Something is Happening

Michael Onsando
9 January ,2018

The thing about saying something is happening is that change comes to everyone in its own time. And so to say that something is happening is to forget the millions that it is yet to happen to. It is to forget those who will die before that thing happens. And if the thing that was supposed to happen doesn’t happen in time for you – then did it happen?

Maybe this is why hope is fragile. Especially when it comes to hope for the intangible things. Things like freedom and peace.

The thing is, hope opens up a space of possibility. When we hope for something we make decisions toward its actualization. You hope that someone comes to see you – so you linger around the house waiting for them to get there. The longer you wait, the more you lose hope. Usually, by the time you leave you have not only lost hope altogether – you’ve probably also convinced yourself that the whole idea of hoping was silly in the first place. And, if this happens enough times, you learn to navigate this person differently to preserve your time. Every action though, has an equal and opposite reaction. You stop waiting for them, they get angry, and you have a confrontation.

To hope towards freedom in colonial days was to ask your neighbor “are you willing to sacrifice your life for this?” To even think of creating possibilities for freedom was to accept the sacrifice that came with it. Now, most people can agree, that freedom was something we needed. And to get it someone had to aspire to it, and sacrifice was made. However, given the level of sacrifice needed, one can begin to understand the people who decided not to sacrifice. Who looked at the question and said “Yes, freedom would be fantastic, but I have lost too much/I am too afraid/I cannot help” or whatever other variation.

Perhaps this is why we will (and must) always be wary of anyone who speaks of change. Not to frustrate the inevitability of change (another exercise in futility) but rather to ask ourselves – is this the world we want? And how can we move from where we are to where we need to be? And what does where we need to be look like?

Can we not acknowledge that there are deep disagreements among us with our very lives and destinies at stake?

With (literally) our whole world at stake, we become very particular. We begin to take a closer look at things like identity, we study patterns in ideologies. And, once convinced we are on the right path, we are willing to do almost anything to get there (it is, after all, for the greater good). This, like everything else has some good and some bad in it as well. It is because of this drive that change is inevitable. Because we will always work towards it.

But sharing spaces will always be about compromise. And if there is no room for compromise in this drive then we end up with different sides to the same argument talking at each other, over each other and against each other without any real consensus building toward a shareable future. Discussions that often end in reproducing the same oppressive institutions that they set out to change.

Africanization, then, is an exercise in offering context. In learning our history. In changing our lenses. Much of the history of our continent is written by white men from Europe and North America, and this no doubt affects how the world sees us, but more importantly, how we see ourselves. For our children, it has meant a very narrow view of our continent. In many school books, the history of our continent is written in three broad categories: pre-colonial, colonial, and post-colonial. In doing so, we single out colonization as the single most important thing that has happened to Africa, and centre it.

 

‘It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences.’

  • Audre Lorde

 

“And, if truth itself has a history – what happens when such histories collide? When the subject, rooted in their own truth and own history, meets another subject rooted in the same? How do we handle these situations? Does the way we do this further aggravate or does it create space for these histories to co-exist?”

Maybe this is why the work of change is slow. The constant negotiation and renegotiation until something finally manages to lodge itself into the place of “common knowledge.” So to say something is happening is to say “this is common knowledge in my circles/this change has reached the people around me” Maybe it might even be to say “I have removed myself from the spaces where the thing is yet to happen.” Rarely, “I am working to happen this thing”

Something is happening is often used to direct attention to the thing. To ask that the listener pause to observe and, perhaps even participate towards whatever is happening. And with attention comes the questions “why this thing?” “Why now?” What does this thing mean for me?” And it is these questions that we must be willing and ready to answer when we say something is happening. Because all conquest has been on the back of ideology (or nazi soldiers were willing to die for their beliefs as well). Because sacrifice will often fall on the shoulders of the most vulnerable. A president may start a war, but a soldier will die. A lawyer may open a case, but a witness will be shot. And, if we insist that this something, that is happening, must happen then we must accept that there will be sacrifice involved.

And, as with all sacrifices, we must be willing to ask “why?”

 

 

 

Kenya’s Killer Roads

Brenda Wambui
2 January ,2018

In December 2017, over 330 Kenyans lost their lives in road accidents while traveling for the holidays. Over 40 people died in road accidents within 24 hours at Sachang’wan and Bungoma. 36 people lost their lives at Migaa on the 31st of December 2017. For purposes of comparison, 148 people died in the Garissa University terror attack.

The NTSA’s (National Transport and Safety Authority) response was to abruptly ban all night travel by Public Service Vehicles (PSVs). This left several hundred passengers who intended to travel on the night of 31st December stranded, since the ban took immediate effect. “In order to review the current measures in place to improve road safety, the authority in consultation with other relevant government agencies hereby suspends night travel for all long distance public service vehicles from December 31. All travel must be scheduled to take place between 6 am and 7 pm.” As a result, PSVs are being driven even more dangerously in an attempt to reach their destinations before 7 pm. Unlicensed, unregulated private motorists have begun offering commuter services between key towns at high fares.

Driving and being driven in Kenya is a high stakes activity. Kenyan roads are hazardous, and each day we make it home okay is a happy day. Because we recognize this, we established the NTSA five years ago, in October 2012, with the vision of having a sustainable and safe road transport system with zero crashes. Their goal is to facilitate the provision of safe, reliable, efficient road transport services.

In Kenya, over 3,000 people, mostly pedestrians, die in road accidents each year. Globally, 1.24 million people die per year on roads, but 90% of these deaths occur in low and middle income countries even though they have fewer motorized vehicles. The age group that is most affected is the 15 – 29 age group worldwide, with road accidents being their leading cause of death. These accidents cost us about 5.6% of our Gross Domestic Product (GDP) each year. An agency like NTSA’s existence comes from a place of necessity, however, their interventions seem not to work.

Road deaths in 2015 increased to 3,057 up from 2,907 in 2014. This is an increase of 5.15%. These are people’s lives we’re talking about. Kenya’s goal was to reduce fatalities from road accidents by 50% between 2009 and 2014, yet they have not reduced. The NTSA has yet to provide comparative figures for 2016 and 2017.

