoyed it," he stated.

    An image of Dann Mwangi
    NTV news anchor Dann Mwangi at a past event.

    Comedian Eddie Butita, who appears on the Friday night show, The Trend, aside from producing his own content, stated that he saw the pandemic as an opportunity to improve in his craft.

    He observed that entertainers had been forced to think out of the box, with the emergence of live shows on online platforms a good example.

    "People are saying entertainment has stopped but actually it hasn't stopped, it has only changed. Right now, it's time to adapt, to research and to see how to come up with new things.

    "It's a time to strategize. You have to identify the opportunities available and go get them. For example, now we're seeing the connection between entertainment and technology," he stated.

    He disclosed that he was spending time working on new material and helping those in his circles affected by the crisis.

    "The job involves a lot of things, so it's like the physical part has stopped but the creative part is still going on. I've been writing new material and working on new things.

    "We've also been looking at how we can help those close to us who have been hit hard by the disruption," Butita noted.

    File image of comedian Eddy Butita
    File image of comedian Eddy Butita

    Speaking to Kenyans.co.ke, psychologist Esther Mbao commended the government for being more deliberate in protecting Kenyans' mental health, noting that the 1199 hotline had actually always been available for those in need of counselling.

    "People are getting depressed because this situation is not something anyone had anticipated or planned for. So there's anxiety in terms of when will this be over, what is going to happen?

    "There's also stress in terms of economics, in terms of staying indoors, in terms of dealing with a new way of doing things. When your stress levels are really high, depression is likely to check in because there's sorrow because this is not life as usual. There's depression because people are asking themselves when or how do I get out of this?

    "There are people who have lost jobs, there are people who have gone down economically and there are people who are just not used to staying indoors. So, these three (stress, depression and anxiety at an all-time high).

    Mbao went on to offer a few important pointers on how to take care of one's mental health during this period.

    "Create a routine for yourself. This is a new normal. So, how do you want your new normal to look like?

    "If your new normal is indoors, create a routine first for yourself and also for the people you live with. Make sure you have enough sleep, with a time to go to bed and a time to wake up. 8 hours of sleep is what is recommended.

    "Also, in your routine, make sure you include 30-60 minutes of physical exercise. Make sure you're eating a balanced diet, it doesn't mean eating expensive food but getting the nutrients your body needs.

    "Also, drinking enough water is very important. If you're working, create time to work and stick to that time, create a space to do your work. 

    "If you're not working, see how you can engage yourself intellectually and in a meaningful way," she advised.

    She also advised Kenyans to be careful with the information they consume, particularly on Covid-19, urging them to get information only from reliable sources.