Assuming nothing; questioning everything

Posts tagged ‘Inequality’

Obama’s visit tells of a society in need of emancipation

Liberating minds _ Angela Davis
Every month, the watchman of the building I live in asks me to lend him 1,000 or 2,000 Kshs, with the promise to pay me back at the end of the month. He rarely pays me back on time, because things always come up. Although he watches over property worth several hundred million Kshs, his earnings are barely enough to see him through the month.

This man walks three hours every morning to get to work and back home every evening. He works 12 hours a day, without a lunch break, and yet he cannot afford to pay 40 Kshs. for his daily transport. This is despite the fact that he supplements his income by washing the cars of the residents of the building, alongside other manual work that is given to him.

Even with all these efforts, he still owes me 1,000 Kshs. from last year, and he has explained to me that he is paying a loan, which makes it even more difficult to make ends meet. He is highly in debt, just to survive. On top of that, he recently got a wife, so things are probably worse, with an extra mouth to feed.

Now that he has a wife, there is a possibility that he will be getting children in the future. I don’t need to investigate to confirm that the chances of his children having the same kind of education, healthcare and nutrition as the children occupying the houses he mans are close to, if not zero. Miracles may happen, but I foresee a high probability that his children will be in the same situation he is in 20 years down the line.

Sometimes I overhear the conversations between the watchmen and the domestic workers, and I get a sense that they are well aware of the structural inequalities in this country. Talking and joking are their ways of dealing with the harsh realities of life. They talk about the challenges of being on the tail end of the inequality divide. They joke about how they can only afford certain luxuries in their dreams.

The luxuries they joke about are nothing luxurious by middle class standards – sometimes it is just the need for a decent lunch, the dream to take their children to university, or to take public transport to work and back home. For the domestic workers, they wish they could see their children daily, spend more time with them, and like their employers, receive their children when they come back from school.

These kind of inequalities glare at us every day in the places that we live, our places of work and just about every public and private space. Any Kenyan will tell you that the fruits of independence are only enjoyed by a few; that where you are born, and who you are born to determines your chances in life and the kind of opportunities that life will present you with.

In their conversations, the watchmen and domestic workers correctly correlate their social and economic challenges to corruption, nepotism, cronyism and tribalism. They know that without these social ills, their lives would be somewhat, if not significantly different.

Yet when Obama talked about inequalities, tribalism and corruption in Kenya, we spent the entire day quoting different sections of his speech through tweets, re-tweets, and Facebook posts that were liked, commented on and shared widely. We marvelled at Obama’s genius, his wisdom, and spoke at length about how inspired we were, never mind that any ordinary Kenya would have told you the exact same thing. We celebrated these obvious statements, as if they were the words of the prophet, foretelling a future that we don’t know of.

I have found myself trying to make sense of the response of Kenyans to Obama’s visit, and more specifically, his speech. I have found myself wondering whether the over-celebration of these obvious statements could be symptoms of a repressed society. Were we celebrating because Obama said what many of us could not say for fear of being branded traitors or unpatriotic?

Could the ‘Obama-mania’ that we witnessed, and the over-enthusiastic cheering of obvious statements be signs of a nation clinging to the hope of much needed salvation? Could these be signs of a society that is in self-doubt? Could the hope we vested in Obama be an indication of low confidence to emancipate ourselves from the problems that we often articulate so well, even across socio-economic divide?

As Africans, we have struggled to emancipate ourselves from the indignity of domination by foreign and colonial rule. Even after attaining independence, Africans have vehemently objected to be shaped by dominant narratives of the West, about Africa. This is a journey that we continue to pursue spiritedly.

However, we cannot succeed in the journey to emancipation if we continue to cling to the West for affirmation and legitimization. When we fail to believe ourselves until a foreigner ‘diagnoses’ our problem and speaks on our behalf. We must rise above the need for affirmation by the foreign, and believe that we are holders of knowledge about ourselves. We must believe that the power to chart a new kind of Africa lies with us, and not the West.

Bob Marley - Emancipation


I dread the rains


People say that they enjoy sleeping as it rains; that it makes them sleep like babies; that the sound of rain pouring, as they cuddle in warm blankets is soothing and comforting,  and one of the closest experiences there is to heavenly peace.

How I would love to be among those that enjoy sleeping as it rains. Sadly, I am not, if anything I dread the rain; because every time it rains, it means starting my life over again.  It means loss and pain.  The rains hold with them uncertainty and the potential of dreams cut short.

As it rains tonight, I go back memory lane, to last year at a time like this, when it rained  and our house was swept away.  I am lucky my children had gone upcountry to visit their grandmother, otherwise, I would tell a story similar to that of my neighbour, Grace, who lost her only daughter to the flood.

That night we slept in the cold, some of us trying to salvage the little we could of our belongings, as they were swept away by the water.  Some people lost their lives, as they tried to swim and salvage their belongings.  The next day, we got into mourning, for the little girl, Grace’s daughter, and nine other neighbours.  We couldn’t spend too much time mourning, as we had to reconstruct our houses.

I had saved 6,000 shillings with my SACCO, hoping that I would get a loan, triple the amount I had saved and use some of the money to improve my grocery business, and the rest to pay school fees for my son Joshua, who had just joined secondary school that year.

The rain cut short that dream, instead I had to borrow money, not to improve my business or to send my son to school in the new term, but to reconstruct our house, and replace some of the household items that we had lost in the rain.  I didn’t know how to explain to my son that he would have to stay at his grandmother’s home longer, as I tried to look for school fees to send him back to school.

Broken - dreams

I got the loan, and built our house. Determined not to disappoint Joshua, I saved all the money that I made from my grocery business.  To make more money, I started hawking on Tom Mboya Street after 5pm, as people were leaving work.  On the first day, business was booming, and I sold all my stock.

Though I arrived home late and tired, I could afford to have a smile on my face.  I called Joshua, and excitedly shared the news with him,  reassuring him, that I would soon be sending him back to school. Joshua kept asking me to repeat different segments of the story.  I guess just like me, he could not believe the miracle.

In a bid to hasten the process, on the second day, I bought double the stock of the previous day.  I was determined to send Joshua back to school before the end of the month.  As fate would have it, I was arrested that night for hawking on the streets.  The askaris chased after me, but my wares were too heavy and they caught up with me. I was thrown into the truck and taken to a cell, where I spent the night.


I gave all the money that I had, together with the hope of sending Joshua back to school to the askaris, as it was the only way I would gain back my freedom.  All my wares were confiscated, and they were never returned to me. I had to start afresh again, this time unable to borrow from my SACCO as I was still repaying the loan.

Downtrodden, I quit selling groceries, and resorted to casual labour.  I wake up at 5am every day, and leave the house at 6 am, for a two – hour walk to the nearby suburb.  In some cases I find work for 500 shillings, and on good days, 1000 shillings. Some days there is no work, and I have to walk back home for two hours, tired, hungry and still uncertain of what the next day holds.  Life must go on though, and so I never give up.

With the ups and downs, Joshua never went back to school. He also looks for casual work, and helps me here and there with the bills.  I don’t see him going back to school, but I hope that the two of us can work to provide a better future for his sister Brenda.

The rains are now here.  I am now afraid because I don’t know what they hold this time.  I haven’t been sleeping much, as the roof has been leaking, luckily, we have not been swept away yet.

%d bloggers like this: