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Where every day is April Fool’s day

Apr 10, 2005 Humour, Sunday Nation

April 1st is the day that newspapers traditionally try to make fools of us. All sorts of spoof stories are planted in the paper to mislead, beguile and amuse us. This year was no different. I opened the Daily Nation with a keen eye to try to isolate the satires and the parodies from the real news. I have to tell you that I failed miserably. The reason? There is so much daily absurdity that takes place in this country of ours that it is very difficult to tell whether people are being deadly serious or merely ridiculous. Let me take you on a tour of the day’s reports, and you tell me whether you can spot the spoof stories.

Corrupt police officers to be sacked, says Ali. Now, this could only have been front-page news if one thing was true: that no corrupt officer has ever been sacked before in this country. I fear that may well be true. They are merely relocated, resprayed or recycled. Commissioner Ali was apparently not joking. He appears to be making a spirited and whole-hearted attempt to clean up the force once and for all. The task facing him is indeed immense. We must all wish him well and support him in this mission. The future of the country is at stake.

Kenyans are ‘free to live anywhere’. On the same day, our indefatigable official government spokesman was on hand to give us this amazing news: that we are free to pitch our tents anywhere in the republic. Again, this is only news because the reality is that we are not free to do so. We may call ourselves a nation, but we are more segregated than sheep and goats. A Kenyan only appears to feel safe in the presence of his or her own community. If you try to live even a few miles away from the land of your forebears, you are always marked out as an ‘alien’. This is no joke, as our penchant for secret armies, oathing and ethnic cleansing shows. We live in narrow tribal cocoons, yet want to become a modern knowledge economy. Anybody laughing?

Donor talks to focus on corruption. Now this is the sort of headline that puts us to sleep. When, since the end of the Cold War, have donor talks not focused on corruption? Is no-one tired of this charade? Year after year, we troop before the donors like abject mendicants asking for ‘development assistance’ (alms, to you and me). Year after year the donors tick us off and point out our various shortcomings. Year after year large sums are promised and smaller sums delivered. Year after year we squander most of what we are given. Would someone care to point out the ‘development’ that has taken place after consuming billions of dollars of this ‘aid’? How much longer do we intend to carry on with this failed model of master and supplicant? When an act of futility is repeated incessantly, it must be because it is in the interests of both parties. So see you here at this time next year when the headline will no doubt repeat itself.

Watchmen get two years for stealing. Two guards in Uasin Gishu reportedly broke into the very supermarket they were supposed to be guarding and stole various items. Unfortunately for them, amongst the items they stole was some alcohol. Even more unfortunately, they could not wait to drink it. So they drank their fill and passed out outside the shop, exactly where they were formerly guarding the shop. Hey, don’t laugh: they were merely displaying our propensity for combining larceny with incompetence.

District records 32 births from girls under 15. Oh dear. And that was just Nakuru district. How many times, young women of Kenya, do you want men to take advantage of you, lie to you, impregnate you and then abandon you? We are a nation of young single mothers, with all the societal costs that entails. Do we devote enough time to teaching values, ethics and biology to our hormone-crazed youngsters? Will we ever move away from the patriarchal economy that leaves young women vulnerable to economic exploitation? Or are we happy to keep producing street kids and vagrants who have no chance of making it?

Minister concedes cost of business is too high. And international investors, who ranked us 11th from bottom in terms of investment attractiveness, appear to agree. Production costs are too high, infrastructure is appalling and the danger to life very real. And this from a government drawn from the investing classes, who promised to make Kenya open for business again. Sadly, the minister did not concede what he aims to do about it. Perhaps we could appoint a committee of say, 32 Kenyans to look into it and report within 3 years? Or did we already do that?

Kibaki ‘stepped in to protect State House trees’. An MP claimed in parliament that had the president himself not intervened, dozens of trees would have been chopped down in the precincts of State House. Now, if there’s one thing we Kenyans do with great gusto, it’s chop down trees. A team of City Council workers, otherwise invisible, can work with great productivity and effectiveness when it comes to denuding the landscape. The usual reasons are ‘security’ or ‘safety’ concerns. There is apparently no safety or security in protecting our biodiversity or future rainfall supplies. No, no, the trees are in the way. Chop ’em down!

We’re headed for a new round of power rationing, says Energy PS. Apparently because this time demand is too high. Apparently because the economy is growing too fast. Apparently because the government did not believe its own plans for economic recovery and did not invest in new power capacity in time. Apparently because ‘joined-up thinking’ is a distant dream. One to mull over as we sit in the darkness, sometime soon.

ACA officers due in today. Let’s end with a cricket story. Two years ago, Kenya reached the semi-finals of cricket’s world cup. Do we have another major team that has done this in our history? Enough of an achievement to put our cricket on the map once and for all, you would have thought. Ah, but this is Kenya. Achievement is just the beginning of our woes. After much quarrelling over money, allegations of corruption, introduction of parallel bodies etc, the International Cricket Council called a halt. It threatened to take away our one-day-match international status, and sent in a team from the Africa Cricket Association to sort out our wrangles for us. Another very local mess created single-handedly and with great application by our sports leaders, requiring wisdom from outside to sort it out. The shame of it all.

So there you have it, Kenyans. That was just one day’s worth of headlines. None of those were spoof stories. The actual joke report planted by the Nation was about minister Murungaru banning all white-painted cars. I sold mine immediately. Clearly, every day could be April Fool’s day here. Shall we make it a national holiday?

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