Even more worrisome is that instead of measuring their performance in terms of lives saved, they cite how much they collect in fines instead, as if that is their mandate. They impose arbitrary speed limits on highways, which are meant to facilitate the high speed flow of traffic, and hide their speed cameras in bushes so as to arrest errant motorists, as opposed to announcing them with signs to remind the motorist to slow down.

I get it – speeding is the main cause of most road accidents we have, followed by drink-driving, not wearing a seatbelt, not wearing a helmet while on a bike, not using child restraints, distracted driving and so on. As a result, the interventions that follow should be – we must reduce the speeds that drivers drive at, make sure they don’t drink and drive, penalize people for not wearing seatbelts, helmets, using child restraints, using their phones will driving. And so on. Yet we’ve done these things, and they are clearly not working, given that road accident fatalities are not reducing year by year. So what gives?

Enforcement. Do we do these things consistently? Effectively? Efficiently? Let’s take highway speeding, for example. 3,057 people died in 2015. How many of them died on highways? On Thika Road? 70. Mombasa Road? 60. Waiyaki Way? 50. Jogoo Road? 30. That’s a total of 210 people – 6.87%. Yet where are we most terrorized by NTSA about speed? Highways.

The World Health Organization has an annual global status report on road safety. The most recent one is from 2015. Road safety is included under two sustainable development goals. We want to ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages: by 2020, we should halve the number of global deaths and injuries from road traffic accidents. As it stands, that would mean our target is to get them down to 620,000. We also want to make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable: by 2030, we should provide access to safe, affordable, accessible and sustainable transport systems for all, improving road safety, notably by expanding public transport, with special attention to the needs of those in vulnerable situations, women, children, persons with disabilities and older persons.

Almost half of the world’s road deaths are those of pedestrians, pedal cyclists and motorcyclists. The average for Africa is 43%. In Kenya, however, they account for 70%. In 2015, 268 drivers and 642 passengers died in road accidents, making up 30%. The rest were as follows: 104 pedal cyclists, 553 motorcyclists and 1340 pedestrians. Only 30% of those who die are inside cars.

It becomes apparent that to reduce fatalities from road accidents, we need to ensure that pedestrians, people on bicycles and motorcyclists are safer on the roads. We need to strike a balance between ease of mobility and safety. In the “Safe Systems” approach, used successfully in countries like Sweden, the speed limit on a section of a road takes into account safety, mobility and environmental considerations, as well as the impact of the speed on the quality of life for people living along the road.

Where motorized traffic mixes with pedestrians and cyclists, the speed limit must be under 30 km/h. This is due to the vulnerability of these road users at increasing speed: an adult pedestrian has less than a 20% chance of dying if struck by a car at less than 50 km/h but almost a 60% risk of dying if hit at 80 km/h. On roads where front impacts with other road users are possible (such as on non-divided rural roads, and two way roads) a “safe speed” will be lower than on highways, where head on collisions crashes are unlikely.

We need to ensure that both the drivers and riders on boda bodas and personal use bikes wear helmets. Many people say that they don’t because of hygiene, so perhaps we need to mass introduce helmet liners and other products that help prevent the transmission of skin diseases through these helmets. As we do this, then, we can also strictly enforce the wearing of helmets as a must by all people on bikes. The quality of these helmets should also be guaranteed, and low quality helmets should not be allowed into the country. There are some that crack as soon as someone falls, regardless of the magnitude of impact. These should not be allowed.

When it comes to drink driving, strict enforcement of the blood alcohol concentration limit/alcoblow should be there. The guys at these stops should be well trained and know the importance of not taking bribes – you take a bribe now, in 20 minutes the drunk driver kills someone, or multiple people. We also know that young and new drivers are a greater risk on the roads, especially if drink driving. They may then enforce lower blood alcohol concentration limits for them, to ensure that they are present on the road. This can then be graduated based on age group and driving experience. The effects of drink driving by commercial drivers (such as truck drivers) and PSVs is even more severe, because their vehicles tend to kill multiple people when involved in fatal crashes.

This means that strict enforcement of blood alcohol concentration limits should be enforced on them, especially on high risk roads, and at high risk times (such as between 5 pm and 10 pm, and during the entire night). We also need to tell Kenyans to stop warning others about alcoblow checks. If you can show them that they are actively contributing to the deaths of others, they may stop this behaviour.

Then there are seatbelts. Wearing seatbelts saves lives, yet it is no longer strictly enforced. We need to go back to doing this, and not just front seat passengers. All passengers should have their seatbelts on. For children, regular seatbelts don’t work as well – they need special restraints. Whether it’s a well fastened car seat, booster seat – have your child in a special restraint for him or her. It increases their chances of surviving a car accident by up to 90%. They should also travel in the back seats of private vehicles as it is much safer.

We need a law that applies an age, weight or height restriction on children sitting in the front seat, and a national child restraint law based on age, height or weight. We also need to make sure child restraints are affordable and accessible. We could have community based education and distribution schemes, maternity hospital loan schemes, voucher programmes and so on. We also need to look into how to enforce this in PSVs – which many people use with their children when moving from place to place. How can we make matatus and buses safer for children?

Then comes distracted driving, caused mostly by mobile phone use. This distraction comes in the form of auditory distraction, visual distraction, cognitive distraction and manual distraction. If one is on a call, for example, one is manually distracted due to holding the phone, and while listening to the call, one may miss audio cues on the road. Texting is even worse – it takes your eyes off the road, your attention is focused on the phone, and you are holding the phone so you are manually distracted. Even when using an earpiece, one is probably still distracted cognitively, which is the most dangerous form of distraction while driving. Drivers talking on a phone are four times more likely to be involved in a crash than those who aren’t. While this number applies to four wheeled vehicles, it doesn’t mean motorcyclists are any safer. Fighting distracted driving should be a key focus of the NTSA.

