A striking characteristic of the past decade is the large number of financial institutions jostling for Kenyans’ attention.
If a bank is inviting you to take advantage of a “generous” loan offer, a mobile phone service provider is urging you to start saving money on its platform and stand a chance to win more money.
This is a huge departure from the days when large swathes of the country were unbanked and as I have written before, many of my friends were quite comfortable keeping their little all in their pockets.
Those were happy-go-lucky days when you planned for a day at a time and tomorrow would take care of itself.
The people who kept their money in banks and such like places and drew up a budget were regarded with some suspicion and derided as mean.
The improvidence often led to awkward, even ridiculous situations. I have a relative who worked in Nairobi and whenever he travelled to the village, he spent money with a generous hand and for the first few days behaved like a king in the local bars.
He would buy everyone drinks and was displeased to see anyone with an empty glass. Life was short, he was fond of reminding people. The ebullience and bonhomie were short-lived though.
The last two days or so he would be distracted and distant, worrying how he would get back to Nairobi because he had blown all his money. Over time, his friends had learnt that eventually, they would pay for his generosity by forking out his bus fare or when he bought a car, money for fuel.
A few months before life proved short in his case and he went to make eternal merry in the Great Bar upstairs, he visited my regular pub in Eastlands and true to character, spent with unstinting generosity on all and sundry.
He would look across the table at total strangers minding their own business and say, “I have been watching you for quite a while and it is clear to me that you are good people. Waiter!” he would summon the bar attendant. “Give my good friends there a round on me.”
At around midnight, by which time my relative had become the most popular person in the neighborhood’s bars, he turned to me and said it was time to go home but unfortunately he had ran out of cash. Could I spare something small for a taxi?
I said I had no money on me but suggested that since my little flat was just across the road, he could come over for the night.
He looked sternly at me and asked what would his son would have for supper if he did that (he was a widower though I had not known that he had left a child alone in the house).
He also pointed out, logically, that it would be suicidal to try and cross on foot from Buru Buru shopping center where we were to his house in Umoja at that hour.
In a few words, he had transferred his shortcomings to me and made me feel guilty about the plight of his son even though I had played no part in creating his predicament.
His behavior was nothing out of the ordinary though. A few years before, a friend and I had been so enchanted by the performance of a popular band in the city center that we showered them and their hangers-on with drinks.
When the dust settled and we regained our senses, it was well after midnight and we had spent all the money we had and could not afford a taxi to Eastleigh. That was long before the days of mobile money transfer or even ATMs.
We had no choice but to walk, and we were lucky that in those days, the streets of Nairobi were safer than they are today.
Even as I write this, an SMS has come through inviting me to save money on a certain platform and stand a chance to become an instant millionaire.
With the wisdom of hindsight, I am inclined to treat it with greater tolerance than I normally do.