Monthly Archives: February 2015

about that free market

I wish I was more of an economist so that i could write convincingly about the effect that IMF and World Bank Loans and their attendant Structural Adjustment Programmes had on the economy . Wikipedia tells me that these are the conditions that come with loans from the Bretton Woods institutions whose ostensible goal is to stabilise the economy of developing countries. What they insisted on was a complete free market policy with privatisation and reduction of trade barriers.

Applying basic economic theory as well as experience with the government it’s easy to come to the conclusion that this is the way to go. After all when there is no longer a monopoly what happens is that market forces will automatically adjust the situation so that what prevails is the best goods and services for the best prices. This though is crap, this almost never happens. Why? Well the truth is that nobody starts on equal footing. I once went to a poker game late and by the time I was there the oligarchs had emerged as well as the small businessmen who knew how to thrive and survive. I came late and if I was a better poker player I would have gone much further but if I had the same hands and made the same bets as the oligarch I would still have been wiped out. The truth is that having capital backing you up means that you can wipe out the competition by completely blanketing the market or by making sure that you are absolutely essential. At the point of trying to achieve your monopoly you don’t even need to make a profit, your bank account back there is deep and this means that for years and even decades you can play the long game and kick everybody out.

Safaricom is a prime example. Hands down though with m-pesa they have the best possible service at the best possible price in the economy (as well as all the proof we will ever need that only local solutions can adequately address local problems). However there is something else coming along. A conductor told me about the reason the new cashless fare system will be rolled out with minimum fuss. It’s basically a one two that I would never have seen coming but maybe that’s why I’m never the oligarch. The only way this could be properly rolled out is the ubiquity of matatu Saccos. A law or regulation was passed requiring all public service providers to become part of a Sacco and without such membership be unable to ply any particular route. The matatu owners joined because a Sacco gives you low interest loans and because they enforce the loans by social mechanisms so they will not sell your family home and of course with a Sacco there is a sense of ownership.

The Saccos wield a lot of power over matatus and in some routes people will complain directly to a Sacco because of bad service which includes but is not limited to being kicked off the matatu before the stage is reached. Safaricom has a huge stake in making sure that we don’t use fare anymore because just like with surveillance equipment they are again the major suppliers of the means by which we will pay for fare. Either you get a card or you can use your phone. Most people will prefer the phone option because you immediately know how much you paid and how much you have left. The Saccos have a prize for complete successful installation of the cashless system on their route given by Safaricom. This is what an oligarch can do that their competitors cannot, they can spend billions on infrastructure and make a loss if need be because the long game tells them they will win any new entrant into the system and that’s how free market goes. To he with the deepest pockets, the most spoils.

This is not a difficult concept to believe however western economists have sworn by the sanctity of the free market system believing dogmatically in the creed of capitalism for a ridiculously long time. Maybe the reason is that until only very recently the west saw astonishing levels of development in a few short decades they had seen the standards of living of their people grow almost exponentially. The crippling poverty that is now only associated with Africa, South America and parts of Asia was not uncommon in Europe and America in the century that has left us. Of course there were a lot of other reasons why this happened and these seem not to be taken into account . Perhaps building an economy on slaves really does pay off even if it’s a long time later. Maybe raping your colonies and then saddling them with unworkable trade agreements that are enforced by bribing their leaders is the way to gain wealth. A lot can also be said for war industries, kill off millions and there are less people to take care of plus you create all those war lords who are instant billionaires. Then rebuild and create a new aristocracy with all these construction moguls. Have the taste of a real war a devastating-all-encompassing war just at the back of your tongue so that there is a need for social equality because this is the real reason behind wars: disenfranchisement and things will get better for your population.

