It has been 137 days since Kenyan nurses went on strike demanding better pay and better working conditions. In this time, the Kenyan central government, county governments and the Salaries Commission have engaged in brinkmanship when it comes to resolving their issues, as if to see who can agitate them and endanger Kenyans’ lives the most, as this seems to be the role of institutions in this country. In this time, mother to child transmission of HIV has increased, polio and leprosy have re-emerged, and children continue to go unvaccinated in many parts of the country, leaving them (and the rest of the population) exposed to Hepatitis B, Measles, mumps, rubella, and a host of other diseases.
As has become the norm, Kenyans continue to die in large numbers, because our lives do not matter to our leaders. I am reminded of the KES 5.3 billion stolen from the Ministry of Health whenever I view images of Kenyans in understaffed hospitals lying on the floor, as we did when the students of Lokichoggio Secondary School were attacked by one of their own. I also have the Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch report on extrajudicial killings and abusive policing on my mind as I write this. It focuses on the events in informal settlements in Nairobi (Mathare, Kibera, Babadogo, Dandora, Korogocho, Kariobangi and Kawangware) in the aftermath of the shambolic August 8th presidential election in which our fascist in chief Uhuru Kenyatta was said to have been re-elected (this result has since been annulled).
According to this report, “at least 33 people were killed in Nairobi alone, most of them as a result of action by the police and therefore warranting investigation by either the Independent Policing Oversight Authority, a special commission or by parliament. Twenty-three, including children, appear to have been shot or beaten to death by police. Others were killed by tear gas and pepper spray fired at close range or trampled by fleeing crowds, and two died of trauma from shock. Two others were stoned by mobs. We received unconfirmed reports of another 17 dead in Nairobi. Added to the 12 killings at the hands of police documented by Human Rights Watch in western Kenya, and five additional killings confirmed by the Kenyan National Human Rights Commission, the national death toll could be as high as 67. Hundreds of residents have suffered severe injuries including gunshot wounds, debilitating injuries such as broken bones and extensive bruising as a result of the police violence.”
At such times, I wonder what it really means to be Kenyan. You are probably born to parents who want the best for you, so they sacrifice everything to take you to a good school. You sit your KCPE, and pass. You get accepted into a district or provincial or national school (bear with me here, this is what they were called when I was in school). You consider yourself lucky, because 84% of the children in Kenya join primary school but only 32% of these go on to enroll in secondary school. That’s right, more than 250,000 children fail to transition from primary school to secondary school. You work really hard in high school, and sit your KCSE. You pass, second time in a row. That makes you one of the 40% or so that score above a C+ and are able to get into university. The other 60%? They have to drop out and find something else to do with themselves. You are now part of the 20% that complete form four after enrolling in class 1 years earlier.
You go to university and do your BA or whatever other degree you’re called to do. If you have the means, you get to go to a private university for your degree. That’s at least 3 more years of school, but you’re grateful to have come this far. You work hard again, and graduate. You are now part of the 1.69% of people that enrolled in class one and were able to go through the whole 8.4.4 system and come out at the other end with your degree. Afterwards, you go out into the world. Chances are that you’re aged 15 – 34.
Your age group makes up 35% of the population, but the unemployment rate for this age group is 67%. The unemployment rate for the whole country is 25%. You tarmack and send your CV all over the place, you’re not as well connected as your peers. Within a year, you get your first job. A job in the formal sector. You may have a starting salary of between KES 20,000 – 40,000, putting you in the same bracket 64.5% of the formal sector workers in Kenya. Your goal is probably to work your salary up to above 100,000. Then, you say to yourself, you can start living. After all, a salary of KES 100,000 and above makes you one of the 2.89% that earns this much in formal employment. It’s not just that you want to be a member of the elite, you need this money to live a comfortable life. The average rent for a modest two bedroomed house is KES 15,000, after all.
Maize flour costs around KES 120 a packet. Bus fare costs anything between KES 100 – 300 a day depending on where you live. And these costs don’t ever seem to become lower. We haven’t even gone into other costs, like education, clothing, entertainment, healthcare. Then, because you’re one of the few that actually are employed in this country, your relatives depend on you. You send your mum and dad money each month for upkeep. Every time there’s a wedding or a funeral, you are called to contribute to the harambee. There’s the harambee that no good Kenyan can say no to – the harambee for medical care. You’re called and told that your cousin Njambi is ill, and she needs money for treatment. Let’s assume Njambi has enough cash for insurance cover, which is rare.
She’s already exhausted all the cash allocated by her cover, both inpatient and outpatient, and she doesn’t seem to be getting better. Her workplace makes NHIF contributions, yes, but somehow no one even knows how to work this cover, so you have to do a harambee. They say she needs to go to India to be checked, because you know hospitals there are cheaper and better that ours. So you do your duty. You come on Twitter and start a hashtag: #StandWithNjambi and set up a paybill number for people to send donations to. Things work out well, and you’re able to raise the money she needs for her treatment. Off she goes to India. She gets there, and they find that she has some obscure cancer. You feel a pain in your stomach, because you remember that the radiation machines had broken down the last time you checked.
How is Njambi going to continue her treatment here when she gets back? Who knows? You just hope for the best. You get home in the evening and turn on the news, only to hear the news of a new mega scandal. You remember the Goldenberg scandal, the mother – the one that opened our eyes to the corrupt nature of our country. How much was stolen that time? USD 600 million between 1990 and 1993. That comes to about USD 1 billion (KES 104 billion) in present day terms. That was Moi’s big scandal. Then you remember Kibaki’s big scandal, the Anglo leasing scandal. How much was stolen then? About USD 1 billion. That was in 2004. Presently, that comes to about USD 1.28 billion, (KES 133 billion). Not forgetting the Chickengate scandal, the Tokyo Embassy scandal among others. Then you remember the NYS/IFMIS scandal, through which up to KES 1.6 billion is said to have been stolen, and of course the Afya House scandal in which we were robbed of KES 5.3 billion.
If they didn’t steal our health money, perhaps Njambi wouldn’t have to go to India? Perhaps she could have had her diagnosis and treatment here? Perhaps no harambee would be necessary in the first place? Perhaps there would be enough nurses, doctors and clinical officers in our hospitals? Perhaps we wouldn’t have to bury people dying of things that can be treated like cholera, leprosy, malaria, the flu, pneumonia, diarrhea, tuberculosis, malnutrition, road traffic accidents…the list goes on and on.
You remember there’s worse to come, because we lose approximately KES 600 billion of our KES 2 trillion budget. What else does it mean when we say it can’t be accounted for? In the financial year 2014/15, we could not account for KES 450 billion shillings. That was a quarter of that year’s budget. And, as our government steals our money, you remember that they also kill us (through the police), just as they killed Thomas Odhiambo Okul, inside his gate. Or Kevin Otieno, outside his. They killed Lilian Khavele and her unborn child when they teargassed her, and she fell and got trampled on by a crowd. They also killed Geoffrey Onancha, who was shot by the police, and his daughter Sharon Imenza who died upon seeing her father’s body. You remember that they shot and killed Stephanie Moraa while she was playing on her balcony.
You realize that no one is safe. Nowhere is safe. So, what happens now?