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Why death of pilot was not in vain

By | February 3rd 2010

Andrew Kipkemboi

If he was not misquoted, it must have been a callous misjudgement by the Nairobi Central Police Station boss to claim that Martin Njuma, the Kenya Airways pilot killed last week, put himself in danger by driving late at night along Uhuru Highway, where robbers attacked him.

Other than the massive outpouring of grief, the flipside is that the death of Martin galvanized a section of the society long regarded as utterly indifferent and ignorant.

For far too long, the working/middle class has taken a passive interest in matters of life and death.

Things are changing and the agitation exemplified by those who could ‘twitter’ or log into FaceBook point to a new age in creating social awareness among a group who now feel that their rights have been trampled on.

As a young man with a high flying career, Martin Njuma, like most of the petit bourgeois, earned his living and looked forward to a rewarding life. He really had no reason to fear for his life on that fateful night as he drove in his car — the ultimate sign of social mobility among the working class. After all, he was driving on the busiest road in the country.

But when his car broke down on a thug-infested city road, Martin was a sitting duck.

Perhaps pricked by the old fable that if they came for your neighbour yesterday, they will come for you today, hundreds marched solemnly on Nairobi streets last Sunday to protest growing insecurity in the city. It was cathartic listening to the participants issue ultimatums in clipped English to higher-ups to clean up their acts, or they resign if they cannot deliver.

Facebook generation

Yet as I wrote here a few months ago, it was the march of the FaceBook generation.

With the advent of social networks among them, FaceBook, myspacedotcom, Twitter and yahoo groups where ideas flow freely, the writing is on the wall for the ruling class. Sunday’s was the middle-class literally taking things into their own hands.

It was grim realisation that they have been taken for granted for far too long. It was an assault on the culture of "anything goes" that is deeply entrenched.

The police boss’ assertion reeked of the conceitedness of a police force used to being at the beck and call of the high and mighty.

I dread to see the march of a million people over poor water services in Nairobi, for example. Or lack of electricity that denies the burgeoning ranks of petit bourgeois their Sunday afternoon pass time like football or a gig at a local entertainment spot. These are things without which, the lives of many of them would be intolerable.

It has always fallen on the youth to stir up things, topple regimes and liberate societies. Not in Kenya. The Kenyan youth has been waylaid by politicians and gets hired as goons to unleash chaos. Most of them get drank and hardly show up to vote on Election Day.

The middle/working class — those who pay taxes —want to take charge. Make no mistake, the Web is where the next political battle will be fought not in wind-swept, dusty plains where poor peasants drool over campaign helicopters and Sports Utility Vehicles (SUV) juggernauts and pay little attention to the message.

The political, economic and social frustration that has been fermenting is threatening to detonate. The young, educated, open-minded working class seek inspiration. They have found it in social networks.

They have been spectators in a high stakes game where poor, rural peasants unwittingly abate bad governance, violence and corruption.

Actually, the tribulations of the middle/working class are as a result of the skullduggery of the ruling elite and the gullibility of the lower class. It is time now for the middle class to turn the tables on the cohabiting pair.

It is nothing like the class war during the French Revolution, nor is the growing disquiet tinged by the usual complaints about a ruling elite that have hogged the national cake or removed the rungs from the ladder of opportunity. Quite the reverse.

Most of the middle class have pulled themselves out of the pits of poverty by their own bootstraps. In fact, the next elections will not be won by the tribal alliances one makes, but by workable ideas.

Previously, politicians have pitched their message on intangibles like the Constitution, fighting corruption, good hospitals and good schools.

Tall order

The arithmetic is changing. The long-suffering middle class has awoken from their slumber. Any one who makes reliable water, electricity, good, lit roads and security the main plank of their campaign message will win their hearts.

That sounds a tall order for a political class used to stoking tribal animosity.

It will take courage and wit to unclutch the grip of power from the ruling elite. What is sure though is that the common tricks of a few Sh100 and a packet of 2kg unga handed at a campaign rally will not curry favour with the FaceBook generation. If there is anything Martin’s death has done, it is stir the working class. Watch the space.

The writer is The Standard’s Foreign News Editor.

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