Celebrating East African Writing!

A Failed State of Mind

Written by Betty Njoroge

There are some distinctions that Kenya keep receiving that sincerely leave a bad taste in one’s mouth. Being distinguished for being in the top 20 failed states in the world alongside countries that have seen years of conflict and annihilation like Afghanistan or Somalia is one of those distinctions. To be put in the same category as such states is not only disappointing, it’s a scary perspective on our Kenyan reality.

Do you mean to tell me that while some upper class fellows are having a social media war with a restaurant over croissants, the rest of our planet sees us as little better than Somalia? Kenyans seem to be in a haze. We cannot see what fundamentals we lack in governance that makes us a failed state. Some even denied the reality presented in the failed state index; claiming that the west/US is keen to disparage us because they don’t like our choice of president.

It’s certainly a Kenyan thing to live in denial, to accept as natural utter perversities. Take, for instance, the fact that there are only 2,300 government doctors for 40 million people in this country. If one doctor dies, that is a national disaster! Majority of Kenyans do not have health insurance and if you get diseases like Cancer, Kidney disease or Cardio-vascular disease you WILL die. There are not enough doctors, there are not enough resources and there is not enough money allocated to the healthcare sector. Repeatedly we are told that the sector is on its dying bed. I think it’s already dead and buried.

And yet, this is the same country where politicians will promise millions of jobs and hatch a scheme called Vision 2030. This is the same country that will have fancy new highways, and plans to build a new port in the LAPSSET program. One wonders how a nation can be anything other than a complete failure when the humanitarian factors of governance are so desperately ignored in favor of industry. Rather than increase expenditure on healthcare, this government has consistently reduced expenditure and budgetary allocations for healthcare over the last 5 years. These are the absurdities; that your government will not spend money on social amenities like hospitals but will build a superhighway.

It’s only in a failed state where government does not serve the people but serves industry and corporate interests; as though industry does not require workers, as if government does need us to be healthy in order to work to submit taxes. Because the government refuses to provide adequate health services, the private sector tries to bridge the gap. The fact is, if you don’t have money in Kenya, you will not receive the medical attention you need.

It is a refusal – a clear and adamant refusal – by our government, to provide basic healthcare and other amenities for its population. It is a refusal that half the electorate fully supports; having voted blindly for this government in the last election. It is a refusal that the other half of the electorate quietly and begrudgingly accepts. They have moved on.

This country is considered a failed state because Kenya does not meet the parameters of governance that indicate a functioning democratic government. The government does not seem to exist to serve or govern the people; rather this government exists to serve an elite few.

The majority of Kenyans don’t have the problem of facing so called “racism” when buying baked goods at a pricey restaurant. They are barely surviving in this country, living no better than the haggard Somali, hardened by years of war. It is just as easy to die in Mandera as it is in Mogadishu. That is a shattering and frightening reality that those stuffing their faces with cakes refuse to accept. Maybe it’s the illusion of their money that lets people spend hours arguing about croissants online. Perhaps, this silly looking dispute over pastries is the only thing that keeps these Kenyans from going crazy because of all the absurdities, injustices and utter misery they face daily.

It would help us all, to just accept that we are a failed state. To accept that our nightmarish existence is shocking to non-Kenyans to the extent that it does seem that we are living lives comparable to those in war torn nations. In fact, the biggest failure in Kenya is our own refusal to admit that we are in shambles, wretched, wearing rags, diseased and starving; we refuse to see our own horrors because we are too busy admiring highways and ports and demanding croissants at cafes. It’s a pity that there are only about 100 psychiatrists in Kenya, we surely need help for this mental illness.

Betty Waitherero Njoroge is a writer, a human rights activist and a producer for television. She writes commentary and opinion pieces on socio-political matters in Kenya and runs her own blog on

She is passionate about the color red, loves roast chicken and red wine, will spend most of her day buried in literature, articles or texts, and she is a mother. Betty hopes to join the University of Nairobi in 2013 and pursue masters in Anthropology, concentrating on Gender, Culture and Language. Her favorite quote is “Brevity is the soul of lingerie” by US author and humorist Dorothy Parker; her rather amusing take on Shakespeare’s famous quote by Hamlet – “Brevity is the soul of wit.”

