Saturday, March 27, 2021

They still don't care

As shall become apparent after you have spent ten or so minutes with me, my laziness is otherworldly. Combined with my legendary procrastination, I couldn't possibly be bothered by ninety-nine per cent of the shit that gets folks out of bed in the morning. It is why I go out of my way to do the things I do well first time round so that I don't have to repeat them - or myself. I have a conscience, of sorts, and I would prefer that my life choices not have negative externalities, as the economists would put it.

It is why I know that the decisions that were being taken regarding the "Public Order No. 2 of 2021" were not just made by lazy procrastinators, they were made without thinking of or caring about their negative externalities. The decision is redolent of the decision in March 2020, at the beginning of the panic throughout government, to impose a nighttime curfew without giving the millions of workers who would be affected y the decision time to make arrangements to deal with the decision. The videos of Kenyans being assaulted by policemen for violating the short-notice curfew orders were heart-wrenching. The powers-that-be have not learnt anything.

When the order was given to shut down all travel out of and into Nairobi, Kiambu, Nakuru, Machakos and Kajiado counties, little thought was given to the fact that Kiambu, Machakos and Kajiado are dormitory towns of Nairobi, and hundreds of thousands of workers commute from them to the City for work. Mavoko is Machakos, Ongata Rongai is in Kajiado, and Kikuyu is in Kiambu. By imposing travel restrictions on these three counties, it meant the workers who work in the City were, by presidential decree, barred from coming to work. If their employers are unable to make work-from-arrangements for them, they are likely to be laid off. The latest declaration, just like the 2020 one, did not even bother to look provide for exemptions that would be applicable for essential workers or essential supplies. And in typical serikali fashion, it would be enforced with great vigour by the forces of law and order, further empowering the petty tyrants that policemen have become over the past one year.

Those who know these things, the people engaged in the arduous task of dealing with public emergencies, have told us over and over that the response to a pandemic follows certain guidelines. The economists who look at the impacts have told us what needs to be done in order to ensure that the economy is protected and the livelihoods of workers are protected, if not their household incomes. In the past year, the decision-makers in this government have not listened to the experts, whether it was on pandemic response, management and mitigation or economic relief and recovery. They have paid more attention to the security implications of their decisions because, as we have come to learn, they are more interested in managing the political transition leading up to the 2022 general election to the almost-total exclusion of everything else.

The senior-most members of the security establishment have turned a deaf ear to public health and economic specialists and it has led us down a false path that has occasioned billions in economic losses and hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of lost and shattered livelihoods. That they continue to be in charge and continue to make decisions with serious cross-cutting implications is a terrible indictment of our collective response to this national emergency.

All it would have taken for us to weather this pandemic and emerge better than we have would have been the placing of care for the people at the heart of the national response. How do we protect people from disease, injury and harm? How do we protect households from the harmful and injurious effects of the pandemic? How do we protect incomes and the economy so that families don't suffer from the effects of poverty? Instead, the response revolved around the fear that the Government would fall, that the president's agenda (whatever that is) would be derailed, that "crime" would become widespread, that the people would lead a revolution. None of that indicated a care for the people; it was a response designed to protect narrow parochial interests. It was wrong, injurious and harmful. We are repeating the same mistakes, only this time, I fear, the outcomes will be much, much worse.

Friday, March 26, 2021

I tell you Maina...

In the olden days of 2005, when I had no choice in the matter, I was a passive, albeit annoyed, listener of the various morning shows on FM radio. Depending on which of the deathtraps called PSVs I boarded, I would sit through apparently humorous and entertaining renditions of "adult" subjects, mostly by male presenters, mostly in remarkably crass ways, mostly for prurience and titillation. The shows, even then, had little to commend them on the moral or social end. They almost universally bad. The FM stations made up for their bad-ness with music by Kenyan artists - and artistes - some of whom were very, very good. Some others produced pop songs whose beat still makes me bop my head whenever an earworm nestles in there. (Nameless, for sure, had a knack for belting out headbangers and I miss the man's songs something fierce.)

Then came along Mandevu - rather his wife - and my morning commute became this island of calmness because, I tell you Maina, Double M buses elevated the PSV game to levels hitherto seen in the mid-1980s when Kenya Bus stuck to a schedule and matatus were confined to the outskirts of the City. But I digress.

Morning FM radio, that vehicle for advertising products that a burgeoning working class aspiring to greatness wanted, was dominated by salaciously risqué shows that almost always engendered great discomfort when parents and their young wards happened to commute together. (We will cover the dysfunctional family life of parents who are afraid - and a bit ashamed - to discuss sex with their children another day.)

For me, though, it wasn't just the notoriously and relentlessly sexualised monotone of the likes of Maina and King'ang'i in the Morning that put me off, it was the determined efforts they all made to be on the wrong side of every single public interest issue of the day. If someone managed to break through their obsession with undersexed spouses and oversexed watchmen with a topic with real-world implications - say, Nairobi's notorious traffic jams - our sex mad radiomen would find a way of colouring the ensuing discussion with a bit of sex. These specimens of journalistic execrableness did not and could not find it in themselves to elevate the public discourse into topics that would, in the fulness of time, benefit the hundreds of thousands of commuters who tuned in day in, day out.

