Guest post by d’Arthez.
Nairobi is a bustling city. People are always in a hurry – if not to make money, then to spend it. The lucky among us, on consumer goods and holidays abroad. The less fortunate among us on food and school fees. Like an army of confused ants, we’re marching to the CBD, Westlands, Kilimani, Karen. To Kibera, Dandora, Kayole, Kangemi or who knows where.
The fortunate ones waste hours sitting in traffic jams. The less fortunate are wearing their shoes out, While the former go to gyms, or upmarket walking tracks to enjoy the joy of walking, the latter are hoping to make enough money to own cars so that they can enjoy the joys of traffic jams themselves. And if not them, their children.
It strikes me that Nairobi is not meant to be a place to live in. Or if it is, that little to no effort is made to make the city liveable for majority of its residents. There are but a few green spots. Pavements are mostly non-existent. The city still depends on but a few, almost permanently clogged, arteries.
Demand for services, such as education, healthcare, security, transport and electricity, seems to be outstripping the provision of these services. Well-paying jobs are scarce. Recent statistics suggest that the informal economy is far more successful than the formal one in providing jobs, but sadly the jobs in the informal sector often offer little beyond hand-to-mouth living. It is not uncommon to see recent graduates with Masters Degrees performing odd jobs, just to make a meagre living.
To some extent governments, local and national, have given up on their responsibilities to provide these services. We can see it in the mushrooming of private schools, we can see it in the fact that lamp posts hardly ever work anywhere. Corruption is rife, and corruption is essentially another tax on the poor.
But it is equally true, that we as citizens have given up, or simply cannot even be bothered with anything that moves beyond our private concerns. Rather than demand public services as tax payers and citizens entitled to basic public services, we resort to private solutions to secure just about every basic service.
Education? Spend long hours working and sleepless nights thinking of how to make that extra buck to spend -on private education that costs an arm and a leg. If you’re poor, you’re left hoping against the odds, that somehow your children won’t become casual labourers, but will have a better life than you.
Healthcare? Get insurance, travel abroad for treatment, or pray to the Lord that one will be spared chronic illnesses. Those that cannot afford insurance and treatment abroad, endure prolonged suffering or death from illnesses that could be prevented, managed and cured by a functioning health-care system.
Security? Put up a gate, a fence, or rely on neighbours, who hopefully prove trustworthy. Pray that you are a victim of insecurity, because justice, in a court of law, is unaffordable to the vast majority of people.
Transport? Walk long hours on end, for majority of the population. For the struggling middle class, spend a substantial amount of your salary on matatus, or spend a small fortune for the privilege of becoming a target for traffic police who seek to supplement their income by hook or by crook. While the urban poor are mostly spared traffic police, they have to deal with askaris.
We’re being conned so often, that the highest recommendation for a service provider seems to be that they have not even tried to con you. We all act as if Chapter 6 of the Constitution is entitled “Impunity”.
Nairobi produces and reproduces dysfunction, and as long as our mind-sets don’t change, we’ll have to face the realities of floods, carjackings, polluted air, robberies, corrupt city/county council askaris and traffic police, clogged roads, and sub-par education. Is this really the Nairobi we want?