Vehicles and roads themselves must also be safer. Cars should be crash worthy, and have electronic stability control. This aims to prevent skidding and loss of control in cases of over-steering or understeering, and is effective at preventing different types of crashes (single car crashes, head-on and rollover crashes, and crashes involving multiple vehicles), reducing both serious and fatal injuries. Political will to enforce these interventions also needs to exist. We need to embark upon radically fixing our police force.

We should also have vehicles on roads that consider pedestrian safety. Softer bumpers, better bonnet area clearance and removal of unnecessarily rigid structures are required to reduce the severity of a pedestrian impact with a car. This means that most of the old cars on our roads would not make the cut. Roads themselves need to be safer. Planning decisions are usually made without sufficient attention to the needs of pedestrians, cyclists and people on motorbikes – for example, cycle paths and footpaths are frequently not part of our road network. Neither are bridges.

We should optimize the movement of people and goods with road safety in mind. This optimization needs to take into account the mix and safety of all road users. We should also promote non-motorized forms of transport, such as walking and cycling. A good step in this direction is changing the perception that walking and cycling are for poor people. We can do this by separating these different kinds of road use, eliminating conflicts between high-speed and vulnerable road users. This is simple – have pedestrian walk ways, have separate cycle lanes. Look at Kileleshwa and Kilimani, for example.

We also need advocacy efforts to keep road safety high on the government and public agenda. We can do this through public awareness campaigns to increase understanding and support for enforcement measures, and to sustain a high perception of enforcement. This may even incentivize compliance. Until we start doing these things seriously, the NTSA will remain the butt of many people’s jokes, and rightly so.

The Best of Times, The Worst of Times

Brenda Wambui
26 December ,2017

As the year ends, I am reminded of the highs and lows we have been through as Kenyans – two presidential elections (one which happened during the 2017 general election), an election annulment, an election boycott. a doctors’ strike, a nurses’ strike, the election of Kenya’s first women governors, the refusal of parliament to pass the two-thirds gender bill, the collapse of Nakumatt, the ban on plastic bags, extrajudicial killings by the police, to name a few.

As Charles Dickens would say, it was the best of times, it was the worst of times. It was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness. These are the pieces that stood out to us in 2017 [click on the title to read the full piece.]

Our Unlawful Lawmakers: Parliament, the Supreme Court and the Gender Principle

by Marilyn Kamuru

“Whether from ignorance, ineptitude or misogyny, the silence and complicity of these groups means that they lack the moral credibility to offer non-partisan leadership to Kenyans. The current administration’s de facto policy of violating the Gender Principle, and the acquiescent brand of leadership practised by the business and religious community, are largely to blame for our current situation.”

No One Will Save You: Remembering Kenya’s Karl Marx

by Isaac Otidi Amuke

“Karl Marx’s last public engagement was on the evening of Thursday, 5 March 2009. A group of University of Nairobi students witnessed the execution of two men riding in a white Mercedes Benz. The students had chanced on the killings on State House Road while walking back to their hostels. One of the students, assuming that the two, shot at point blank range, were dangerous criminals, asked the shooters, already in flight, why they weren’t taking the men’s bodies off the scene. The usual police ritual is to throw the bodies into a truck and dump them at Nairobi’s public morgue. The shooters, dressed in identical suits, looked like members of an elite death squad. One of them replied that “others” would do the cleaning up.”

My Child, We Thought You Were Home

by April Zhu

“That particular sunset marked the end of that day’s heavy demonstrations throughout Nyanza. And cruelly ironic in its magnificence, it marked the end of another life taken by police brutality. This time, his name was Michael Okoth. At approximately 2pm, the eighteen-year-old died near Kondele in Kisumu City with a gunshot to his neck. At the mortuary, his grandmother wept and wailed, speaking to him over his body. ‘We thought you were home. My child, we thought you were home. We didn’t know you had gone out to see the protests.'”

Beyond “this is Kenya”

by K’eguro Macharia

“In many cases, “this is Kenya” is uttered at a scene of violation and exhaustion: after a demand for a bribe, after being told a file is missing from a government office, after being insulted by a state agent, after attempting to use legal channels and being frustrated, after being sexually assaulted and attempting to seek help from friends and family, after witnessing police brutality, while paying more for food, while struggling to afford private healthcare because the public system is broken, while trying to afford school fees for private schools because public education is broken, while reading yet another report about theft of public land, while reading yet another report about theft of public money, while trying to navigate Kenya’s rape culture, while trying to navigate Kenya’s heteronormative culture, while trying to navigate Kenya’s misogynist culture, while trying to navigate Kenya’s ethno-nationalist culture.”

Why did Kenya’s Supreme Court annul the elections?

by Nanjala Nyabola

“But beyond establishing high democratic standards for elections in Kenya, this ruling was also about reaffirming judicial independence. It put Chief Justice David Maraga in history books as the first African chief justice to oversee the annulment of election results. Less than a year into his term, there were already strong indications during a testy pre-election period that judicial independence was of utmost importance to the Maraga-led court. At least three times in under 12 months, the chief justice and the judicial service commission issued statements defending the independence of the judiciary after attacks from the president and the National Assembly majority leader.”

Forty Billionaires and Forty Million Beggars

by Matt Carotenuto

“In a country where political elites are known by the fancy cars they own (wabenzi­ — those who drive Mercedes Benzes) and roughly 40 percent of the population lives below the poverty line, Kenyans recognize that, while they don’t all have a common language or religion, they share a landscape of growing inequality. “Super highways” in Nairobi cut right through informal settlements that lack running water. Colonial-era country clubs sit against sprawling slums, where golf balls routinely ping off the roofs of makeshift tin shacks. The same elites strolling the nearby fairways often collect rent on the properties behind the concrete barriers.”

Woman, Kenyan and on the campaign trail

by Ivy NyaYieka

“Nairobi was liberated from British colonialism by female prostitutes who procured ammunition for Maumau fighters. However, it has been reluctant since independence to let women into public spaces— let alone political office. The Truth Justice & Reconciliation Commission report developed after Kenya’s 2007/08 post election violence to examine historical injustices puts it eloquently: “Women are over-represented in the poorest social segments of society and underrepresented in decision-making bodies.” Every morning, Nairobi rises on the backs of bent women, opens its eyes hesitantly, yawns, stretches and stands up, looking taller than it is because it has low-income women below its feet. These elections will be a test of whether Nairobi will recognize these women’s contributions.”

