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What private opulence, public squalor says about Kenya as a society

By Mark Bichachi | Published Mon, March 5th 2018 at 00:00, Updated March 4th 2018 at 23:39 GMT +3
[Photo: Courtesy]

The parody of private opulence and public squalor is a clear indication of a mad society. A mad society is a society where one drives his expensive SUV through very pot hole heavy roads to join  his privately paved road. This is madness because as Kenyans we have yet to find a way to express wealth outside of the individual concerns and ultimate greed.

Allow me to explain, the objective in acquiring wealth is a much debated topic. Over the centuries, wealth and what it was used for is a very poignant question. In a capitalist society such as ours, wealth is for the one who made the wealth, his or her family and by a small extension the next of kin. Our responsibility to society around us is limited to a donation here and there to cover a medical bill, a funeral and ironically a wedding.

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The rest of our wealth, regardless of class, is for self and personal aggrandisement. The average Kenyan does not donate to any cause on a regular basis. With the exception of church offering and governmental tax obligations the average Kenyan is not a contributor to his environment in a conscious and positive way.

This means that most of us are obsessed with the chase for wealth, and specifically a house and a car, the size and price vary but the billionaire, millionaire and the poor are all are on the same path of pursuit.

Ignoring signs

We are a society obsessed with self and selflessness is as rare as the proverbial chicken milk. The rarity of this is exposed very often when there is major crisis. we ignore signs and only react when the crisis hits, we ignore the signs of famine then finally do an emotional push to save our brothers from starvation. This starvation could have been stopped if we had a more active generous culture that ensured there was resource always available for the vulnerable in society.

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The generosity we do know, occurs during elections where politicians buy votes by the note and every political meeting is attended by comrade and foe for the benefit of the pocket. Further, most NGOs are fully dependant on foreign aide to stay alive. Half of the time in most NGOs work life is spent writing proposals for a foreign company, NGO, business man to send much needed donations to allow the NGOs to fulfil their mandate.

The help given in this country by our own is based on a celebrity visiting a children’s home on his birthday to donate a weeks worth of food. One wonders how that home will continue to survive after the celebrity leaves. Consistent generosity is an unknown phenomenon in Kenyan culture.

The renting out of servants quarters is a further example of Kenyan self aggrandisement. For the sake of a few thousand shillings, the help is sent away to live in a slum so that the boss can gain some more revenue. The issue with this is now every major middle class settlement is neighboured by a sprawling slum, which in turn puts threat and danger to both boss and help. This is the height of madness.

African problems

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The problem is that our wealth as Kenyans is lacking empathy and creativity. We pay little regard to the watchman at our gate and even less concern for the slum a stone throw away from our palaces. This disregard for society creates a class of people who are angry and jealous of the wealthy, creating a criminal class and a class war that is only held at bay by our heavily tribalism hearts.

The lack of creativity is witnessed by the fact that all the wealthy seem to want to do is to live better, drink better and party harder. They spend a million shillings on drinks and have the temerity to showcase their largesse on social media. The adoration of their so called fans spurs them to spend more, and show more without pause and wonder as to whether there is an alternative to how wealth should be expressed.

Bill Gates and Warren Buffet donated billions to help the world. Bill and Melinda Gates now spend their time and wealth visiting the poor ironically mostly in Africa, to solve African problems, while the African wealthy are going selfie mad. Every wealthy person that I know of in the west is involved in some consistent charity work.

They not only donate but are also actively informed. Even the great Snoop Dogg has an American football league for young Americans which he coaches as well as running his save a life foundation. This tradition of wealth being used to solve problems has been true of the Carnegie family as is was true for the renaissance aristocracy and indeed was true of Mansah Mesa.

It is only in modern Africa where charity has been divorced from wealth, where we isolate ourselves from the problems of our society and are obsessed with private opulence adjacent to public squalor. We need a change of heart, and Kenyans of all classes need to begin to care for those less fortunate, and begin to help ourselves instead of waiting for charity from the west. Kenyans for Kenyans must be an ideal we strive to achieve.


Mr Bichachi is a communication consultant. [email protected]

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