Or maybe we should listen to people who know more about economics than I do. The thing is though we have and we have failed. And failed and failed again. When I grew up there was a sneering superiority that many of us and as much as I don’t want to admit it I too felt over black Americans. Had we been given the opportunities that they have over there in that land we won’t fuck up, we won’t just sell drugs, we will make something of ourselves. We are not niggers! I remember this well and I feel bad about it. I chalk it up to the problems with youth, not having read enough to understand what really goes on in the world, not having suffered enough to really empathise with the suffering of others, not having failed enough to know that failure is not always a choice sometimes it is just destiny. I read this article about reparations recently that I try my hardest to pawn off on anyone who doesn’t understand why it’s hard for black Americans to break out of the cycle of crime and poverty that they seem mired in. Its amazingly eye-opening and anyone who feels like they want to comfortably comment on the problems over there should read it. Here’s another reason why an African should never feel superior to those guys over there: they don’t control the institutions that put them down. They have to live in a system that is rigged against them because of the colour of their skin and they can’t simply change it because they are not in charge of their institutions. We on the other hand are in charge of ours. Kenya is in Kenyan hands and has been in Kenyan hands for over 50 years. While blacks in America fought for their right to vote we had universal suffrage. Then we went and fucked it up hugely.

How did we fuck up? Massive grand corruption of a scale that puts Jupiter to shame. Goldenberg cost Kenya quite easily over six hundred million dollars . Anglo leasing over 700 million . The things that happened when Kenyatta was president are not spoken about at all but you can trust that there are children who will be born 100 years hence still living off money stolen in the 60s and 70s. This fucked us up. There is no question.

Remember those matatus though that showed up earlier in the post? The most commonly used misnomer in Kenya is public transport. There is no way that a matatu or a bus or any other form of communal transportation in Kenya can be called public transport. They are self-regulating private enterprises now working under the umbrella of Saccos. They will not operate past the time when it makes economic sense to do so because this is how private business is run. A profit must be made; efficiency is gained but public service is lost. I don’t know if this was forced down our throats by Structural Adjustment Programs but it sounds just like the free market deregularisation that the west used to swear by. We followed them off the cliff and now we suffer the consequences. A real public transport system that was not driven by profit would have made Kenya such a different place.

People knowing that it was reliable and safe and that it would go on until the wee hours of the morning would have meant that less people bought cars in this country. We wouldn’t be sending our hard earned money to Japan and Dubai and Germany. This means that we would spend less on fuel another place a lot of money goes. The fact that there were less cars on the road would cure traffic jams so roads would need less maintenance. The less the jam the less time people waste sitting in a car doing nothing. A more productive society is instantly born; a better rested people because they didn’t need to wake up so early. A happier people because they are not frustrated by gridlock.

This could have been an alternative version of the city of Nairobi. Forever awake because it was safer because we did not privatise our public transport. Maybe not though. But from the experiences of the past I would hope that we had learned not to blindly follow the precepts of those who gave us “aid.” There’s going to be a vat on fuel next year . I’m not sure this is the greatest thing for a country struggling to industrialise; it seems keeping fuel prices low and thus allowing electricity to cost less so that the cost of production falls is the way to go. However we got another IMF loan and it tells us that this is what we should do so we shall.

China helped us out a lot and now they have our airwaves. The major TV stations have taken a stand against this. They, quite rightly, believe that we cannot sell our airwaves to the Chinese for any price. What drives them (the tv stations) is economics but the reason I believe this is true is because one day we may piss off china. We were never so beholden to the west that they could cripple an industry of ours with what seems to me the flick of a switch. The CCK can tell us they will regain control of the airwaves but if they sold them to companies owing no allegiance to the Kenyan way of life and culture could we not be punished like an errant child by the Chinese government for an hour, a day, a week. Enough time that it would hurt.

I don’t know why we never properly digested the fact that we can’t keep offering up our asshole to whoever bought us a meal most recently. The bruising experienced there will every time mean that you forget your full stomach while the indignity remains forever . Why though is our government more concerned with protecting the rights of foreigners and busy issuing threats against our home-grown businesses making it harder for us to develop properly? And here i should give credence to the tender system and the supposedly shoddy job that our people did when trying to apply for these tenders. That though is a free-market argument. Sure its great and all that but even America the bastion of free trade heavily subsidises its farmers to the tune of 20 billion dollars a year . The point here is simple free trade is good and its great but if we can find a way to keep control over what may be an essential industry we will do it. That’s free-trade die-by-capitalism America’s way of thinking but we won’t do that because…. i don’t know why but those new roads are great.

