Time to get angry – about ourselves
I have been fortunate enough in my life to have visited many of the world’s great cities. When I was younger, that was great fun. These days, I just get angry when I travel.
Why angry? I get angry when the plane approaches a new city at night, and I can see a dramatic display of lights as far as the eye can see. I get angry when I see a spick-and-span, well-functioning airport. I get angry when no-one approaches me at that airport to hassle me or solicit a bribe. I get angry when I leave the terminal and find an orderly queue of well-regulated taxis, waiting to be summoned.
I get angry when I spend days in a city and don’t encounter a single pot-hole in any road. I get angry when I see how well lit the streets are. I get angry when I see people driving according to laws of the road, rather than of the jungle. I get angry when I see a prime minister’s entourage on the road, with just three cars in it.
I get angry when I see the streets being cleaned every night. I get angry when I discover that it’s perfectly OK to walk out at night without taking your life into your hands. I get angry when I find that I can sleep well without wondering who’s trying to climb over the wall. I get angry when I listen to politicians and public leaders, and see that they actually care about their country and are trying to serve it well.
And so I returned from another such journey, an angry man. I got even angrier when I looked at our shabby old airport. And when I got surrounded by shady looking taxi drivers. In the drive home, I seethed as I watched at least six different imbeciles drive against oncoming traffic; and as I came across a dilapidated old jalopy (that would disgrace a junkyard let alone a road), come to a shuddering halt and block two lanes of our busiest highway for the next few hours. I fumed as my jaw knocked from all the craters in the main roads of the city.
My mood got worse when I switched on the TV and saw people throwing stones at their own political party’s headquarters and smashing all the windows. I wanted to cry when I watched the total impunity with which big political names ditched their ‘parties’ and joined others in seconds after losing nomination battles. And I sat agog seeing other party leaders embracing these refugees, the same ones they had been abusing before I left no more than a week previously.
But I think I got angriest when I heard the people of Kenya shaking their heads at their leaders and blaming all their woes on them. Who is it, I wondered, who flocks after politicians at election time, looking for 50-bob handouts when electing a crooked cretin is guaranteed to keep you in lifelong poverty? Who is it who can’t wait in an orderly line in traffic, and must drive dangerously just to get a few metres ahead? Who is it who throws stones at the slightest incitement? Who is it, when faced with daily ethical dilemmas, always does the wrong, bad, immoral thing and then blames ‘leadership’? Who is it that refuses to accept people from a few kilometres away, let alone embrace all that is good in the world? Who treats customers as though they were something stuck on your shoe?
A clue: the people who do all that, every day, are not shipped in from other countries or planets.
So let’s all get angry, then, but let’s get angry at ourselves. We live in a third-rate country, a country that knowingly impoverishes its masses and denies them a life of meaning. A country where looting the public purse is a national sport. A country which still cannot build a proper road network or a city that works, simply because it can’t police itself and prevent all the money from disappearing.
Observe the cartoon characters straight out of the Wild West (complete with silly hats) that we have allowed to run our capital city for many decades. Are we surprised at the result? As a Kenyan friend told me during a sombre discussion abroad, you would do more vetting of house-helps before hiring them, than Kenyans do of their leaders. We have got people accused of obscene thefts running for parliament, and we are attending their rallies to clap for them.
Please don’t confuse this for Afro-pessimism. I am an optimist, and don’t wish to live in those well-run countries I visit. I was born in a third-division country, but I wish to see it become a second-division country before I die. For my son, I wish to leave a country heading for the first division. But I know that won’t happen until many more people start to get angry about the state we’re in, and start doing something about it.