Saturday, December 10, 2011

The lot of the 99%

Only the wilfully blind refuse to see the economic ruin that was once the dream of the NARC administration. When Kenyans finally threw out the KANU kleptocracy in 2002, they did so fully realising that the path to reform and resurgence was going to be long and arduous. On the campaign rail, Mwai Kibaki, Raila Odinga and Charity Ngilu had made promises that were honoured more in the breach than in anything else. Zero tolerance to corruption became a cruel a cruel joke on Kenyans when Anglo-Leasing, Triton and maize scandals surfaced in rapid succession. But the greatest betrayal was when Kiraitu Murungi led the government out of the Bomas Constitutional Conference, against the wishes of Kenyans who had bled and died for a new Constitution ever since section 2A of the former Constitution was repealed.

Looking at the economic landscape today, it is clear that there are clear winners and losers, the one-percenters and the 99%. Even symbolic attempts by the government at austerity, such as the scrapping of gas-guzzlers for the VW Passat, are tinged with irony, seeing that the members of the Cabinet and the Members of Parliament continue to draw multi-million shilling pay packages year in, year out. Meanwhile, teachers, policemen, doctors, nurses, et al have continued to get the short end of the stick while the civil service continues to perpetuate its two-tier system, paying an elite few hundreds of thousands of shillings per month while the hard working members of the Service continue to subsist on meagre terms in the face of a hostile economic environment. When a well-fed member of the Cabinet calls for sacrifice, asking for the working classes to forgo pay-rises until Kenya is victorious in Somalia, the call rings hollow when we know he is probably going to spend a significant portion of his healthy salary on his mistress and girlfriend.

Ordinary Kenyans have fallen prey to fly-by-night Ponzi schemes of unimaginable scale and complexity. Billions of shillings have been lost when these con artists have upped stakes and fled town in the dead of night. Billions more were lost when in rapid succession three stock brokerages went out of businesses, taking their clients' funds with them. Even more billions are on their way out of the working man's pockets when the government, in a rash of law-enforcement urgency, descended on various parts of the city and its environs, reclaiming its land and demolishing homes that thousands have occupied for decades, in some cases. Tens of thousands of Kenyans still live in IDP camps, unable to engage in income-generating activities worth a damn simply because they cannot access credit (credit that has receded further from their reach with the recent hike in interest rates) as they have no fixed assets to call their own and no one to guarantee their applications.

Every single day, millions of Kenyans grapple with the harsh reality that the shilling cannot buy what it did a year ago: energy costs have gone through the roof, as has the cost of food, shelter, medicine and transport. This Christmas, millions will forgo their traditional luxuries in order to prepare for an even harsher New Year. As a result millions will fall prey to get-rich-schemes perpetrated with the full knowledge of senior officers of the government, making already hard lives harder. The one-percenters cannot imagine the shame and humiliation that grown men and women suffer when they have to deny their children certain luxuries. How can they when their lives are spent in the rarefied confines of members' clubs and beach hotels, far from the madding crowd? It is an indictment of our system that when the economy, even in straitened times keeps growing but millions sink further into penury and despair. It should make the one-percenters feel ashamed, but it won't. This is the reality, harsh as it may be, and one day, sooner or later, we will come to regret it.

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