Cars speed by, their speedometer needles inching towards the 100 km/h mark. Horns blaring, everyone trying to bully the other off the fastest-moving lane. Lang’ata Road is busy, and trying to get a matatu to stop at the Dam Estate gate is an assignment in itself. A crowd gathers at the gate, we’re all waiting for traffic to build up, so we can get matatus to stop, and we can go to town, all of us except a blind man on a walking stick.
A while back, someone told me I’m a nice guy, but ‘I talk too much politics’. I wasn’t shocked, it’s true, my facebook posts are laden with opinions about how we can do better with the crop of leaders we have, and how we should keep the efficient ones, few as they are, in office. It’s frustrating though, to see very few people care about public coffers get emptied recklessly while our timelines are inundated with medical fund contribution appeals EVERY SINGLE DAY. I am probably more passionate than your average person, and for people who are laisssez faire, I can come off as always angry, or bitter even. I don’t mind being called bitter though, if it means more people read auditor reports and start questioning why we are spending more than we can afford, and life is only getting harder for the hoi polloi.
The blind man, stretches out his cane and feels the tarmac, we all watch on, as he starts walking out into the madness that’s going on in the road. NOBODY, myself included, does anything, we either look towards oncoming traffic, or into our phones. The man walks out into the road, and almost gets to the halfway point. Almost, because a combination of an observant driver, and a really well-serviced braking system, keep him from getting to the middle, and getting his insides splattered across the road. The crowds looks on in horror at the disaster that was just avoided, and one person then escorts the man across the road, and onto the stage across the road. The rest of us watch on mouths agape, as if we didn’t have the opportunity to prevent the proceedings.
A while back, I worked in a public hospital frequented by low-income earners, and I saw for myself first-hand what Kes 20 means to someone who doesn’t have a lot of money, it’s the consultation fee, and some people couldn’t afford it, and it breaks your heart to see that. To hear billions are missing from the health ministry is frustrating, when you imagine the thieves are not using the loot to treat sick people, but to buy the latest Mercedes G wagon. I grew up in a rough neighbourhood, and I know how big a part structural unemployment, (a mismatch between the skills needed by the market, and those possessed by the labourers), plays in the explosion of crime statistics. When you then read of wastage and theft of money that could have built skill centres, paid for courses, enabled entrepreneurs to grow the economy and create more jobs and pay more taxes, it really is insulting. People who don’t identify with lacking skills, mentorship and opportunities to better their situations will call you bitter for demanding that the playing surface be leveled. Then they forget that everyone wants a nice life, but not everyone is willing to work their fingers to the bone to afford it, ‘short cuts’ lead to pyramid schemes and insane crime statistics.
The aftermath of the near-death experience for the man, apart from shame on my part, was that I saw first hand how not preventing minor mishaps leads to major catastrophes. The impact for us was the sudden braking caused a crash pile-up, and traffic was exacerbated, and because none of us helped avoid the situation we were in, we were all stuck together until the cops came to clear the scene. That is similar to defending crooked politicians who speak YOUR dialect and going to hospitals and there are no drugs for ALL of us. I made it to myself to always do what I can do to speak up when I see things that are not right. That means being unfriended by people who find me annoying, (and unfriending bigoted people too), being tear-gassed at PEACEFUL protests against corruption, being labeled bitter and angry by people who don’t see anything wrong with how things are run. The comments on Boniface Mwangi’s posts, (arguably Kenya’s most prominent, divisive and controversial activists) are proof of this.
I am not naïve, I know the world isn’t fair, and never will be, but we can have a decent life for everyone if we didn’t let a few greedy people perpetuate economic hit jobs to maintain their chateaus, Ferraris and Phillipe Pateks in France, while ordinary people can’t pay for their single rooms in water-deficient, over-populated unsafe neighbourhoods. We can’t out-earn corruption, working at a harder rate than your politicians are stealing isn’t a sustainable model, it turns all of us into thieves, or pseudo-thieves and tramples on the values of hard work, honesty and dedication, and only those can truly fix this country.
I hope most us get our own epiphanies, and we stop calling activists and social critics bitter and angry individuals. Kenya can break you, and frustrate you if you care deeply for it, and we should all aspire to read a little more, pay more attention, make systems work, eliminate greed and social ills, and we’ll have fewer, and less ‘bitter’activists.