Life seems hard but let's remain a resilient nation

Maureen Achieng sells chapatis outside Nyayo Stadium during the Jamhuri Day Celebrations on December 12, 2022. [Elvis Ogina,Standard]

The scorching sun reminds us every day how life is becoming hard. It’s as if the sun has dropped a bit towards the earth. This city has never been that hot in the last 40 years, one does not need to be a meteorologist. It’s not just the weather that signifies life is hard economically. 

On the streets, in the morning and evening, hordes of men and even women walk to and from Westlands to CBD. Others along Thika road, Waiyaki Way and Lang’ata Road.

Add other roads leading to the city. Even bypasses have more pedestrians than cars. They are either going to work or seeking work.

They are walking to save money or have none, not to be healthy like their driving counterparts. 

Walking is not the only indicator that the economy is not doing well, battered by drought, echoes of Covid-19 and the war in Ukraine, now about to enter its second year. We had even forgotten that before these three shocks, we had terrorism. 

The number of people borrowing money has gone up. That includes friends and relatives. And it’s people who have never borrowed you money in the past. Add the success of Fuliza and more lately hustler fund.

The reality is that lots of that money is used for consumption, to keep families alive. If you have a sick kid or no food to eat, the interest rate comes second.

Remember 80 per cent of Kenyans have no formal job, no security of the monthly salary or savings. 

I am sure anyone reading this has either borrowed or is owed money.

Lots of us have bad debts. It’s not just banks that have non-performing loans.  The new reality is that loans are nowadays used to fund consumption not investments. Hard-nosed economists could say that is bad, but the reality says the contrary.

The third piece of evidence is the number of parents asking you to get jobs for their children, some graduates with masters’ degrees. While this is an economic issue, it’s also a disturbing cultural or social issue.

One of the take homes from the university should be the confidence to seek opportunities - both locally and abroad or start enterprises if no formal jobs are available.

But parents have taken over what these students should be doing. Should the job seeker be calling you or the parent?  Have we become too good to our children? 

Lab technician

Fourth is a recent visit to an estate. I noted the accent and the level of the vocabulary of the security guard was too good. On enquiring, I was informed the guard is a trained lab technician. 

We can add other evidence that the economy is not doing well from prayers to not meeting tax targets.

For once, there is no “feel good” effect after the polls. 

In matatus and on the streets, citizens seem subdued. What of obsession with betting? School fees arrears? Traders say everything is slow and not moving.

Leave the official statistics for now like currency depreciation or slowdown in the gross domestic product (GDP) growth rate. What else makes you feel the pulse of a subdued economy?  Enough lamentation; where do we go from here? 

We may not stop the war in Ukraine or bring rain. But there are a few things we can do to ride through the economic hard times beyond seeing Waganga whose posters are prominently displayed on posts. 

One, we have been there before and we recovered. We went through the Great Depression and at home through the post-economic liberalisation chaos in the early 1990s.

This was coupled with multipartism. We rode through Covid-19 and structural adjustment programmes. We have learnt to be resilient. We went through Mau Mau. Can we get inspiration from our glorious past?

Two is that we are adaptable and call upon our creativity in times of crisis. Who thought one day we could borrow through our phones?

Is it true banks used to charge you to see the bank manager when seeking loans? Who thought we could one day come to terms with Covid-19? 

Three, nothing lasts forever, the war in Ukraine will end, either with a whimper or a bang to quote poet TS Elliot. And it will rain and our hearts will rejoice. Our greatest asset under the current circumstances is patience and persistence.

We expect to hear that from our leaders and preach optimism.

That should be heard in our homes, institutions and even in the media houses; that things can only get better. Four, Amatya Sen, an economics Nobel laureate noted that democracies rarely suffer from famines despite bad weather.

They build adaptive mechanisms including ejecting leaders who do not perform.

The crisis we are facing could make our social, political and economic systems more robust to withstand future shocks.

We should not waste a crisis. Who said that? Five, we should be coming up with homegrown strategies to get out of the current economic slowdown without blaming the past or using history as the dustbin.

Global issues

Individuals and institutions must adjust to the new realities.

Human nature will not change overnight, petty jealousy and search for power and glory that lead to wars among nations or even families will not end overnight.

Weather patterns will not change overnight and global issues like climatic change will be with us for some time to come.

Civilisations have developed and evolved nudged on by crises. We have spawned innovations during crises.

While many are sullen and fearful, it’s time to rethink new solutions to our economic problems, beyond solutions offered by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and other external stakeholders or interested parties. 

 Finally, at the end day, it’s often about what you can do for yourself before other parties come in.

The small thing that you do like voting, water harvesting, saving, wasting less or thinking about the next generation, all add up to great things that can change the country and our tomorrow. Have you done your part?