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And these were your favourite pieces from Brainstorm this year:

Kenya and Its Maize Scandals

by Brenda Wambui

“What is it about maize that makes it so susceptible to such scandals? It’s our consumption. Our average maize consumption per person is 60 kg a year, according to our Bureau of Statistics. Maize accounts for a quarter of our food consumption in terms of calorific intake, 56 per cent of our cereal calories and 47 per cent of our starchy food calories. Maize is also the best value for money starch that is widely available. It’s also easy to dispose of as it is a staple food not just in Kenya, but in other African countries as well. As a thief, you can sell it quickly and have your stolen money.”

The Master’s House

by Brenda Wambui

“These sentiments are, to put it simply, elitist. And many people are elitist. It is what motivates most of us in our work. We want to move as far away from poverty and as close to richness as we can. As we do, we develop a disdain (both subconscious and conscious) for poverty. As a result, we do not want reminders of poverty in the nice, clean spaces we believe we have worked so hard for. What are these reminders? Kiosks, matatus and second hand clothes, of course. We forget that most Kenyans continue to have them as hallmarks in their lives, though. Where do the rich expect their workers to buy their supplies, for example? When someone works from eight to six at your home, where do you expect them to shop? Do you feed your workers? If not, where do you expect them to eat? Do you provide private transport for them to and from your home? If not, how do you expect them to get there and go back to their homes?”

The F-word: The Place of Feminism In Contemporary Kenya

by Brenda Wambui

“Our feminism, first and foremost, must target the end of rape culture and violence against women. Why? Because it is intended to limit the extent to which women can participate in society. It is intended to keep women small, and in their place. They can only go as far as men will let them. Venture any further and what happens? Violence. Which is why women politicians are permanently being threatened with rape, stripping and other forms of violence. Why they have to have more security. Why their entourages are heckled and even stoned. It is also why men harass women on the streets, and why the go-to threat for many men towards women is ‘we will rape you.'”

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As usual, this list is not exhaustive – so much has been written about Kenya or in Kenya in 2017. Any other pieces that we should have included? Share in the comments. Thank you for coming along on this journey in 2017. We look forward to an even better 2018. Happy new year!

The Master’s House

Brenda Wambui
12 December ,2017

“Your Excellencies Gov. @MikeSonko & Dep. Gov @IgathePolycarp, when we moved to Karen, we thought we were climbing up Maslow Hierarchy … But what are kiosks, matatus & mitumba clothes doing here? Where is our Masterplan? Kenya is a Capitalist State. Let Karen be Karen.”

Donald B. Kipkorir

Those words were exhausting to read, mostly because I had just had a debate on a WhatsApp group I’m on about the elitism and disdain for the poor that informs the sentiment that matatus should not be allowed into some (predictably rich) neighbourhoods. No matter that those matatus operate on public roads that we all have paid for and should benefit from.

To justify this unfairness, it was argued that many neighbourhoods do not allow matatus, not just Muthaiga, Karen, Runda and similarly rich areas. It was argued that calling this discrimination was unwarranted and generalizing. It was argued that not allowing matatus keeps the “sanity” in “some areas.” After all, this is the reason people buy property in these areas. It was argued that we love convenience too much as a nation, and that we should be okay with walking a distance for a matatu. After all, ten minute walks cannot kill you. All kinds of straw man arguments were brought in, including that we need to destroy transport cartels first, and that it wasn’t that the people in question feared/disdained poor people, rather, it was the system that was rotten.

So to come on Twitter and see Donald’s honesty about the root of the problem was somewhat refreshing. These sentiments are, to put it simply, elitist. And many people are elitist. It is what motivates most of us in our work. We want to move as far away from poverty and as close to richness as we can. As we do, we develop a disdain (both subconscious and conscious) for poverty. As a result, we do not want reminders of poverty in the nice, clean spaces we believe we have worked so hard for. What are these reminders? Kiosks, matatus and second hand clothes, of course.

We forget that most Kenyans continue to have them as hallmarks in their lives, though. Where do the rich expect their workers to buy their supplies, for example? When someone works from eight to six at your home, where do you expect them to shop? Do you feed your workers? If not, where do you expect them to eat? Do you provide private transport for them to and from your home? If not, how do you expect them to get there and go back to their homes? Is it fair to expect someone to walk four kilometres each day to and from your house, while you have never had to? Is this person still supposed to go back to his/her home and have the energy to enjoy life with his/her family? Given that areas such as Karen, Muthaiga and Runda are (mostly) residential and far from the city, where do the rich expect their workers to buy clothes? And at what time, given that most work round the clock?

Why do we think it is okay to subject people to such treatment, just so that we can forget that some of us are incredibly fortunate while a majority of the country suffers in poverty? Poverty is not beautiful. It is not romantic. This is what it looks like. It is the experience of most Kenyans, and to want to pretend that experience does not exist is elitist. Elitism is short sighted and sanctimonious, as it assumes that the views and experiences of the elite matter more than those of everyone “below” them. It assumes that everyone should aspire to what elites aspire to. Behave as they behave. It privileges one way of being over all others, while ignoring the very real causes behind those other ways of being. It undermines the very fabric of democracy, which emphasizes universal rights and freedoms. People are not poor by choice. No one wakes up one day and decides that they had rather be poor. Yet elitism makes it seem as if this is the case, by excluding others on the basis of this poverty and using it as a marker of the elites’ importance.

Many of us claim to be working hard to change Kenya. Yet, as Audre Lorde said, the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. No matter how hard we work hard to change this country, if our actions are informed by any kind of bigotry – be it elitism, ethnocentrism, nationalism, sexism, racism or homophobia – the outcome we create will be similar to what we have now, and it will all have been in vain.

