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How long will we maintain the pretence?

By | May 5th 2010

By Andrew Kipkemboi

An agitated acquaintance of mine told me a while ago with a sense of deep regret: "Nothing comes cheap in Kenya... not even water." After three days in Kenya, my American friend thought my beloved Kenya is chaotic and exemplifies a man-eat-man society bereft of the milk of human kindness.

He had been to other African countries. He had seen governments try to end the misery and wanton deprivation that assails its people. He had been to cities on the continent where other than the ubiquitous bowl-in-hand beggars on the streets, the people were courteous and there were no hucksters badgering you to buy their cheap Chinese ware.

Particularly in Libya where the streets were gleaming and the people looked happy. He visited the Sudan where surprisingly, Khartoum was orderly, tranquil and serene. This is, of course, limited to other life-threatening factors like an overbearing government, political upheaval, disease, tribal animosity and the good old nature going awry.

In less than 48 hours, he had come to the conclusion that the ruling class had made no effort to make lives of the people better or, at the least, protect its people.

He had interacted with the unfriendly Customs official at the airport to the amenable, but nettlesome taxi driver to the discourteous waitress at the hotel.

The man on the street was resigned to his fate.

He thought we in Kenya pay so much for make-believe peace and tranquillity that we lay claim.

Long the oasis of peace in a region afflicted with civil war, repression and lawlessness, Kenya has been at the vanguard in business and commerce and even in embracing democracy. Yet though outwardly serene, beneath lies pent-up frustration of a people burdened and entrapped in mind-boggling social injustices.

Anything goes

Like all foreigners, he was aghast at how a government lets its people suffer in the hands of quarrelsome politicians, avaricious petrol dealers, marauding matatu gangs and dodgy school headmasters.

"There is no way the people would let this go in my country," he told me matter-of-factly.

Sadly, anything goes in Kenya as the public looks on muted. Dishonesty, inefficiency and impenetrable red tape continue to hold back the promise of a new Kenya.

In truth, millions in Kenya languish in poverty and destitution, spawned by an irresponsible and short-sighted leadership and the low road our politics has taken. The danger is that many will remain so unless things change soon.

Poor government policies have made it easy for the sharks of corruption to unleash intolerable cruelty upon the masses. If the systems worked well, petrol dealers wouldn’t add a shilling or two as and when they felt like or the Ministry of Education would reprimand teachers who increase school fees arbitrarily and police investigate missing fertiliser bags. If the matatu driver and conductor knew they would be in for the high jump, they wouldn’t raise the fares at the sight of raindrops.

Everyone accepts that corruption and bad governance are expensive for the poor.

That it inconveniences the needy and slows down the economic wheel.

Yet again, corruption and bad governance favour politicians and the poor in a puzzling way. So long as politicians can dip their fingers in the till, the poor will get handouts when they line up roads in dusty villages to receive them. For those in towns, poverty and misery drives them into crime.

So long as corruption and bad governance thrive, the working class will suffer the inconvenience of poor services. Lack of water, unreliable electricity, unresponsive security system, poor roads and a run-down health system hurts the middle class more because they do not have so much money to sink boreholes, buy a gun, generators, expensive four-wheel drives or fly abroad for specialised treatment.

Take for example security; it costs an average working class Kenyan owning a car Sh10,000 to fit a genuine car alarm, mark his car windows, wind screens, side mirrors, wheel caps and rims.

On top of that, think about the grilles that cage him in his Umoja One flat and fees for the watchman who keeps an eye as he sleeps though there is no guarantee he will repulse a machete-wielding moron bent on stealing his TV and rape his beautiful wife.

Paralysing gridlock

In Nairobi specifically, other than runaway crime and the diabolical gridlock that shuts down the city, the water and sewerage crisis exemplifies the inexorable decline of life.

Regrettably, Nairobi is a benighted city with its dwellers reduced to a hunter/gatherer community. Paralysis in the ‘City in the Sun’ is becoming numbingly familiar with a repulsive dÈj‡ vu. It is sickening.

Before he took his flight home, John wished me luck and promised to pray for our country.

The writer is Foreign News Editor at The Standard.

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