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When the gods get cholera, the people should be very afraid

By Julie Masiga | Published Tue, July 18th 2017 at 00:00, Updated July 17th 2017 at 19:27 GMT +3
(Photo: Courtesy)

A few months ago I found myself at some high-end establishment. It was posh. A friend had flown in from a nondescript European country and had been making my ear bleed with developed versus developing country comparisons. Oh, you know in Europe, drivers obey traffic rules.

In Europe, Uber drivers know how to use GPS. In Europe, you can trust the street food. In Europe, poor people have social security. In Europe they don't turn people away from hospital because they can't afford it. Oh, in Europe when you go to a restaurant you always leave a tip. And on and on and on he went.

Please note, this person is not European. He's Kenyan born and bred. But these days when he looks in the mirror, he doesn't see an African. He sees a man who has transcended his blackness to reach the kind of enlightenment only available in the industrialised world.

Political bigwig

So I suppose it was out of some deep-seated insecurity that I decided to show him that Africa is not all about poverty, civil war and water-borne diseases. We have tall buildings here too dammit. And posh restaurants. That's how I found myself at some high-end establishment, drinking a glass of orange juice that cost 500 bob. I had asked for cranberry but the well-dressed and super polite waitress was very sorry that it had run out. Which was fine, because who really enjoys cranberry juice anyway?

As I was sitting there, I noticed some commotion at the entrance. I turned my head and saw a political bigwig striding into the restaurant with three men in tow. As he passed by the reception, the woman behind the desk leapt forward. She quickly clasped her hands behind her back and then bowed her head as if in supplication. He barely glanced at her. Instead, he walked majestically into the dining area, where the waitress who had served me the expensive glass of orange juice rushed forward, almost tripping over her feet in their hurry to welcome the mheshimiwa.

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She ushered him to a nearby table and quickly took his order. I could see her nodding her head vigorously before turning on her heel and rushing off again. In no time at all, she was back. Delicately, she placed a carton of juice on the table. You can imagine my amusement when I realised that it was cranberry. Someone had been asked to go-fetch because what a mhesh wants a mhesh gets. I, on the other hand, was just a mere mortal.

Neo colonialism

The man sat at the restaurant for a while, probably waiting for someone just like I was. But after about 45 minutes he stood up to leave. By this time, I had decided to leave as well because my Kenyan-European was stuck in traffic on the other side of town so we had been forced to reschedule.

As soon as mheshimiwa's backside lifted off the chair the three men he had arrived with stood to attention. Oozing confidence, he strode past them and made for the exit. They scampered after him with an amplified sense of urgency. At this point, I was right behind them trying to keep my eyes from rolling out of my head.
The security guards at the lifts had been lounging at their station having a leisurely chat.

But as soon as the big man appeared, they jumped to their feet, one of them saluting awkwardly, and the other genuflecting her way to the doors of the lift where she proceeded to jab at the button repeatedly as if the more she pressed it, the faster it would open."Pole mheshimiwa," she said over and over again, her words keeping the rhythm of her jabbing fingers. He barely glanced at her as he and his posse squeezed into the elevator. As the doors drew shut and the thing began its descent, I couldn't help but shake my head at the thought that colonisation never left us. Where we had white masters, we now have black ones.

To the common mwananchi, these ordinary men and women that we elect into public office are not mortal. They are gods. To the little people these big men are larger than life. Lord knows how disillusioned they must be to realise that some of their gods have been afflicted by a so-called poor man's disease. Because when the gods get cholera, the people should be very afraid.

Ms Masiga is Peace and Security Editor at the Conversation Africa

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