Category Archives: kenya

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?


1 Comment

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

All Hallow’s Eve

So Halloween came and passed. It’s one of those holidays that has no bearing or effect on Kenyan life. I’ll admit i find that sad, this is objectively a great holiday. It marks all hallows eve a time of the year when the denizens of hell; Sasquatch, Godzilla, King Kong , Lochness, Goblin, Ghoul, Zombies with no conscience-everybody know mutherfucking monsters and more besides witches and werewolves, demons, merlings, vampires and dragons. All these rose from the depths to which they had been consigned and roamed the earth for one night. Demanding that if you couldn’t trick them you would have to treat with them. They then carried off the thing that was most important to you. Be it riches, time, memories but most of all children all the things that made life sweet. Until, somebody somewhere lucked on the idea of dressing their children to resemble these monsters. So for the whole of the month of October parents would slave away making costumes that appeared as near as possible to the things they feared mining their minds, netting their nightmares, delving deep into their dreams to draw something that was closest in likeness to the citizens of all hallows eve.

This was not enough because their dreams were not just peopled but also placed. In looking for how to array their children they also stumbled onto a physical representation of hell. Then as now they knew that the hell they believed in was a metaphysical place. A platonic idea that could not really be mapped physically, the difference between it and anything they could put on earth being akin to the difference between  emotions and the words they used to describe them. They understood however that a great artist could reach at this thing that could not be described and using something that seemed like the hand of god approximate it by picking only the peaks and valleys of its existence and throwing that onto the earth. So they lit lanterns red, they cut up pumpkins round, they hang bones polished and made crosses of David placing them inside pentagrams inlaid in  circles embedded in pyramids. They hung foul smelling entrails from their doors and played music that chilled their bones full of expectant drum beats that never paid off.

On the evening of All Hallows Eve they sent their children out. They told them that they were what they were dressed as. The children played make-believe and imagined that what their parents told them was the truth. Children as we know have the ability to transform the world and make it in their own image, bending the will of us weaker adults by smiling and crying and all of a sudden making us feel just as they do. On the night of that All Hallows Eve so long ago they infused the world with their minds. Collectively they turned everything that had been laid out into the truth of what it was. They turned the world into new hell and when the children of hell visited they found their harvesting ground already overrun. Their vacation from the fiery pit had turned into nothing more than a trip down the street. The darkness and the fires that burned, the world filled with demons already roaming back and forth in all the glory and  power that  so effortlessly emerge from children. This was too much for them. That year they did not harvest feeling that perhaps the inhabitants of a hell they did not know about, a smaller but altogether more powerful hell had been to earth before them. They returned empty-handed to be tortured at the hands of those who stayed behind and could not believe what they were told. Every successive year fewer and fewer ventured out of the abyss until the year the devil himself walked the earth.

He took the form of a terrible dragon with sulphur and fire leaking out of his scales, his tails swished back and forth forked with maces. Despite this he was not feared. He could see through the costumes of the children unlike his minions and further than that. Looking into the heart of man himself, reading his memories of life upon earth. All he encountered there was misery and hardship, pain and suffering, the capacity and in many of them the will to do great evil. He realised that he could never train his acolytes to be as evil as man is. He gathered his host to him and left saying “every man is his own devil they have no need of me, no fear of thee, and nothing they hold dear that time will not snatch away in a ruder and more tragic fashion than we ever could.”

The costumes were able to lure the devil to walk on earth and see in it the hell he had left behind. The children never stopped transforming on Halloween and looking for people to treat with or better yet trick.

I like that story and I would love to celebrate a holiday that inspires such stories. Now watch this video.

Yep, jimmy kimmel tells parent to tell their kids that they ate all their Halloween candy. Hilarious as fuck. I dare you not to laugh at the outsized reactions these children have to their candy being stolen. Somewhere in the middle when we are getting bushed with tantrums and troubles there is a toddler who says its ok, next year we’ll get more, hugs her  parents anyway.

Now tell me that it’s possible for the parents of the forgiving children not to attain a crippling superiority complex. I mean goddam that’s a sign of good parenting if ever I saw one. A child forgiving immediately. There’s a child there who forgives through hyperventilation. You can see him taking deep breaths as he attempts to control himself. It’s a struggle. I’ve always thought that somebody who struggles against their selfish nature in order to be more selfless deserves more kudos than the person to whom it comes easy. Khalil Ghabrain wrote that some give with joy and that joy is their reward, others give with pain and that pain is their baptism. Perhaps it’s wrong to hold either in higher esteem and the best thing to do is to be happy that the earth has them both.

