Coping with Crises in Kenya: Humor for Resilience


NAIROBI, Kenya – Kenya is a developing country in East Africa that has grappled with poverty-related challenges and high mortality rates. As of 2018, the percentage of the population living on less than $1.90 a day in Kenya was 36.8%. However, despite the rising challenges of living in poverty, many people are coping with crises in Kenya in an unexpected way.

Crises in Kenya

Added to the high poverty rate in Kenya is the strain on the healthcare system, which is barely coping with the crises in Kenya. In 2016 alone, 3.5 million people were infected with malaria. As a result, more than 10,000 people died. The country is also grappling with the COVID-19 pandemic. As of late November, it has more than 74,000 cases and 1,300 deaths from the virus.

Despite such challenges, Kenyans continue to cope. Various organizations have worked together to help with coping with the crises in Kenya. For instance, The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has supported vaccine programs, releasing $2 billion to The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. The grant to the Global Fund was essential in developing a malaria vaccine. The organization collaborated with others such as PATH, The World Health Organization and The Ministry of Health in Kenya to roll out the malaria vaccine in 2019.

The National Vaccines and Immunizations Programme hopes to vaccinate 120,000 children annually in malaria-prone regions. On the economic side, The World Bank Group projected that in 2021, Kenya would have a 5.2% annual GDP growth rate up from a mere 1.5% in 2020.

Coping with Crises in Kenya Through Humor

Humor has been employed for coping with crises in Kenya. Kenyans enjoy comedy and this is evidenced by the viewership of shows such as the Churchill Show. A comedian known as “Churchill” hosts this local show. The show features stand-up comedians, politicians and celebrities. Furthermore, the show has attracted viewers in the millions, both in Kenya and abroad. The XYZ Show is also popular for its political satire.

To further highlight the use of humor to cope with crises in Kenya, two Kenyan psychologists, Wangarī Ngūgī and Mary Kittakah, published a TedTalk on Tedx Talks entitled “Humor for Resilience.” In the presentation, they discuss the impact of humor on coping with crises in Kenya and the science behind it.

Building Resilience

Wangarī Ngūgī and Mary Kittakah told The Borgen Project that such humor has spread the idea of using laughter to cope especially in the era of COVID-19. Ngūgī used an elastic band to illustrate resilience as the ability to cope during challenges and to bounce back. Kittakah further explained that COVID-19 had stretched the society in many ways, including emotional and financial. As it happens, humor was one way to cope without snapping.

The two psychologists explained that, with resilience, there is a mind-body connection in the stress response. When we find something funny, we feel lighter both psychologically and physically. That is because the brain releases endorphins (“feel-good hormones”) that spread around the body to relieve tension. This translates into overall well-being with benefits such as better sleep.

What the Future Holds for the Laughing Nation

Clearly, humor cannot solve all problems. However, it can provide much-needed relief in difficult situations. Humor, according to Ngūgī, does not change the circumstances that one is in, but provides a way through. Ngūgī states, “Humor can help those of us who are boiling over. It can help you reframe that experience, and therefore improve the quality of your life. In that way, your wellbeing is improved and even your socioeconomic outcomes.”

Mary asserted that poverty and humor can co-exist. Socioeconomic status should not be a barrier to laughing. As therapists, they encourage the use of humor as a way of coping with crises in Kenya. This can provide improvements in mental health while organizations, like The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, are working to address underlying causes of poverty.

Beth Warūgūrū Hinga

Photo: Provided by Wangarī Ngūgī and Mary Kittakah


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