This is one of the problems of Kenya. We control the institutions: we are in charge but we forget and kowtow before anyone who can flash us a cheque. I wish we never accepted aid again. Trade can pull us out of the rut we are in. That and solutions made for Kenyan markets. That and a government that turns off grand corruption. That and a government that does its best to support its people especially if it means providing essential services or at the very least allowing our own citizens to do this. That and a lot more but all the economics I actually believe is true is the theory that in a perfect situation supply and demand are the only things that determine price. So what do I know?


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Filed under airwaves, chinese, corruption, economics, insitutional failure, kenya, matatus, saccos, safaricom, technology, the west

who wants to be president?

What do you want to be when you grow up?

I have no idea what they say in Kenya now but I remember in my time that they never ever said president. My upbringing was not of the kind that told me that i could be anything I wanted to be when I grew up, I knew that I could be successful but the fallacy that I could be successful at anything was not peddled in my household or my schoolyard or my churchclass. Not everyone can be everything and this may be just something that people in Kenya know or I had a terribly realistic childhood.

Though even in other houses nobody could be president. When I was growing up there were times it was a sin against the state to suggest in any manner that Uncle Dan would ever shuffle off this mortal coil. A blasphemous statement that could mean you were rewarded by being held in the purgatory that was our prison system back then or be crucified in the dark, dank dungeons of nyayo house. Now that U.D. was going to be president forever how could any of us little ones ever hope that we would be president. Only once the IPPG reforms of 1997 and the amendment of the constitution had happened could these dreams begin to be had.

Was this true though? The same names have been president for the lives of anyone in Kenya. I think though it’s important in a country for children to want to be president. There should be a system that allows them to believe that a career in politics is not just a viable option but an honourable one. At the present moment I believe that just maybe its possible that children are saying that they want to be President. For the first time in living memory the presidency can be associated with vibrancy it is not rooted in the person of a man who is as old, wrinkled and tough as a tree trunk ramrod straight with a legendary diet that nobody in their right minds believes they can enjoy and a daily schedule so gruelling that even now he has never been up late enough to experience a traffic jam. Neither is it represented by a man whose statements are so slow they hide his quick wit, his quick anger and represent what many thought was his quick decay-a descent into state house thinking that all a president needed to do was lead the government and the state would take care of itself.

Now we have a president that we can call uhunye and my guy. Quick to smile, showing that it can be fun to be president, I can imagine children wanting to wield this power but when they are asked if they want to be president what do they say? I believe that politics is beautiful and to be honest I wish I thought this earlier when I was young enough to do the things I needed to do in order to be successful: speak luo fluently, learn another language to the level where they could almost accept me as one of their tribe, make the connections I needed to in university, be active in campaigns from a long time ago so that I knew what goes into one-so I could craft what should be put into the next one. How I wish.

Why I didn’t want to be in politics earlier is the same reason that I believe turns a lot of people off politics- a moral compass. I’m not saying that mine can ever find even an approximation of true north but politics is dirty. Dirty, dirty, dirty. I read a book about Uhuru where the guy goes into talking about the old days of Uncle Dan and he says that back then when there was a scandal that was threatening to bring a lot of unwanted scrutiny down on the government then a story about devil worship in high schools would emerge- a report carefully hidden and then shown to the light which when this happened would scatter all the rumours of scandals away like so many cockroaches.

These are the games of the successful politician-misdirection and propaganda. Making sure people’s attentions go this way and that so fast that all we can make before we move on to the next thing is a meme. This may be a disease of a society that is as fractured in its attention. The good old standby commission of inquiry has been toppled by pictures of such spot-on satire that they capture what we all think and feel but leave us as we were before impotent. Maybe it was like this before too. A picture of the week, a scandal every other one, forgetting everything before a month passes by and the same old people in charge.

If I was a child who had just started watching news a month ago I would assume that politicians are land-grabbing, children-teargassing, weighbridge-swearing, corruption-enabling, down-steps-falling people who are (and the next one is in all seriousness because death is…death) painfully open to assassination. This is now what a child wants to be. This is not what anyone in high school wants to be, well not most people.

In Kenya the most idealistic are weeded out early on and the only ones that remain have their idealism highly tempered by pragmatism and realism. A friend’s mother who believed in her heart that Ruto was guilty of the charges against him voted for him anyway. I asked her about this and she gave the truest answer I have ever heard about this, “who is innocent?”