Then there’s the little girl who says fuck you you mutherfucker (being the first born of three she’s speaking more  truth than she knows). And she says it happily. Let’s admit it right now. That child was happy that the candy was stolen. Why you may ask, it’s simple. In her heart and in her head she was holding something that she wanted to let go. The emotional equivalent of a beer piss, she had imagined how awesome it would feel to get these words out of her mouth. To, in fact, tell them to her parents the ultimate symbol of authority. She wanted to spit these words in their faces and here they came and gave her a chance. She heard them say that the candy was stolen and immediately adrenaline flooded her blood. A snap decision was made. Somehow she knew there was no other chance to do this and so she let go. Fired, scored and thought it was worth all the candy in the world.

After all the festivities Jimmy Kimmel comes on the screen and entreats people to send things to American troops abroad. And right there we see why America is so easily able to engage in war after war. To be able to carry out these foreign policy human rights incursions for decades. To have presidents who allow its international image to be tarnished, tarred, torn and tattered giving as much of a shit as the last girl did about candy. This fucking PR machine.

These people are bought up on these movies, this doctrine that their way is the best way. That they live in the only country in the world that gives opportunity to the man who works hardest and not to the one who inherited the most- this is bullshit every other country has self-made men and until the kind of institutional racism that has young black men being shot down in the street is gotten rid of you couldn’t hope to convince me that the spoils of the father are not visited on the son. My point is they are taught to love their country. To be patriotic. This is not really a concept we can easily understand in Kenya. Does anyone here join the army because they love their country? I doubt that the percentage would be high. It’s because they want jobs and those are hard to come by. It’s because they want opportunities and this is their way out. Not that these aren’t reasons in America too but I think here they are much bigger reasons.

We’ve been at war in Somalia. Just across the border KDF has been involved in a long, drawn out conflict. There have been war crimes and war criminals, there have been moments of courage and war heroes. There have been all the things that war promises: pain and glory, shame and brotherhood, looting and love, rape and rapport, hate and nightmares and more besides lost limbs and scarred sons,  deserted daughters and child corpses, fucked up families and raging revenge. Through all of this I can’t say I have heard even once that our troops in KDF need food or amour or ammo. There has not been a citizen led attempt to raise money for them. To send over a care-package , to go without so that we can help them in our war.

The differences between what is going on there (American wars)  and what is going on there (Kenyan war) are very small. The similarities are almost mind-boggling. An invasion of a country that is predominantly Muslim because of a perceived attack on the invaders sovereignty by citizens of the Muslim country. Resulting in an embroiled war that turns the invaded into people who hate and do anything in their power to harm the invader. The main difference is lack of citizen involvement in the Kenyan war. I don’t know why this is so. The KDF are so far removed that we don’t really seem to remember that those are our brothers and sisters out there killing our other brothers and sisters. We aren’t as a whole patriotic enough for there to be stories on the death of the KDF soldiers. Whose family are they? There must be hundreds of families affected by the deaths of Kenyan soldiers why don’t they have a voice. Who is going to scream for them? Who is going to write a war classic a song or movie or book that is going to capture what happened that will be able to remind us that what happened, that what is happening is horrible and we need to pull back from such actions.

I wish we had enough patriotism to remember them, to remember our soldiers but not so much that we got blinded to what was happening. I wish we would hear the statistics of how many Kenyans died in this conflict and then were chastened when this was followed immediately by somebody reminding us how many Somalis died. It’s not enough to send care packages just to our troops. We need to be reminded in the same breath to send them to the refugees that we created. American jingoism reminds them they are at war but that’s only the costume. For the world to be better we need to have the insight of the devil. We need to realise that, while it is horrible, what happens to an invading army when compared to what happens to the invaded is but a covering over the cold heart of man that the devil himself would turn away from. They live in hell. Not one of their choosing. Not one they deserve. But hell nonetheless.

Leave a comment

Filed under afghanistan, america, comedy, halloween, humour, iraq, KDF, kenya, men, monsters, somalia, war, wisdom of children

in that parallel world…

Context is important. Two of my high school friends were having a fb conversation. It was inspired by a video of  a freestyle that was in turn inspired by two guys sitting on the side of the road playing their instruments. One(of my high school friends) posted a video of the freestyle and hacked back to their rap days and how this guy is almost as good as they were.


