I was heading to Ngumo from South B sometime last month, and Route 33 matatus were charging Sh. 50, up from the usual Sh. 30. The makanga said it was because of the traffic jam on the South C route; they were going to have to use Mombasa Road. This is more expensive as they have to bribe the police so as not to get arrested for using the wrong route. They also add a little extra for the “added convenience”.
People were visibly shocked; some complained loudly, others sighed and many refused to board the matatu. Being in a terrible hurry, I boarded because waiting for another matatu to come would take ages, and it would probably also be charging Sh. 50. The extortion didn’t sit well with me, but, having agreed to the terms of the agreement, I held my peace.
The man seated next to me started complaining loudly to himself, and the lady in front of me joined him. They talked about how hard things are in the country, and how they only seem to get harder. The poor keep getting poorer, the rich keep getting richer – the usual Kenyan talk. Then came the clincher – the man sighed and said “Mungu tu ndio atatusaidia.” (Only God will help us.)
I turned to him and said, “Kila kitu sio Mungu atatusaidia! Vitu zingine lazima tujisaidie wenyewe! Shida zote zenye tuko nazo Kenya, Mungu atamaliza kutusaidia lini? Lazima tuache hii maneno ya Mungu atatusaidia na tuanze kujisaidia wenyewe!” (You can’t say ‘God will help us’ to everything. When it comes to some matters, we must also help ourselves. With all the problems we have in Kenya, when would God be done helping us? We must stop waiting for God to help us and start helping ourselves.)
I have grown to despise this statement, despite believing in God’s omnipotence. It is used as a crutch in our nation, alongside “Tunaomba serikali itusaidie.” (We beg the government to help us). We leave the responsibility for our well-being in the hands of God and our government. Our government has constantly proven to be unreliable; as for God, we know not how long he will take to help us (or if he will help us at all).
Only God can save us from rogue pastors
Recently, a pastor was discovered to have been asking his congregation to “plant a seed” of Sh. 310/777 to receive prayers from him – prayers for healing and for those in need of other heavenly assistance. This really can’t be news, as we have known for the longest time that a majority of these evangelical ministers are in it for the money. Maybe we just needed a reminder.
Everyone was outraged. How can a man of God use God’s word to swindle innocent Kenyans? “Ah, only God can save us from such pastors.” You have to save yourself, God will not save you. For those who believe, the Bible is very clear in its markers of false prophets. Why then would you pay a rogue pastor to pray for you when you can pray for yourself? Why give your hard earned money to a man going to spend it on a lavish lifestyle when you barely have enough to feed your family?
In the same vein, we must ask, what is it that creates a society where people are pushed to a level of desperation that would have them believe that giving the pastor money to buy a Mercedes Benz will make them rich? Everyday these pastors come up. They take home truckload after truckload of our country’s wealth. The news media keep making features, yet still they thrive.
How then, can God save us, if we don’t save ourselves?
Only God can save us from international embarrassments like the JKIA Fire
There are some calamities that we cannot avoid no matter how hard we try. We have no control over earthquakes, tornadoes and hurricanes. We can warn people in advance so that they can move out of the disaster prone area, but we cannot stop the natural disaster. Fire at the airport, on the other hand, is something entirely within our control.
The fire at the airport could easily have been put out when it started, it was said to have been small when it was first noticed. Somehow, no one felt the need to put it out. By the time the fire decided to assert itself, we were unable to avert the disaster. It took half an hour for the first fire engine to begin working. The required international standard is three minutes. Water hydrants at the airport were out of function, and police could be seen in pictures from that day attempting to put out the fire with water buckets. At an international airport, which also happens to be a regional hub.
We heard the news and many people, as expected, said only God can save us from such disasters. How? We have created a culture in which we do the bare minimum that is expected of us, and many of us do not accord our work the duty of care it deserves. That is why at an airport like JKIA, hydrants can be out of order and we are none the wiser. That is how airport employees could see a fire but feel no need to put it out. That is why the end result was millions of shillings worth of damage and six hours used to put out the fire, as opposed to less than half an hour had the fire been put out when it was noticed.
Many of us transit through that airport regularly, and complain about it no doubt. When compared to airports in many other countries, including developing countries like Brazil and India, ours feels like a village bus station. Do we hold our government accountable for its state? Do we make noise until they hear us? We wait until something bad happens and then we lament about it. When something bad happens, do we demand relentlessly that those responsible immediately lose their jobs for negligence and institutional failure? No.
How is God supposed to change this attitude towards our responsibilities?
Only God can save us from road accidents
According to a 2004 estimate, Kenya has the highest rate of road accidents in the world, with 510 fatal accidents per 100,000 vehicles. These accidents are caused by speeding, obstruction, poor vehicular condition, incompetent drivers, poor roads and overloading. The only thing God can possibly be held accountable for when it comes to road accidents is weather, and if drivers were competent, this would not be a big problem.
Why then is one of the most common reactions when we hear about road carnage to sigh, shake our heads and say “Mungu tu ndio anaweza kutusaidia”? We feel that we have done our part by making draconian traffic laws and instituting heavy fines. We are happy about the constant police crackdowns, and while these have had some impact, things cannot change radically until we do our part.
How often do we board matatus when they are already full, or alight where there is no designated bus stop – obstructing other drivers and forcing them to blindly overtake because they can’t see oncoming traffic? We are quick to complain when PSVs speed and overlap, but when we do this ourselves, why is it not considered a problem?
We give the policeman that Sh. 1,000 bribe to avoid paying the Sh. 10,000 fine for a traffic offence we probably have committed so that we “don’t waste time”, then we complain when matatus do the same, yet we have already set the standard. When matatus break the law and we are on board, do we ever protest or alight? What is the value of your life vis a vis the value of getting to town 5 minutes earlier? The examples are many, and most of us are guilty of at least one of the above.
Until we are ready to sacrifice comfort and convenience for long term change, we will continue to suffer and cry “Mungu atatusaidia”. Waiting for another matatu may be an inconvenience, but if enough of us do it, it sends a message and probably saves our lives. Going to the police station to pay a fine may be a long and tedious process (made so by the police so that paying a bribe is a more convenient option) but we must begin to take the high road. Speaking up and boycotting places that do not meet the standards and values we hold dear must become the norm. We must first help ourselves before we cry out that God should help us. We must do all we can do before looking to God to ask him to do the rest.
After all, God helps those who help themselves. At least that’s what I was told by my Sunday School teacher.