By Peter Wanyonyi
In democracies â both real and alleged â the powers of the people are vested in a government that, ideally, should levy taxes and then spend them on behalf of the people. But countries are huge things and no one, not even Africaâs notoriously ham-fisted so-called leaders, can run a country without devolving the behemoth into smaller, more manageable units.
These include cities and in Kenya, Nairobi, its administrative and commercial hub, is a microcosm of the state of the country. It is also evident that, despite our pretentions to the contrary, it is not politicians or bureaucrats that run the City of Nairobi. It is the street children.
Like any effective government, they are organised into ruthless gangs â units that have specific roles to play in the hierarchy that makes up their shadow government. They have a top dog, the gang leader who commands unfettered access to all resources that the group has â from food to mates. This leader is always male, and attracts the attentions and loving care of all the females in the gang.
This superficial similarity apart, however, it is in tax collection that our street children mostly take on the functions of Nairobiâs government. Try parking a car anywhere in the City and fail to pay the attendant street children. On returning to your car, whether you will have paid off the City Council askari or not, you will find various bits and pieces of the car missing â a tax levied on you by the real government of the City; street children.
And itâs not just in parking that street children run the City: they are the main business licensing authorities too. No business operates in the City without the sanction of the various crews of scraggy street children waiting to be paid off to make room for paying customers. If you run a restaurant in the City, you will find it to be in your interest to pay off the street children so they donât patronise the pavement outside your restaurant.
Given that all so-called public toilets in Nairobi have been allocated to a politician near you, and have been converted into private, charging business concerns, the street children around the corner might find your restaurantâs front door a rather welcome alternative to having to pay for ablution facilities. Unfortunately, that doesnât attract other customers â the paying sort that is.
Street children also run a redoubtable intelligence network in the city. They know which politicians are friendly to which factions of the governing coalition, who among the politicians is sleeping with whom, and which big-shot government functionary frequents the red-light districts of Nairobi.
If the National Secret Intelligence Service â if thatâs what NSIS stands for â want the blow-by-blow account of what politicians and their pastors have been up to, they neednât bother bug those worthiesâ mobile phones. They only need to ask the nearest street child.
The way things are, donât be shocked if we elect a street child for president one of these days.