Almost nobody is. In Kenya, more than in some countries less than in others, you get there soiled with bloody hands. There was an analogy I wrote a long time ago that captured what happens to people when they try to get into politics

A knight hears the age old distress call of a damsel, she has been stolen from her lands by a black knight who carried her away and locked her in his fortress, shutting her away from all she know and loves giving her neither freedom nor respect. The knight rides out in shining gleaming armour but before he is ready to save his damsel he must face tests on his route. He fells a minion of the black knight and while he is readying himself for the killing strike, the minion’s page strikes through his armour hurting him. In a rage he dispatches both of them riding forth with a chink in his armour. His trials further test and try him. His armour becomes more worn as his moral compass becomes looser. In his fight with the dragon terrorizing the village tied to the black knight he uses a virgin as bait. It works and she dies, at this point in his journey our knight understood the concept of the greater good and the fact that it must be served by acts of necessary evil.

The battle with the dragon left his armour coated with soot. When our knight finally confronted the black knight they were as if two brothers faced in a death match, but as happens in such stories our knight won. He was rewarded with the domain of the black knight including his castle. He rides into it to free the princess and she runs away from him ,shrieking . For it was not just his armour worn away and coated with the deeds in battle but his soul too was coated dark with his misdeeds. Angry that the damsel would not reward him even though he had sacrificed it all for her, he too proceeds to locks her in his fortress, shutting her away from all she know and loves giving her neither freedom nor respect.

That is probably what happened to a lot of them. They had an ideal they wanted to fight for a long time ago. They hated poverty or colonialism, they wanted to make education more accessible and food more affordable, they had a vision of how this country could uniquely be benefited by them having the power to do it. They set off on that road to power and the journey, it broke them so that when we look up at them all we see is this new version of who they are.

The king we look up to and the lords who surround his feast table are not innocent, not nearly but then nobody is. What happens then is the innocent, the truly innocent children and young adults who may have the political gifts and acumen needed to take power as well as the moral fibre necessary to turn it to the advantage of the most do not want it. They can see what the race does and they want no part of that. This leaves politics to those who have the political gifts and acumen to take power but none of the restraint and noble intentions of these others who forgot it as soon as they knew what they would have to do.

There’s a problem when children don’t want to be president. I think that if the seeds of this ambition were planted in the heart of a good man or woman at their infancy and they nursed it and made it grow. If all their lives this is what they wanted perhaps they would not be turned off by the sooty armour but welcome the challenge. There are no promises of what would happen to their soul, probably it would be corrupted because that’s what systems do but some of it would remain and a less guilty crop of people could enter politics. Then when we hit the refresh button it could be even less guilty and this could go on and on. True innocence can’t be achieved. However, in a place where civic duty is not frowned upon and a career in politics is not assumed to be the right of the wicked and the spoils of the unscrupulous things would be better.

I do just want to hear a child say they want to grow up to be president and watch them do it.


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one rose

I told them that i don’t mind buying a rose but more than one rose is impractical.

“Thank god we aren’t her” they said.

That’s why I’m writing this post because more than one rose is really impractical. For all the guys out there who are about to buy a dozen red roses here is a word of advice don’t. Stop yourself. What is she going to do with all those roses? You know how the world works and that roses all die no matter what you do to them. They become withered and spent, they turn from these full-cheeked statements of love to ashy, drooping reminders of mortality and the fact that love many times is a lie that leaves us cold and unable to trust again. Is that what you want to give her for valentines?

Do you want to give her-take your time to remember her, she’s the one who makes you smile, she’s the reason you give up so many nights out with the boys, she’s the reason you drink so much less and most of all she’s the reason you are about to go to a merchant and make the painful purchase of 12 blush-red full-stemmed dethorned rose

Is this who you want to give 12 reminders (one for every month of the year) that your love like those roses may just die an ignominious death and then hang around the house for a little longer. Turning into an ugly avatar of what it once was. Nope you only want to give her one of those reminders. Don’t worry, I got you, this time valentine’s is on a Saturday so there won’t be the moment when she only gets one rose in her classroom or office and has to endure the looks of scorn because her beau is such an amazing cheapskate. Now she can get one rose in the privacy of her home and know it by herself, I won’t leave you hanging though what you need to do is justify all this with the note.

