Friday, June 6, 2008

Kenya: The Opium Dream - By Wambui Mwangi

I’m giddy with relief, really I am. I am overcome with a feeling strangely akin to bliss as I read in the Standard that the Honorable Mr. Mutula Kilonzo, Nairobi Metropolitan Minister, has once and for all resolved the question of our Nairobi traffic jams. No, he has. Just like that. (Makes you wonder what all those urban planners and traffic specialists are really for, though, dunnit? Especially after all those years of education; ah well.) Anyway, the Honorable Mr. Mutula Kilonzo has decided, in a quite Marie-Antoinette-like fashion, to “let them all fly.” Yup, that’s the answer. He thinks that helicopter travel will nodoubtaboutitatall decongest the current Mheshimiwa-heavy traffic paralysis caused by People of Importance. The Kenyan Airborne Cabinet is Looking for a Few Good Men. Not Afraid of Heights? Always Wanted To Experience Kenya Aerially? Envied Icarus Your Whole Life? Then Join Us! Fly Us! Kenya’s Airborne Cabinet: Leadership in The Sky.

There are several things being claimed about us by this worthiest of our sons, in not even subtle subtext - more like hyper-text. Or like a bizarre gaming dream-world, where we vicariously experience the lives of avatars whose reality we desire but cannot attain, and so we haunt ourselves and bring on nightmares. Firstly, we have all noticed, even, and somewhat astonishingly, the Mheshimiwas themselves, the thousands upon thousands of man hours, frustration-hours, hours of delayed meetings and productive interactions, hours of school time, hours of family time, hours of farming time and conference time and planning time and shopping time spent waiting for Mheshimiwa to just get on with it, for heaven’s sake; stupendous amounts of this country’s rather valuable time are wasted, spent standing around, or sitting in suspended traffic, fuming, as this or that other Ceasar-like Mheshimiwa is conveyed from one Very Important Meeting to The Next – we can tell, because the large shiny cars are polished to a critically gravitas-inducing glossy degree—the completely non-productive nature of which Meetings does not prohibit them being allowed to impinge on our own productivity with drum-like frequency.

Secondly, notwithstanding the prodigious amounts of our energy and our profitability that are wasted in this ridiculous fashion, we are apparently so awash with funds in this country that we have the amounts necessary to provide the billions needed completely to airlift our cabinet on a regular basis, and perhaps even the entire parliament, even though, and apparently uninterestingly, we continue to leave thousands of our fellow citizens in I.D.P. camps in conditions radically injurious to human dignity, and we more generally presume that the pervasive poverty and disenfranchisement that we witness all around us are caused by lack of, er...helicopter launch pads, and the current alarmingly low numbers of helicopters, of course.

We assume that the Honorables, in their flights above us, will be more able to survey the panoramic misery of their citizens, and take in the arresting aesthetic arrangements of tents flapping against the beating rain or the chilling wind. Those tastefully traced rivulets of human excrement add a nice touch, and provide our Honourables with much to ponder and deliberate upon in the sagacious fullness of their time. We know they are greatly exercised by this unfolding human tragedy amongst us by the evidence of the frequency of their visits to the IDP camps, and the martyr-like swiftness and munificence by which they have rushed to the aid of their citizens in distress. Their personal sacrifices and gestures of generosity have consistently - oh no - truly they have, consistently and even persistently fed the hungry and succoured the dispossessed. These ministers are operatically aloft on their good deeds on our behalf: the wind beneath their wings and so forth.

Thirdly, we accept wholeheartedly, although they are public servants and have sworn an oath before God and country to serve their fellow Kenyans faithfully, in public view and everything--and whilst waiting for Parliament to legislate themselves helicopters in the national interest in the boringly ground-bound meantime—agree that it is an inalienable right of the very essence of Mheshimiwa-ness to careen around the roads in this absurd and self-inflating fashion, even though we all know ,with defeated resignation, that they are only rushing around trying to get themselves another piece of the goods they plan to continue looting from us.

Fourthly, the completely understandable gap between their campaign rhetoric, which was full of the manna and nirvana that they were going to deliver to us come January ’08, and notwithstanding their interim delivery of mayhem, death and destruction, and the Mheshimiwa’s current behaviour, which is strangely reminiscent of competing packs of jackals contesting a still-breathing corpse, arises from our immense satisfaction with the job performance to date, seeing that we have, amongst other things, resolved the question of traffic jams, IDP camps, poverty, the technology gap, and oh yes, that pesky little ethnic problem thing we had got a groove going on about, which is terrible when poor people engage in it, but perfectly acceptable when the self-same Mheshimiwa’s themselves blatantly and with complete lack of irony—because they, after all, intend it—get into their little Gema ethnic gangs and expect the rest of the country to like it, or to fail to react to it.