Beyond Chants and Slogans

Michael Onsando
5 December ,2017

It’s been less than a week since Uhuru Kenyatta was sworn in as president and already we can see the questions slipping slowly into the past. The NSE has been steadily gaining the shilling growing stronger and the political discussion is shrinking. Even the arrest and release of David Ndii didn’t seem to get as much circulation as it would have a few weeks ago.

Soon names like baby Pendo and Chris Msando will disappear as well. Just like the names from the previous elections have. It won’t be long before we begin to classify this election as “not that bad” or “could be worse” even as families continue to count their losses.

Eventually (if not already) we will make peace with the fact that the country is largely mismanaged and, save for the periodical cycle of scandals, all will be back to “normal.” I return to forgettingness:

It is not forgetfulness, but the state in which it is deemed necessary or at least desirable to go through a process of forgetting.

The kind of forgetting in forgetingness is not a mere slipping away from memory, but rather a process of extraction from being.

Through this process, issues and people are washed clean of their identity and significance.”

Interlude #3 – Forgettingness

In essence it seems moot to try and insist that we remember when there’s little evidence that we actually will – and even less that it will make a difference.

Instead it seems important to talk about what politics is. Because it is around this time that we begin to lose interest in politics. As if somehow politics is this cage match between two principles and we come out to fiercely show our support and, once there is a winner, we go back to our apolitical lives.

But there’s no such thing as an apolitical life.

Because politics is not abstract – politics is tangible, measureable and important. It is access to a steady water and power supply. It is a question of how well schools will be equipped and how much they will cost. It is a road outside your house that is repaired every 3 months – because it breaks every three months. It is whether you can go to sleep knowing that were you live is secure. And, in this sense, politics is never over (and neither should our engagement with it be)

Do you know who your MCA is? Have you asked them about the sewer that’s always bursting and flooding the roads? Have you asked them about why your water is always being rationed? Have you asked your governor what they are going to do to better improve your living environs for yourself and your loved ones?

It is this kind of self-centered approach to politics that will allow us to build stronger societies. If it is about negotiation of need and proper allocation of resource to meet those needs then, have you made your needs known?

Writing this is not to say that we have, or are working with, the most competent, efficient government. Known for questionable procurement methods and faulty accounting one can’t say that Uhuru had a brilliant first term – and odds are not high that he’ll have a great second one either. And maybe this is exactly why we can’t stop engaging. Consistent pressure and letting the government know that we are watching and are aware of what is happening (in large numbers) is one way to insist that we get at least some of the things he promised.

And, even as bleak as that sounds, even ‘some of the things’ might be too much to hope for. The school laptops, youth development centers and stadia from 2013 are yet to be seen. This without even mentioning the several scandals that plagued the administration, with the president himself wondering what can be done about the problem.

So it is not without knowledge of how helpless the whole process can feel that I write this. Letters to your local government will probably go unanswered for a while. And you are not guaranteed that your complaint will be passed on by whoever you speak to on the phone.

What I’m proposing is that we give these people who we leave in the past significance. Significance in the shape of actively participating in the building and strengthening of institutions that safeguard against this in the future. In ensuring that your politician passes whatever law needs to be passed in order to have better computer systems – and avoiding another Msando during the next election. In ensuring that police reform and training programmes are supported within your county so that another Pendo is not shot. In questioning the legislative actions of your member of parliament and asking whether they align with your position, with your beliefs, with your values (and the compromises you’re willing to make – because without compromise there is no such thing as a shared space).

We can’t change the things that have happened. It is impossible to bring people back to life – or undo the trauma and the violences that we have seen and heard. But perhaps it is about time we began to think about how to create an environment where they won’t happen. To properly equip ourselves with the tools we need to create stability and some form of habitable peace – otherwise we’ll be right back here in 2022, mourning yet another series of unnecessary deaths.

The Citizen vs The Taxpayer

Brenda Wambui
28 November ,2017

Every election year, a sentiment arises that goes something like this: “Kenyans don’t know what’s good for them. They always vote for bad “leaders” who then proceed to loot and plunder our country. This is because many Kenyans don’t really have a stake in our economy because they don’t pay tax. They are not well educated, they don’t have jobs, they don’t pay income tax, and as a result, they don’t feel the pinch. If I had it my way, I’d make it such that only people who pay tax can vote.”

That this sentiment persists surprises me. First, it does not take into account the fact that Kenya’s formal sector only employs about 2.3 million people out of the over 43 million people in our population. 77.9% of our jobs are in the informal sector, which is the largest informal sector in Africa. Informal sectors are notoriously difficult to tax, which makes it difficult for them to contribute income taxes. The burden of solving this falls squarely on the shoulders of the state (not the non-payers of income tax), which should encourage and incentivize formalization. However, our state is far keener on oppressing its people and looting/plundering the country.

Second, it fails to acknowledge that income tax (both individual and corporate) is not the holy grail of taxes. Kenyans pay over 20 taxes, such as customs duty, excise duty, fuel levy, value added tax (VAT), withholding tax, advance tax among others. Most, if not all, people in the informal sector pay at least one of these taxes, so it is disingenuous to accuse them of “not paying tax” and “not having a stake” in the country.

Perhaps the most odious thing about this sentiment is the way it dehumanizes most Kenyans and seeks to deny them their right as citizens.

According to our constitution, every Kenyan citizen (whether by birth or registration) has the right to free, fair and regular elections based on universal suffrage and the free expression of the will of the electors for any elective public body or office established under this Constitution; or any office of any political party of which the citizen is a member. Every adult citizen also has the right, without unreasonable restrictions, to be registered as a voter; to vote by secret ballot in any election or referendum; and to be a candidate for public office, or office within a political party of which the citizen is a member and, if elected, to hold office. Seeking to deny people the right to vote based on their income tax status would be unconstitutional.

