Celebrating East African Writing!
I have been wondering a lot of late, no wait, let me introduce myself first. I am one of those typical Kenyans, always complaining about government, always engaging in heated political debates in smoke-filled bars, vociferously defending my tribesmen against criticism. Fulminating, railing, foaming in the mouth, going absolutely nuts! But I digress.
I am taken back to a conversation with a friend, who was about to leave for his adopted foreign country, where recently a man of mixed descent ascended to the highest office.
“You know, thing is, out there the system works.” my friend tells me, jabbing the air repeatedly.
“Which system?” I ask.
“The system, men, you know what am saying, all the stuff like roads, healthcare, police, you know, tha politics, men that system works there, you know.”
“Men? And it doesn’t work here? Our roads are open daily, hospitals and dispensaries always operational, cops busy all over, Mr. President working very hard near the Arboretum, weekend political drama………. Which system are you talking about?”
“You people always try to rationalize the inefficient systems here, men, I dunno.”
“Dunno? We people? Who is ‘you people’, we Kenyans?”
“Yeah, you Kenians” he sneers. I’m totally pissed! Kenians? Spare me the drivel. This pathetic snob flies out the other day, now he’s thumbing his nose calling us Kenians? . Sisi Wakenya! Tusker did a whole advert on that theme.
“And you, whatever you are called, don’t rationalize anything? All is well, huh?”
“You see, what am sayin, men, is you know, you gotta live the best life, you know 110%, only where the system works.”
“Which is this SYSTEM?” I ask for the umpteenth time.
My friend left and denounced our beautiful motherland since our system, doesn’t work, men. I mean, come on, our system works incredibly well.
Government? We have the best functioning government system. Free, fair and democratic elections every five years. Apart from the occasional “scandal” broken by nosy journalists hungry for limelight (mostly unsubstantiated stuff), a little extravagance in government spending, many limos to ferry the nabobs around, absentee parliamentarians, a corrupt and thieving police force, corrupt judiciary, inefficient
civil service, all is working well in our system. You can even register and sell political parties (without manifestos) since we creatively use one manifesto. Occasionally we rewrite the Constitution, just to exercise our creative minds and ensure our drafters, that rare breed of people, earn their salaries. Our system works, men.
Health care? Save for the occasional lack of drugs in dispensaries, antiquated equipment, low pay in some cadres, salary delays and poor housing for health workers. I mean even the President goes for medical attention in our government hospitals, what other confirmation do we need. Our system works.
My friend was warming up to what is wrong with his motherland.
“Hey, check out your transport system, men, it sucks.”
“Sucks? Sucks what? Or is it sacks, as in with an “a”?” I reply, totally lost. My primary school English teacher would be very concerned.
“No, you know “s-u-c-k-s”, it don’t work, men. Like how do y’all get around?”
Get around? What is this guy talking about? One word, m-a-t-a-t-u, the coolest public transport system in the world. Seat belts, passengers always buckled in, speed governors, uniformed crew, great sense of humour, streets smart, sharp. Funky, cool, fast (well occasionally too fast), flashy, artistic, some soft music and DVD videos (well occasionally too loud), but not louder than the evangelical prayer houses springing up daily. Where do you have a private, public transport system that is actually a culture? Only the Kenyan matatu system has evolved from a transport system into a culture. Nowhere else, I have checked.
Let me tell you what we need to do to attract people like my friend back. Tourism.
It will bring in all the money we need to create a welfare state, where the system works. By the time we get oil in Lamu, diamonds in Mwingi, and other mineral deposits elsewhere, they shall be making a beeline for our airport, begging us to make them citizens.
Once we promulgate, yes promulgate, the new Constitution, prosperity is coming fellow Kenyans.
Tourism Board, read on. The beaches and Maasai Mara can sell themselves without your help.
Matatu Culture Tours. A visit to the production factories, see the creative artwork by lads who have never seen an art room in school, or even a school. Ingenious audio-visual systems by primary school drop-outs, and then a fast ride to one of our Eastlands estates. Itinerary marked as “Squad Moja”.
Nairobi Pub Culture. Just fill an air-conditioned matatu with tourists and take them bar-hopping, that uniquely Nairobi culture, home grown in Kenya. Ours is not just casual drinking, it is a whole culture. Enter the pub, mingle with the crowds, have a drink, dance, move to the next pub, repeat. Itinerary item is “Moja Moja”.
Shopping? Maasai Market is unbeatable, worldwide. Need I say more? Mark this as “Open Air Shopping”, again uniquely Kenyan.
What is Kenya without a weekend of political rallies? Have the tourists attend a heated one, especially during the Constitution re-writing season. Itinerary entry is “Siasa za Peni Mbili”. Ensure two politicians come to near fisticuffs, but reconcile in public for the sake of development, and roar in laughter. Have translators on standby.
Then to “Nyama Choma” bandas, “Potholes Surfing” on the highways, join a cabinet minister on a “Tour of Development Projects”, where he makes a profound ministerial statement. Attend a full City Council meeting (armed with a stack of light, easy-to-hurl chairs) during mayoral elections. Visits to athletics training camps where Qataris train
alongside Kenyan “World Beating Athletes”, plant trees alongside our ever smiling “Nobel Laureate” ……… you see folks, we can soon have a welfare state. No more working nation.
That is what the other countries have done, just harnessed local resources for the good of the citizens. And we can do it, too.
© Mwenda Riungu 2009
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