Systemic Begging

by Caroline Maina

Since Form 1 placements started, there have been several articles in the Daily Nation featuring students risking illiteracy due to poverty. Were I an outsider reading this paper, I would conclude that Kenyans are poor, their politicians are greedy and that Machakos is the capital city based on its development.

These articles are about children who performed well and have placements in national schools. In response, Kenyans from all over the world will generously offer to partially or fully sponsor their school fees. This will be followed by pictures of a smiling young boy or girl fully dressed in his/her new school uniform, thanking the well-wishers.

It is not unusual to not have enough school fees, neither is it wrong to ask for help when it is needed.

My problem with it is that we are creating beggars out of these children.

There are several scholarship programs that a child who scores 350 marks and above can apply for like the Equity “Wings to Fly” scholarship, KCB Foundation scholarship, among others. Why would someone who scored 390 be unable to access it? Is it because they were late to apply for the scholarship? Or is it that the organisations were not good at advertising their activities?

But, more importantly, what are we teaching the child? This child will learn that with the right amount of sadness on their face and an eager journalist looking for a story, (s)he will get whatever (s)he wants without going through rigorous vetting and crazy deadlines. If so, expect them to beg again for university tuition.

This goes for the children sent in the streets – what will they become when they grow up? Do their parents think about the future of their children?  Shall they beg for the rest of their lives?

Of course, with the current poverty levels and the ever rising cost of living, many parents are forced to use all their means to put food on the table. Since the retired president Moi’s error – when he frequented the West in search of donations – we as a country have been losing our dignity. With the carrot-dangling style of many donors, Kenya as a country has had to beg. We have a well oiled begging system based on colour and social status. Those parents make their children believe that the well dressed Kenyans walking up and down the streets are just lucky, as their children, on the other hand, disregard hard work.

At a much higher level, governors spent KES 1B  in travel for just three months in search of donor funding, as well as foreign investors. It’s like leaving your house and spending a considerable amount of energy and money to go ask someone else to feed your family. Couldn’t we as a country have been in a much better position if we used that money for an irrigation project in Turkana or a hospital somewhere remote? Our leaders are constantly reinforcing the idea of begging our lighter skinned big brothers, not by their words, but by their actions.

The first time I came to Norway, my boss was very eager to meet me, another Kenyan. She had been paying school fees as well as food for a family in rural Kenya. It is really nice that she does that, but do you know what position that put me in? A begging position. Nothing could be discussed without the mention of the family she helps in Kenya. She commented, confidently, on the elections and felt she had the right to critique the process because she was supporting the Kenyan poor. One time, a bus driver asked me which country I was a refugee from.

What am I getting at? While it may seem harmless or just a little bit annoying that there is so much begging and beckons of “Mzungu, give me one dollar to buy food!” in the streets, these people go back to their countries assured of their supremacy and we loose all the pride and dignity of being Kenyan. This affects the middle class more that it does any other category of Kenyans.

There is no better feeling than earning something for yourself and being completely independent of others, whether it’s your parents or any other providers. It gives one a great sense of accomplishment. The worry of not having food on the table or lacking school fees should not be on a child’s mind. It is the responsibility of the government to have an education system that creates hard working and responsible citizens for a greater future. Citizens that will compete in the global market with great confidence and not pity seekers.

The Ministry of East African Affairs, Commerce and Tourism will not make any headway in improving Kenya’s image if there is no change of mindset of our leaders and wananchi. I appreciate the efforts of the Kenyan government by not including aid in the national budget, it certainly gives Kenya freedom to make its decisions. More still needs to be done to position Kenya as a global competitor, but this will not happen if the Kenyan government has to be helped to provide health (which receives a great deal of donor funding), food or education to its population.

“Never stand begging for that which you have the power to earn.”

Miguel de Cervantes

Caroline Maina is a fun and experimental being who is expressive in her writing and speech.  Twitter: @carolmsuper

7 Replies to “Systemic Begging”

  1. tis true, i don’t like the begging policy that we use as africans in relation to the west until we don’t ask for donor funds we cannot truly say we are independent. it doesn’t seem to be something we realise and whenever our president talks about our sovereignity as a nation in relation to his criminal case and then begs for donor funding it undermines what he means somehow. this morning on the street i saw a crippled man walking around, a young lady was touched and went to give him some money, the vehemence of his no was something. for him making his own way in life is a source of pride. that was a man i would like to emulate.

    1. I am touched by the pride in this mans action. Sovereignity has to be earned. That is what We Kenyans and the rest of African countries have to understand. Thank you for the comment.

  2. This is so true – that we are creating beggars out of these children. Not to mention the numerous charity runs in the country where our children keep knocking at people’s doors as well as begging strangers on the road for alms to assist in the various projects; za ukweli na za uwongo.
    This has given birth to the mentality of naomba serikali because we have grown to believe that we can’t on our own unless someone from outside comes to our aid! we are truly in dire need of a change of attitude.

    1. This has also birthed slum tourism in which we are airing our dirty laundry in a quest for tourists sympathy. A little pride along with a working government would take this country a long way.

  3. So, Caroline, I feel that you make some very good points about the way in which our government creates a culture of systemic begging, but there’s also a fair amount of poor-shaming and respectability politics in the first part of the article, especially. I want to respond to a few quotes here, specifically about individuals begging:

    “Is it because they were late to apply for the scholarship? Or that the organizations were not good at advertising their activities?”

    Actually, while both of those might be reasons, there is a far larger reason: the scholarships are not enough to go around. I used to work at the Equity Foundation, and I remember that for every student they accepted, they had to turn away many similarly deserving and needy students. Many people beg just because they have to, not because they are not independent or because they lack creativity; sometimes it is because they are sick or disabled or suffering from mental illness, or because they have been unlucky, or sometimes just because they have fallen on hard times and need a buffer system until they can get back on track. Countries like Norway have very robust public systems, which means social welfare when this happens. but in a country like Kenya, government backup options are not available (unless you’re in power and able to gift yourself a hefty pension after you’re retired).

    “If so, expect them to beg again for university tuition”

    And why not? Why shouldn’t an ambitious student dream of transcending the circumstances that they were born into? What you call begging, I see as asking for help in a situation that is bereft of proper systems and structures to support those who are not born with certain privileges.

    I have no doubt that some of the people who beg do so because of character deficiencies, rather than actual need. But, to paint all of these people with a broad stroke like that is a little unfair and not so different to how those two Norwegians did with you (by the way, the problem sounds to me like those two were just ignorant and not curious about the world + that woman sounds a little bit horrendous as a human being).

Leave a Reply