So it comes as no surprise that even in radio stations that have done many positive things, their presenters remain wedded to a determined almost-always patriarchally misogynistic view of the world. More importantly, they are prepared to share their worldviews loudly and without shame. Nuanced discussions about the wars of the sexes and similar cultural shibboleths receive only a patina of reason and thought. The depths of muck that these radiomen are prepared to plumb in their single-minded pursuit of the "sex sells" philosophy is sometimes quite staggering.

I have come a short distance from my Double M commute, but on those days when I have the luxury of driving myself to the office, it is to podcasts and my spectacularly eclectic collection of MP3 songs that I turn to. I cannot imagine my brain being addled by the pap peddled by the Mainas and King'ang'is of FM radio.

And yet these human specimens remain popular, their radio stations continue to promote their shows - and their views - and millions of Kenyans are made not just more stupider for their choice of entertainment, but worse as humans. If it is reinforced in your mind that men are superior to women, that women are men's sex objects, that women deserve every bad thing that happens to them for denying men sex - if the reinforcement is done day after day after day, we are worse off as humans. We will do bad things to each other as result. We will harm each other. We will injure each other. We will murder one another. What's worse, we won't care.

There will be a reckoning

I imagine that not every Johnnie-come-lately can get through the training needed to become a doctor or surgeon. By all accounts, the amount of twenty-four-hour swotting medical students engage in in order to append the prefix "Dr" before their names and the suffix "MD" after is simply staggering. Many of them also expand their intellectual muscles beyond Gray's Anatomy and the latest editions of the Physician's Desk Reference. You will happily listen to them expound on diverse subjects with a keen appreciation for the substance, if not the form. They are, quite often, delightful to be with. Sadly, they are a rapidly shrinking segment of the population, if not the academy.

Kenya's members of the medical profession are a funny lot these days. The pre-eminent example of the heights of achievement one can attain is a member of the national cabinet. Another one is an absentee deputy governor. Still another is a mouthpiece for the health ministry. What they have in common is a spectacularly horrific track record when it comes to keeping suffering Kenyans safe in the midst of a global pandemic that has ravaged homes, communities and the economy. It isn't that they have done bad things; that would be too easy in these days of social-media-fuelled blame-shifting. No. What they have one is to abdicate their senses - moral, intellectual, professional and social - and allowed the silver-tongued denizens of the Augean stables of national politics to carry the day whenever the question of public health comes up.

Indeed, in my opinion, the eponymous unsmiling member of the cabinet is the worst of the lot. He seems not to possess an ounce of humanity all the while executing un-human policies designed to academically segregate whole generations from their peers in other countries. He positively revels in acts designed to cow and humiliate his subordinates and underlings. He represents, as crassly as possible, the sentiments pervading the cabinet itself and he will not be deterred from demonstrating that if he were given the power to di, he would lead a nation without humans. Not a one. It would be clean, safe, un-corrupt, efficient - cold and sterile, like a surgical theatre.

Their kind is now prevalent across the land, spreading ominously like the epidemic decimating our families. Lawyers, accountants, teachers, nurses, engineers and architects are extolling the vicious virtues of more and more un-human policies, policies, if implemented, will convert humans into mere numbers, statistical datasets more useful in justifying the transfer of large wads of taxpayers' cash into the coffers of private corporations. Humans, people with needs and wants, are anathema to the utopia being preached to us by the likes of the waziri and his colleagues. Human messy-ness is a flaw, rather than a vital feature of our humanity, and must be stamped out by the bullet, if need be.

It has never occurred to them that they did not come of age in vacuums; they are patent reflections of the psychic tortures they visit on their fellowman. The more they impose restrictions, controls and violence on us, the worse their pristine country becomes shambolic, disheveled and untidy. The leafy-ness of their suburbs is being decimated because the same decimation they visited on the hovel-strewn neighbourhoods in the East has followed them home. Over the past one year, they have pursued the single-minded goal of subverting the will of the people, throwing public health caution to the four winds and as a result, visited on the people they intend to rule with an iron rod a horror of epic proportions. That horror has come back to bite them, and you can see them, their representatives and their apologists succumbing, one by one.

Of course they will push to the front when the vaccines come, but because they have flung open the national gates to all the nasty variants, the vaccine will do them  no good, and as they are felled one after the other, felled in the same cruel way as the people they have cruelly defiled, they will have no savior. None of us will. Some of them will end up with grand mausoleums, edifices to their egos and the memories of their egos, but when the maggots come for their embalmed arses, the only difference between them and us will be the volume of hypocritical wailing at their passing. In everything else, the six feet of soil between them and the living, they will be our peers, if not a bit lower down. 

As by law established

The members of my profession, the ones with a pompous sense of importance, tend to use phrases whose value has diminished greatly since the ...