Betty is participating in Storymoja Hay Festivals conservations on “Imagine the World; WAZA DUNIA”.



7 comments on “A Failed State of Mind

  1. Daphne
    June 27, 2013

    Failed state – I disagree rated together with Somali? By the way wondering whether Somali hosts refugees from other nations…Politics of the West … where they may morally be rated as failed states.


  2. Alexander
    June 27, 2013

    Polished and precise English, brilliantly conducted argument, well-built arches [in croissant shape], very disciplined.
    This is truly what a well-argued, powerful “opinion piece” IDEALLY could be, and what it ever so, so rarely is in the papers.


  3. Anonymous Kenya
    June 27, 2013

    Failed state yes. Croissant wars no. If you are aware that the croissant issue has been brought to the forefront because of the issue it is riding on. It is not about class but the principal of non-acceptance of racism in Kenya. This has been going on in the nation since 1963. Where Kenyans are treated as subservient and inferior in their own country and its done openly. This is the idea behind #BoycottArtCaffe. It has nothing to do with class. It has all to do with protecting our constitution from being trampled on and the dignity and identity of our people no longer being abused or misused.


  4. Betty
    June 28, 2013

    Its highly improbable your boycott has anything to do with Kenyans being discriminated against seeing as the initial complainant himself is not party to it nor has he even come out to personally state his complaint against Art Caffe. The restaurant itself has stated that the matter was a dispute but was resolved. since the complainant himself has not commented since the altercation nor was he the one who made the allegations on social media, clearly the matter was resolved between them in a mutually satisfactory manner. but. no one is forcing you to eat there so feel free to boycott, just note that it really has nothing to do with most Kenyans or how most are treated at hotels, certainly your boycott has nothing to do with the complainant in particular. He has probably gone back to being one of their loyal customers, as he was before. Nice day. :-)”


  5. Alexander
    June 28, 2013

    There is a FB group (founded by Jackie Arkle as I recall), with the initial aim of fighting racism in Kenyan hotels. There were and maybe are incidents on the Kenyan Coast where black Kenyans would not be allowed on hotel premises reserved for white ladies and gentlemen. One such case, incidentally, recently had a court hearing where preliminary objections (pertaining to theapplicability of the bill of right in civil inter-partes relationships, what is known as “Drittwirkung”) were decided. The said FB group has now also taken up the Croissant War.

    Jackie had her own reasons. As a mixed person of colour, so she has explained publicly, she was discriminated against as a child, with people (maybe her age mates) asking her whether her (black) mother was a prostitute. Answer: no, she wasn’t.
    Now this was racism by black Kenyans against lighter-skinned Kenyans, but all incidents of racism are bad, and this was the initial spark that motivated her stance.

    Doubtlessly, there are some problems that pop up with Art Caffe in some repetition. They may not be common, but there seems to be a structural weakness that _allows_ such incidents to happen. This weakness may be the person of one manager, or it may be a very Kenyan mindset of false equation on part of waiters and waitresses “mzungu = TIPS; local = STINGY”.


  6. Daniel
    June 28, 2013

    We are a failed state. If you disagree go ahead and pick afew statistics on health,education,unemployment,food security,security,corruption,transport,electricity…..


    June 28, 2013

    The Artcaffe debacle was a little absurd and I agree with your stance of over why people should argue over croissants when the rest of Kenya is living below the poverty line. Still, I liked the fact that the noise generated put the issue (pastries or not) on notice. There is a very common culture of discrimination in many establishments and @Alexander it sometimes has nothing to do with money but everything to do with race, people just don’t write about it as much.
    If we can get as riled up about healthcare as we do with other issues, we may be on our way to claiming back our dignity as Kenyan citizens


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This entry was posted on June 27, 2013 by in Writer's Blog.
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