Forget the spin and live with it, cost of living won't come down

A customer sampling packets of sugar at a supermarket in Kakamega town. [Mumo Munuve, Standard]

Informed that the peasants were up in arms because there was no bread in the market, France's last queen, Marie Antoinette is said to have quipped: "Qu'ils mangent de la brioche."

More than three centuries later, the jury is still out on whether Marie meant "let them eat cake," in which case she ought to have said: "Qu'ils mangent de la gateau'' or whether she said Qu'ils mangent de la brioche," which would have meant: Let them eat buns."

Be as it may, for her arrogance, Marie lost her head at the guillotine to the French revolutionaries, most of who would afford neither bread nor buns.

Thus, for Kenya's political analyst Mutahi Ngunyi to repeat Marie's advice to civil servants who went without pay days after their monthly paycheck was due, was either a cruel sarcasm, a serious bout of seasonal madness, or both.

Surprisingly, Ngunyi still has his online head atop his shoulders, either because a sizeable number of his audience failed to grasp his cruel joke or, may be-or only maybe-he was right: that Kenyans have to accept that the rising cost of living is a historical, and global phenomenon, and Passez! Move on! To tell a hungry person to move on sounds cruel-but sometimes bitter truths are cruel. Given a choice between telling a hungry man to keep on moving or to stay put and continue lamenting and whining about how cruel the gods have dealt him; a wise man on matters life and death will say: Passez! Move on!

Yes, it is true that the cost of living is unbearably high; yes, it is true that majority of us are struggling; but it is also true-the painful truth, that the cost of living is not about to come down; if anything, the cost of living will continue to rise on each and every step of the way towards our collective destiny. Before you bring down the executioner's axe on our neck-allow us to be the devil's advocate on this matter and call our first witness.

Step out lawyer Duncan Mindo. Now ask the man who joined the bar in early 60's his age, and he will tell you that men do not reveal their age after the age of 70. Women, he says, do not reveal their age between the day they are born and the date that they die.

But he will tell you one thing-that the price of unga has never gone down since he was a boy running errands for the Mau Mau freedom fighters on the shadows of Mount Kenya and Aberdare forests until now.

When he received his first government pay check more than six decades ago, a loaf of bread was going for 75 cents-that is more than twice the price Judas sold Jesus for, if we assume that thirty pence was equivalent to 30 cents. And yes, the cost of living was still high then for the majority who could not afford 75 cents.

Has the cost of bread come down with other costs of living since then? No it has not. Ask him how much a kilo of sugar cost that time, and Mindo will tell you he cannot remember. May be a shilling or there about, he says.

Has the price of sugar gone down since then? No, it has not. After being appointed the first Kenyan State Counsel and posted to Kisumu in late 60s, senior counsel Mindo drove around the streets of Kisumu in a German-made Volkswagen 'beetle.' From his Sh900 monthly salary, he says he would spend Sh20 on fuel for the beetle for a month.

Has the cost of fuel come down, four governments after Mindo's first salary? No it has not. In a nutshell, the cost of living has been rising since Lawyer Mindo - the oldest member in last month's gathering of Alliance High School Old Boys Club in Nairobi - was a boy, and will continue rising every day, as it should in any normal economics curve. So, live with it. Passez! Move on!

-Mr Karanja is a journalist