It is also dehumanizing because it basically translates to “poor people shouldn’t be allowed to vote.” After all, most people in the informal sector make barely enough to survive. In a country where youth unemployment stands at 67%, this assumes that people are poor because they want to be poor, not because they have been failed by the state and its institutions. This sentiment finds great company in its eugenicist counterpart: “poor people shouldn’t be allowed to have children.” It presumes that it is up to someone else to “allow” or grant poor people their rights, yet they are guaranteed by our constitution by virtue of one being Kenyan.

Which makes me wonder, how do we want to define citizenship in Kenya? Do we want to criminalize poverty and assume that wealthy people are automatically more reasonable and well intentioned than poor people? The evidence says otherwise – the reason Kenya is in a mess is because of its crony capitalist state in which businesspersons and politicians collude. We are here because of rich people – how does denying poor people their rights fix the situation? Do we want to build an exclusive state, in which anything (especially poverty, which people don’t chose for themselves) could be the basis of your rights being denied, or do we want to build an inclusive state in which all our lives matter?

Isn’t it hypocritical to complain about how we are divided along ethnic and class lines while wishing we had a unified national identity, and in the next breath, say poor people/people who don’t “pay tax” shouldn’t be allowed to vote?

Breaking Bread in Eastleigh

Guest Writer
21 November ,2017

by Bethuel Muthee

Food is a personal thing.  We have individual preferences to what we eat, where we at, and even with whom. The smell of a food we like engages our memory, we can even taste it on tongues, we think of good times, of people we have not seen in years. In most cultures when people come together, there is food to be shared among those present. Sharing a meal is an act of communion, an affirmation of life, it is welcoming others into what is a highly personal activity and space. It is an encounter with the world that can be as simple as the gesture of breaking bread; to have a plate of food, thus, is also political.

In a country in which food is used as metaphor for political power- kukula nyama, our turn to eat- what does it mean that millions of Kenyans cannot regularly access sufficient and nutritious food? What does it mean that those entrusted with the task of ensuring food security are embroiled in scandals involving food in national reserves? Where “eating” is the denial of basic needs for millions, what does economic justice mean? Food security is more than what is portrayed as a problem of famine, extreme hunger and food aid, it is a problem that means the availability of food, economic, physical and social access to nutritious food for all. It is a human right that ensures that all people are able to feed themselves in dignity.

Article 43 (1) (c) of the Constitution of Kenya is a political commitment in which every Kenyan has a right to adequate food of an acceptable quality The Constitution in Article 21 (2) also gave mandate to the state to take legislative, policy and other measures in order to fully realize the economic and social rights of all Kenyans. In acknowledging the right to food, the government provided a basis for analysis, action, accountability, and continuity even after government change. The government has the duty to respect, protect and fulfil the human right to food and guarantee its enforcement. Kenyans were given a claim with which demand and realise their right to food by establishing procedural and legal means necessary for providing solutions against the state for failing in the commitment to guarantee the access to food.

It is with this in mind that on Sunday 27th August, seven years since the constitution was promulgated, during the Nai ni Who? tour through Eastleigh organised by the GoDown Arts Centre, I sought to observe the daily practices and cultures surrounding food, to immerse myself in the tastes available, in the joy of sharing with others in an attempt to understand what it means to be food secure within an urban context. As we set out from Saint Theresa’s Church, our agreed meeting point, we were handed maps and it is with this that I sought to explore the routes to food.

Famous as a business hub and the second highest earner of revenue in the city after the central business district, Eastleigh is a bustling neighbourhood that offers much to be observed. Following the outbreak of bubonic plague in the early years of Nairobi, Indian traders who had run their businesses from the town bazaar were moved east of the river in what was an attempt at managing hygiene and also a method of racial planning, to what would be named Eastleigh in 1921. Also relocated were a  small number of Somalis of the Isaaq and Hawiye clans who had made their way from what was the Northern Frontier District  having come with Hugh Chomondely, 3rd Baron Delamere from his hunting missions through Somalia. The small community continued to live there trading and it was after the implosion of Somalia during the civil war that some Somali refugees who were able to move to Kenya and settle in the area and call it home that it earned the moniker “Little Mogadishu”. Somali writer Nuruddin Farah in his essay “Of Tamarind and Cosmopolitanism” writes of the old Tamarind Market in Mogadishu which he describes as:

This [place] was always abuzz with activities, its narrow alleys filled with shoppers. You could see entire families pouring into its alleys and plazas soon after siesta time, some shopping for clothes, others wishing to acquire what they could find in the way of gold and silver necklaces made to order.

The description is one that could still be used to describe Eastleigh, a cosmopolitan place full of shopping complexes dealing in textiles, electronics, gold and silver, and numerous other products from around the country and the world.  This same diversity is evident in the food that is available, it is a melting pot and its fragrance and tastes are some of the things that make the place what it is, vibrant and always on the move.

After walking through numerous malls with loudspeakers urging passersby to shop along crowded streets, the group takes a break in a hotel and we are welcomed to an important aspect of daily life in the area, we sit and are served camel milk tea. It is served hot and as we sip slowly, we become participants in what we learn is a way of life, the sharing of tea and stories, shaah iyo sheeko. Camel milk widely available in Eastleigh, is transported daily from Isiolo, Moyale and Garissa and is gaining popularity beyond the area for its nutritional benefits. Rich in proteins, iron, vitamins, and lacking lactose, it is a healthy alternative for those who are lactose intolerant. The milk vendors are women who have organized themselves into groups that work together to ensure sufficient supply, they give testimony to the benefits of camel milk including strong bones and detoxifying the body.

Most butcheries we walk past advertise hilib geeb, camel meat, in addition to goat meat and beef. In most restaurants these are served alongside other dishes. Nyirinyiri are small strips of camel meat which are sun dried and for some make for a hearty breakfast when taken along with black tea. In restaurants such as Kilimanjaro Food Court that offers a broad menu that includes Somali cuisine including deylo, young goat meat that is boiled and lightly fried, aleso which is mature goat meat boiled. From my observation, a lot of meals are accompanied by rice which we see being sold in wholesale in stores. Other meals offered include baasta saldato that is prepared using pasta, spices and sauce.

