“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way”.
Those are the opening lines of A Tale of Two Cities written by Charles Dickens some 160 years ago. The work of fiction is set in Paris and London in the period before the French Revolution of 1789.
The novel explores themes of inequality, corruption, decay and poverty that prevailed in France and attempts to understand revolution and change. The book celebrates the overthrow of the aristocracy but laments the reign of terror that follows.
These opening lines came to mind as I tried to comprehend where Kenya is at this juncture in time.
There is much to celebrate as the country marks 60 years of independence: a progressive Constitution, impressive infrastructure, a well-educated populace and celebrated athletes and artists.
In many ways it is the best of times as the country moves forward yet not at the speed that might satisfy the ambitions of this young and energetic population.
But the good times are enjoyed by only a tiny minority whose wealth and power have skyrocketed over the decades. Shopping sprees in Dubai, holidays in New York and trips to London and Zurich to check on investments have become a matter of routine and entitlement to this group.
A first-time visitor to the country would marvel at the Nairobi Expressway, the high-rise investment market, the chic shopping malls and the exciting nightlife.
Yes, Kenya has everything to offer to those who can afford.
But as Oxfam pointed out a few years ago, a mere 8,300 control 99.9 per cent of wealth while the richest 10 per cent earn on average 23 times more than the poorest 10 per cent. Yes, welcome to one of the most unequal societies on the planet.
For the vast majority of the population this is the worst of times. The promise of a more equal and comfortable society is turning into a nightmare as more and more see their disposable income decreasing by the day.
With food inflation hitting the 20 per cent mark and NHIF unable to pay medical bills, desperation is tangible everywhere.
To compound matters, the regime that promised redemption to the hustler millions is from today, July 1st going to tax many of them out of existence. The housing levy and 16 per cent VAT will be passed on to every wage earner and encroach on the informal sector too.
There are few signs of resistance or viable alternatives. Azimio has called a tax boycott and requested the public to walk to work and matatus to double up their passengers without increasing fare. How ridiculous is that!
Don’t they know millions already walk to work and overcrowded public transport is not only illegal but extremely dangerous.
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Let Azimio team peddle their way to work like many other much more developed countries’ leaders do.
You get the impression that the opposition construct their proposals on civil disobedience on their way to Kamukunji.
The threatened boycotts of Brookside and Safaricom in 2018 show how little planning and imagination go into their threats and boycotts. Few take them seriously, least of all their own legislators.
If Azimio cannot lead resistance in an orderly and focused manner, most likely they will be swept aside by a more radical and revolutionary element as happened in South Africa with the emergence of Julius Malema and his EFF Party.
Protest is a fundamental right and boycotting is a legitimate form of protest, but it needs coordination, sacrifice, example and direction all of which is lacking at the moment.
Worst of all no one is offering an alternative way to address the debt crisis or to jumpstart the economy. Yes, the Spring of hope appears to have produced a Winter of despair. Kenya needs prayers and leadership.
The writer is a Priest and Executive Director at Haki Yetu.