Finally, it will come as a relief to those hundreds of thousands of commuters who use matatus, buses, or their own rapidly-aging cars to attempt to get to work approximately on time every morning (the approximation is getting vaguer and vaguer, to no one’s surprise, and proving that it is indeed possible to be even less punctual than was the case in the already horrible ‘Kenyan time’ standards of a less-congested and presumably happier age), as they crane their necks to watch their worthy servitors fly over their heads (who said there were no angels amongst us? Hark! The Choir of Honourable Ministers Take Wing!) that those Magnificent Beings on their Mheshimiwa-esque monumental errands and shopping sprees (this morning, a certain Mheshimiwa barged ahead of me at the airport queue, dressed in baggy shorts and a baseball cap; I know he was a Mheshimiwa because I objected loudly to the queue-barging behaviour to the policeman in charge, who informed me suppressively that it was A Very Important Person, from which I deduced that the Kenyan Top Secret Talks were being held on the beach) that these Honourable Beings, who are about to take to the skies as their natural habitat, (this kind of thing sometimes happens in science fiction, where entire sections of the society become airborne, and like it so much they just stay there) will nevertheless, from their aerial heights, go about the business of promoting the interests of we, the wanainchi, with vigour and a grim determination to Develop Our Country At All Costs. They said so, so it must be true. They Sky’s The Limit!

We have always been a profoundly, even philosophically humorous people, but we’re in danger of becoming an allegory now. This is such a fantastic opium dream we are all having in Kenya. It is becoming roundly epic. One rather feels for the poor fiction writers who are going to have to try to top this; no wonder we are all so depressingly realist about our literature. Our imaginations are already boggled, all the time.

I used to wonder why German philosophers wrote in such lengthy clauses and sub-clauses. I am developing a theory that it is because their politics had a familiar abundance of caveats and points of clarification and digression necessary, as well as hallucination-inducing episodes and dream-like sequences, with flashing strobe lights and all to indicate meta-reality. Try explaining the development of political parties in Kenya in the last twenty years, and see what that does to your syntax or to your relationship with metaphor. Don’t forget to explain what a Grand Opposition to the Grand Coalition made up of previous Opposition-Yet-In-Government -Which-Is-In-Any-Case-About-To-Change-Its-Name-And-Coalition-Partner might look like, when it’s at home.

Wambui Mwangi is Director of Generation Kenya and a member of the Concerned Kenyan Writers

Kenyan MPs: Cut Your Salaries, Return Land!

(Bloggers Note: As an editorially incompetent blogger, Sukuma Kenya apologises for being limited to cutter-and-paster)


Ed Cross said...

Thanks for this great article
I have two ideas -
1. that we develop as a race a formula for rewarding/penalising politicians by results - this will be linked to indices such as poverty percentages , GDP, crime, child mortality, life expectancy, even happiness indicators and not forgetting human rights and carbon emissions, forest cover etc - I am looking for someone very clever to develop this as a piece of software. I dont have the Maths for it. I dont believe for a minute that this will be used by any government in the world but it could be used by TI and other civil society orgs etc to embarrass govts and it could become a yardstick type of thing. In an ideal world we would see politicians pay start to slide as their policies start to impact negatively on their fellow citizens and/or their environment . I am not just talking re Africa here - there would be some pretty cash strapped politicians in America and China if increase in carbon emissions automatically equated to reductions in take home pay.

2.All Newspapers in Kenya should be lobbied to consciously up their satirical coverage - I think extraordinary and unbelievable developments such as the ones you outline re helicopters etc - deserve a Gado or equivalent cartoon that covers atleast two pages. Mockery is probably the best weapon we have in Kenya or anywhere against rampant greed and egoism. We have to match the sheer size of the selfishness with extra sizable satire.

dangermouse said...

I have an alternative approach: set up a semi extra-governmental law enforcement group that can investigate and bring to justice corrupt politicians. There is a precedent for this in africa: look at the Directorate of Special Operations (popularly known as the Scorpions). They are a south african group and take their investigations wherever they need to go. They are now bringing to book none other than the deputy (but soon to be) president of south africa. What other country in the world has a law enforcement agency with this kind of audacity and persistence? kenya could learn some things. Bottom line: kenyans should expect more of their politicians. Wake up, wananchi.

Ed Cross said...

I quite agree though sadly a SA friend of mine told me last week that certain S.A. politicians are in the process of closing down Scorpions because it has been far too good at its job - but it does show you that these things can work. If only for a while. The price of freedom is eternal vigilance as they say. And lets hope they don't get shut down.

I think that ridicule is key - its about changing attitudes so that gross injustice can't flourish so easily. I think of Wahome Mutahi and what he did in his own way to change Kenya. I must be a frustrated cartoonist! Scorpions biting a Hummer with the occupants leaving through the roof by helicopter etc

Sukuma Kenya said...

Ed Cross: put that art skill of yours into gear and start crunching out the cartoons.
Dangermouse: so true, we Kenyans need to desparately find some solution - the protests are not working, the campaigns are not working, the riots and rants are not working...what next?