Making our way down Sixth Street past Hidaya mosque, I sit with Fardosa Ahmed. She sells potatoes, carrots, tomatoes, garlic, and fresh fruits as she shields herself from the sun under a fading green umbrella on which the words Day-to-Day can be faintly read. As she packs potatoes into a plastic bag, she bemoans the high prices of food and what it means for her daily sustenance. It is the day before enforcement of the plastic bag ban. She is unsure what that will mean for her business, new alternatives might be more expensive making the cost of things and life in general a little harder.  As I walk away she offers me a clean carrot and tells me it will help with my eyesight, it might help see what I am looking for.

Walking through Eastleigh one question comes to mind – where does the food consumed come from? Is it local or imported? If imported – where from? The stacks of rice in the wholesale shops along the streets are imported from Pakistan while other basic food commodities like milk powder and cooking oil come from countries in the Middle East. The cost of importing goods, transporting it and distribution in the market raises the price of food leading to lack of access to those who cannot afford, who also happen to be a majority.

The Food Security Bill (2014) tabled before the Senate is one of legislative means through which the right to food enshrined in the constitution can be implemented and made a reality. It outlines clearly the objectives to provide a framework that promotes realisation of the right to freedom from hunger, the elimination of discrimination of marginalized groups, mechanisms for coordinated implementation of national policy and county programmes, establishment of institutions that will advance co-operative governance. FAO in 2006 recommended five areas of action for the successful implementation of the right to food: advocacy and training with the aim of strengthening the capacity of government to meet obligations and empowering rights holders to demand accountability, providing information and undertaking as assessment to enable the government to identify those who are food needy, legislation, coming up with strategy and implementation through coordination, monitoring and tracking performance.

It is from Keguro Macharia I learn that political imagination is rooted in our daily experience, in the day to day just like Fardosa’s umbrella. In demanding political commitment to the right to food, to implementation of legislation and policy what do we imagine a food secure Kenya to be? Keguro asks

 

  1. Describe a typical day in this transformed Kenya in as much detail as possible, from waking up to going to sleep.
  2. Describe a typical week in this transformed Kenya in as much detail as possible.
  3. Describe a typical month in this transformed Kenya in as much detail as possible.
  4. Describe a typical year in this transformed Kenya in as much detail as possible.
  5. Describe a possible trajectory for your life in this transformed Kenya in as much detail as possible.

 

By asking political leaders to take up their commitment to ensuring a food secure country in which the right to food is a fact, we must find new ways of imagining the politics of food. It is essential that we come together to co-imagine what Kenya can be and this imagination must be rooted and take hold from the daily lives of those whom this right is denied.  This means moving beyond policy meetings in hotels with five-course meals, it means shifting our language from one of dense jargon to a common language rooted in the quest for freedom and justice for all. It means sharing our freedom dreams, building from that base of collective responsibility in which our day to day experience is acknowledged and aligned to a shared goal: food for all at all times.

The issue of food security in an urban context is one that is frequently overlooked by those who have been mandated with the task of ensuring that all Kenyans regardless of ethnicity, religion, political affiliation are able to have a plate of food on their table. The translation of this right into tangible results requires concerted effort of all charged with the responsibility of implementing the law and devising new ways to think of this problem starting from the local, with small communities, empowering people to understand and demand their rights. It means thinking of the children whose growth is stunted as result of not having sufficient food and making it a priority and not simply a knee-jerk reaction to emergencies. A need to re-think economic policy is vital if the goal is to ensure that food is available to all always.

We need to think of sustainable urban food policy and rethinking space. To be hungry is to be constantly teetering on the brink of anger, it is an immense pressure that might explode as has happened in countries such as Venezuela. We must find new ways of feeding our imagination and our bodies.

Bethuel Muthee (BM) is a Kenyan poet. 

Kati Kati – Somewhere Between Death and Freedom

Michael Onsando
14 November ,2017

Spoiler – they all die in the beginning.

Actually, no. By the time the movie starts they’re all dead. We set in on Kaleche, who finds herself in the middle of the wilderness. It is through the eyes of Kaleche that the world of Kati Kati is revealed to us and it is through her experience that we discover its nature. It is through Kaleche that we learn that Kati Kati is basically a form of purgatory.

The film uses this train of thought to weave a narrative on questioning, understanding ourselves, loving, and letting go. What would you do if you had to stop telling yourself the stories you told yourself? If you were forced to face the stories that you have put together to keep you afloat? The space of Kati Kati does not only ask that you face yourself in this way – it demands it.

This definitely becomes interesting when we found out that Kaleche herself has no recollection of the past. How can you face a past you don’t remember?

Of course piecing together this memory immediately becomes a key motivator for Kaleche and it is in this piecing herself together that we see her trigger the film into action – pushing people into different spaces of themselves. And Nyokabi Gethaiga plays this role well. She leads us to question with her and to seek with a similar earnestness and (possibly) naiveté.

Kaleche’s role is supported by that of Thoma, (played by Elsaphan Njora). The longest residing resident of Kati Kati, he has found himself their somewhat sensei, with an alcohol dependency and this all knowing smile. All from the beginning we see the group naturally turn to Thoma for direction on what to do next, and he always has the plan. Later in the film we found out that he is the one who set most of the traditions of the little commune – which makes sense as he has been there longer than most.

There’s something about this film that reminds me of growth. Because growth cannot truly happening without healing.

We see the question on healing particularly strongly in the scene where King(Peter Mwanzia), a clergyman of sorts (won’t even try to trip myself up on this one) is forced to face the burning of his own church during electoral violence, perhaps the director’s hat tip to the events that happened in 2007/2008 at Kiambaa. The context and meaning of the scene to the film is important. But, for a moment, allow me to dwell on the sheer beauty in the scene. We see King painting frantically, perhaps in a bid to silence his own guilt. Then we see his parishioners gathered around him, singing. The harder he paints, the more they sing. Until he gives up.