The reply:

I have just checked this out. You’re right… he’s almost on our level. We’re proof of what happens when a society’s education system deprioritises the arts. Who knows where EAW (currently an engineer) may have ended up had his talents been nurtured? Probably, in that parallel universe, he would be singing for change on the side of the road he built in this universe.

That paragraph needs nothing further added to it. In fact if you are in a hurry go ahead and get back to work because after that succinct, sublime, seminal string of sentences all that follows will be muddled and messy, merely marauding.

But I’ll go ahead and write it anyway because it deserves a review. This paragraph that starts off lambasting the education system we went through. Due to the society’s insistence on “practical subjects” we have no idea how many writers, actors, musicians, and designers we lost. Who knows how different our country would have looked, would have felt if we had all these people whose job it was to express a Kenyan identity. People who either knew what their countrymen wanted or who knew what they would like. Opinion changers and complacency satisfiers. A whole host of people who understood Kenya. Perhaps we wouldn’t still be grappling with the question of identity. We may not have been asking what it means to be Kenyan if there were people who understood us and had spent decades decoding it for us. Crafting a national myth and sewing together from our diversity a beautiful cloth that covered our vulnerability and healed the cracks that have been exploited over and over again in order to win elections.

Mark O’Connell writing in the newyorker says

Shelley’s famous line about poets being the unacknowledged legislators of the world always strikes me as giving a little too much credit to poets and a great deal too much credit to the world.

Yet another paragraph that does not need expounding. We can all with the great gift of hindsight say that if we had more art in our country we would have been understood each other better. The empathy that hearing other people’ stories inspired in us would never have let us look at our neighbours as if they were strangers deserving of being burned and hacked. Spontaneous performances of music would lift our spirits from the endless drudgery of daily life. Clothes that spoke truly of us, of who we are instead of who ruled us  once upon a time would definitely have meant that we would walk straighter and stand prouder.

This could all be true. But, and here’s the thing that it’s easy to forget Kenya is a developing country. There are basic things that we don’t have. We don’t have the best  roads or well enough built buildings, we don’t have enough hospitals, we simply don’t yet have the capacity to carry the things our country needs to carry. I mean that literally, to carry the food that needs to be transported from one corner to another, to carry the people who need it to their places of work, to carry the sick to hospital, to carry the ever growing urban population, to carry the still-ever growing but much easier to forget rural population, we can’t even carry the men with egos who would sit and rule over us.

I have absolutely nothing against art. I understand the therapeutic effect that it gives to the weary and the happiness with which it can lift a human soul. But that paragraph made me think. It made me think about what it is we really needed. What we needed at the time that these decisions were being made. I can’t help but think that the right call was made. Kenya has not moved very far past the days when we could see the holes punching through the roads in our capital because they couldn’t bear the weight of the trucks driving  over them.

The further back we look the less we can see. There was no focus on the arts in our school. The education system decidedly leans against the subjects that you excel in due to self-expression. But I can’t help but think that’s what the country needed and may still need for a while. There have to be streets before the career of a street musician becomes a viable alternative. Can anyone deny the changes brought about by the invention of m-pesa and then go on to argue that the presence of a national dress would have been more beneficial?

Today I met a guy who went to campus in the same period that I did he studied actuarial science. Now he’s a musician. He told me that he’s employed in the high school I went to. That it actually has an arts program now. That they have finally recognised the need for this in the lives of their students. We needed engineers and architects very badly for a very long time but I don’t think the need is nearly as pressing as it used to be. In fact I’m sure that the classes will be filled far beyond their capacity in universities all over the country.  Now we have enough resources to spread around. Enough money to invest in the architect and the actor, enough space to teach the future civil engineer and civics professor.

When that happens it gets to be time for a change. Without proper nurturing talent will still shine through and the best of the best will be huge musicians, great actors, well paid writers. As the economy matures I imagine it gets to a point where a middling engineer can feed his family just as much as a middling musician can. It’s the future I would like to live in. Unfortunately it’s going to be a bygone generation making these decisions on our behalf. Though, since time passes it will soon be us. The education system we put in place is  a reflection of the kind of society we want our children to live in. the biggest question then becomes what society that is.

Leave a comment

Filed under arts, education, future, kenya, planning