In the note all you have to do is write the story of the farmer and the single rose. This story does not exist. Until write now, like all other stories it comes into being by being told so slip her note that says this:

“My lady what you have in your lap is a single rose. A lot has been told of the power of a single rose that it like a snowflake, like the love between two people cannot be replicated. The petals of one rose have been compared to the memories of a couple, because you have to tear through so many stories and experiences before you can fully realise what this love is truly about. This is why I believe our love will endure it has been enclosed by something, something which at the same time broadcasts its beauty to the rest of the world.

There is only one rose here because I recently heard the story of the rose and the farmer, just in case you haven’t heard it, it is a legend set in a world a long, long time ago-the world of half-remembered dreams and fully realised memories where childhood monsters and gods walk.

A young man was walking down a path in a forest so overgrown with bush that a full-grown dog could run between them without being spotted. A coconut fell from a tree and hit him on his head and he fainted. When he woke up in front of him was a single rose. I should explain that the world he lived in and the village he came from had never seen a rose before. The trees and plants simply sprung up afresh from the shit of the inhabitants who had ingested vegetables-no deforestation possible. So he looked at this wonder before him. In it he saw the face of life and when he held it to his nose he could smell the breath of god.

For a long spiritual moment he stood, unable to move. Then he made a prayer to the gods unable to believe that anything as beautiful as this should not be shared amongst the rest of humanity. The godess who had placed it before him descended from the heavens. She gave him the secret to the growing of roses and parted on a dire note. She told him that many who have held on to beauty have given it up for riches and found too late that the only thing that truly makes you feel wealthy is not an abundance of money but of that which you love.

Our hero farmer made his way back to the village and started a small garden. It took him a year but in that time he came up with 12 perfect roses each more beautiful than the last. Wonders so exquisite he wept as he pulled them up from their roots. He gave them to all the women he loved. His mother who had raised him as a child, his sisters with whom he had played and felt most comfortable, his aunts who had taught him to respect women, his friend who had shown she would be there for him and to the woman to whom he had lost his heart. This was a sacrifice from the heart and he was rewarded by more from the goddess.

A year and he realised that he could convert this beauty into money if all he did was sold it. There was nothing wrong with the money he made. There is beauty in that too. But he got greedy and with time the roses started changing, when he priced them so high that only the millionaires could afford them they began to grow thorns that pricked him as he tended them. In his quest to grow more and more of the roses he lost sight of what was important to him before.

The beauty of a single rose is something that he no longer remembered and with time he spoiled the women in his life with jewellery and other baubles- things that he could buy in the market that were cold to the touch. That meant nothing to him that because of this meant nothing to them. He grew more and more distant from his life’s work and soon all he could see when he saw a rose was more-more power, more wealth, more…
Until like all quests for wealth in fairy tales laden with moral teaching about the beauty of love and the need for appreciation he was left alone as an old man in piles of wealth that could not bring him back the joy of youth. He had stopped seeing the single roses in his life a long time ago and in time life also took away his sight. With time he saw the error of his ways and mended the things that had gone wrong in his life. On his deathbed he was able to gather generations of his family around him and when he was asked what he regretted most he said that he wished he had never allowed himself to look past the beauty of a single rose. But then he changed his mind and said that being separated from his passion and removed from the joy it gave him allowed him to see his family as the most important thing in his life.

My lady, the point of this story is that we should never gloss over the important individual moments. We should always appreciate the day we met, the first time we kissed, the first time we spent the night together. All our firsts and the seconds they led to sometimes within seconds (my great recovery time is something I’ll expound on more tonight.) but if we carry around more than petals and allow them to become bunches and bouquets it will be too easy for us to forget the things that we love about each other. A petal for the way you laugh when someone falls down, a petal for the way you sound when you wake up, a petal for the sway of your hips, a petal for the jokes that only you understand, a petal for reminding me just how lucky I am for what we have together. A rose for this thing we built together because I can’t imagine anything being more perfect than this. ”

One rose guys. What will she do with twelve, how will she get them home? One rose. Then forgerraboutit.


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