It is struggles and moments that like that the film manages to capture so well. All through Kati Kati we see characters grapple with the things they need to confront. And, while the film is about death, death doesn’t become the central theme of the story. Rather, death is a way the story moves, a way to show that something has happened in the story. In a twisted way death loses its meaning to departure. We see this as Kaleche ‘saves’ Mikey from drowning to the laughter of all – but when the thunder claps we see a different face of sorrow. The members of the commune throw a party for everyone who leaves – no one can tell if it is a happy party or a sad party because no one has ever come back (and because your fate is dependent on whatever demons you faced). But the sorrow is clearly seen on everyone’s face when the thunder claps to mean one has gone.

Sorrow is the overtone of the show and, when characters are not participating in an activity we see them moody, brooding and reflective. We watch them develop different coping mechanisms to handle the strain of having to find their way out of Kati Kati. And this sorrow weighs on their conversations. Characters tread lightly over each other, ensuring not to say words that could trigger each other too far over the edge. When Kaleche arrives on the scene her lack of memory seems to walk all over this unwritten code, setting the stage for a winding plot with a dramatic finish.

Another interesting thing about the film is how the camera wobbles. Not that it seems unstable. Rather, all through the film, the shots are bobbing – as if to remind you that you are in an eerie place (cue X Files theme music). The shots seem to hoover a bit – over characters shoulders, around their faces, behind their backs. As if peering. It makes one feel rather more like they are watching the film through their own eyes – rather than a captured, packaged and edited version. The scenery of the set is amazing with the semi-arid background somehow speaking to the barrenness of death.

The film was written by Mbithi Masya and Mugambi Nthinga. Mbithi, formerly of just a band, also directed the film. It was first released in September 2016 and has gone on to win several awards including Best Movie at the East Africa AMVCA (2017), The Fipresci prize at the Toronto international film festival (2016) and Cinemafrica Stockholm (2017).

Kati Kati is available to view on demand on several platforms including Showmax and on One Fine Day Film’s website.

Over a Common Pain

Michael Onsando
7 November ,2017

As I write this piece I mourn with the Kenya rugby family the deaths of Mike Okombe and Peter Wekesa. May their families find some form of peace in this trying time.

It’s been a sad year for Kenya rugby. This weekend, Mike Okombe was allegedly stabbed to death by his girlfriend during a party. Hours later, Peter Wekesa was in a road accident along with his brother John Wekesa – neither of them survived. This comes in a year when the rugby family has lost James Kilonzo, Ogeto Gecheo, Victor Wayodi and Andrew Wekesa (who was Peter Wekesa’s younger brother).

There’s something about rugby players that makes them seem larger than life. Perhaps it is their physical prowess that makes it difficult for the rest of us to imagine that they can die. When you sit on the stands on a Saturday afternoon and watch the pace, power and will of these men they almost looks like gods. Maybe this is why their deaths strike us to the core. Just like in a rugby game, where tackling the opponent’s largest player kills their morale – death striking one of the strongest shakes us to the core.

Emmanuel Iduma writes:

“Death, rightfully, is said to be the imagination of the living. When hundreds of people are named dead, following a massacre, the hashtags that follow aim to discover the nature of dying. Mourning is imagining your own death, nothing more. It’s a form of humility to admit that you mourn yourself; that while mourning you realize the immediacy of life’s moments. Grief should be utility. Grief should become a way to avoid unnecessary dying. Anything else is like frolicking in the wrong garden.”

But no one talks about the value of smelling the flowers. Life cannot be a clear cut case of functionality. We must allow ourselves to mourn, for in mourning we let go. In mourning we begin to detach ourselves from that which was alive. Allowing them to stay in the past that we might move into the future. But there is something in what he writes about us mourning ourselves. Death reminds us of our own mortality. Reminds us that death will, one day, come to visit us as well.

In this way, death unites us. It is the one thing that demands our utmost respect – the great equalizer, if you will. A pain that we all know, understand and fear.

And with this knowledge we know to respect grief – for one day we too will grieve.

For some reason though, it is difficult to do when it comes to men who are killed by the women close to them. The discourse somehow shifts. The conversation around Okombe’s death being consistently derailed to what he could have done to deserve it. Why did she (allegedly) do it? It reminds me of a similar killing in 2014 (in draft one I wrote death – even that is telling, why the instinct to write it in passive?). This time of a former classmate of mine – Farid Mohammed. He was stabbed 22 times by his girlfriend. This time the conversation suddenly became about cheating men – as if they deserve to die.

There’s little space to talk about men who go through physical and emotional abuse within the current frames of conversation. Especially today, when we are looking at power structures and systems it seems difficult to see men as being victims of something. Yet it is this same space where we lack the ability to see men as capable of pain that drives the patriarchy in the first place. This dangerous notion that “men are logical” which, while used to erase the narrative of women is also used to suppress ideas of weakness within men. And what greater weakness than to be subjugated – by a women no less? In many ways it is a self-inflicting cycle – because it cannot happen it continues to happen.  Because we cannot imagine it as happening, we cannot even begin to think about how to stop it from happening.

And so it continues.

And we know that we don’t talk about them because we hear the stories years later. We hear them in passing, one drunken night a friend whispers ‘yeah my ex used to hit me every time she got mad’ and we laugh it off. Or we watch with amusement in a club as a boyfriend tries to calm down his girl who is dead set on getting as much pain out of him as possible.

“The weight of dreams is evenly distributed – and equally unjust. It is almost as if to revel must include a shared misery. A togetherness that is neither with joy nor desirable.”

As with any system, we all play a part in it. And often, understanding the part that we play in it involves the ability to look beyond our own pain and into the life of the other. But how do we do that when we are buried in our own pain, in our own contexts?

“How can you blame the thing that brought you here for getting you lost?”

But even this is a big ask, because our pain helps us develop the tools to defend ourselves, we know not to touch fire because we have been burned by it. So maybe then it begins by understanding that there is more than one pain point – and that the ways in which we are broken will often come up against each other.

As always it boils down to empathy and compassion – who have you othered? Who do you lack the tools to build compassion for?

Who do you refuse to mourn? Because if you can’t imagine their deaths – were they ever alive to you?

 

What Happens Now?

Brenda Wambui
17 October ,2017

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?