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Monday, February 22, 2010

Hey rich man, won't you please give up, tell me where you get it!!!!

I saw the rally at Kibera. I saw it and all that went down. And I am not amused. I am mad. Angry. Those were hundreds of young men and dozens of women cheering on to political statements.

It was interesting to see them being equated to a switch, such that when the temperatures are high, they are just told, “cool down” and they do it. That’s the irony of it.

Do you need a better example of how politicians use the youth? Forgive me, but I happen to get better examples where ‘someone’ is involved.

It reminds me:

Last year, I got a call from a church preacher based at Nairobi’s Korogocho slums. He said there were poisonous fumes being emitted by burning garbage at the Dandora dumpsite.

I went there in the company car accompanied by a lady photographer. What I saw has forever stuck in my mind and I shudder whenever I am told to go into any slum—and there are 200 of them in Nairobi, Kenya’s capital city. Korogocho is the fourth largest.

I came face to face with poverty. Naked children eating rotten food dumped at the Dandora garbage site. Hundreds of young men idling by the roadside smoking weed (bhang), dozens others were scavenging in the filthy garbage picking nylon bags for recycling.

Add to that the choking smog and the tear-dropping smoke, and then you begin to understand the problems of being young, poor and living in a poor neighbourhood in Nairobi.

As a journalist, I did my story, it got published. But the mindset of one of those I interviewed gave me a peek into the thinking of these ‘wretched of the earth.’ He told me, that he thought the city planners removed the garbage from the wealthy zones where the mayor and the President can see it, to dump it in their neighbourhood where the top leaders won’t even think about it.

It is the same thinking that hurts the unemployed, poor youth, for they think the rich have a duty to share the riches with them, for after all, the bourgeoisie made its money off their sweat. Sometimes, most times the poor are right. But whenever the rich come to ‘share’ it is usually in form of a hurried, perfunctory public relations campaign, nowadays dubbed ‘Corporate Social Responsibility.’

Poverty is not a choice for this group. They come to the city looking for work, for better opportunities. But they may not have the papers, yet they have the skill. However, the way they are handled due to their appearance –no money, therefore clean but torn clothes and shoes—condemns them to a vicious cycle of poverty. First impressions, they say matter. And you can’t look good in old and torn clothes, can you?

Those who escape the cycle, never look back. Thus, they’d be seen gloating about how they left the slums and are now in the affluent leafy suburbs in Nairobi.

Those who stay, are enrolled into the street gangs that carry out muggings and extortions. The rest continue toiling, braving daily harassment in the hands of the police, sometimes, losing all their daily earnings to the law enforcers as bribes. In the end, they turn to crime, for why should they pay a bribe when they’ve committed no crime.

The government got generous with a Sh16 billion youth employment programme. But this was a cash cow for most of the policy makers as no sooner had it taken off than the complaints of unpaid wages began to show.

Some of the youth are getting loans from the government’s Youth Enterprise Development Fund to try their hand at business. They are doing better.

Others are trying their hand at politics, but they are being kept off by their shallow pockets. Some have been bought off by the old politicians –for as little as sh150,000 --so as not to spoil the party for the bigman.

Still others try to force their way into policy making coming up with grandiose yet practical ideas, but these are trashed on the basis that they are unworkable.

The city planners think about expanding roads, without thinking about who will be driving the vehicles. The focus is on menial jobs to a handful of unemployed youth from the slums, of course, for political reasons.

The planners think about serving the 30 per cent who make it in this expensive city, without learning from the causes of 2007 political mayhem, fuelled by the unemployed youth, which ground the economy to a halt.

The politicians –Kenya’s biggest problem—continue causing strife, paying the youth to fight in the streets while they loot the Exchequer.

When they are caught, they retreat to their tribal cocoons and it is the same poor, unemployed youth, who take bribes to fight for the corrupt politicians.

The stone-throwing ensues, the police arrest the youth and take him to jail; while the politician who paid the young men Sh500 (less than 10 USD) goes home to his affluent city maisonette guarded by an underpaid youthful policeman who lives in a slum.

The many unemployed in the city strive to survive, and as per the Darwinian Theory, they are responsible for the high population growth rate in the city.

But the planners and the politicians ignore all this and the obvious pressure that increased population has on crucial resources like water, electricity, transport and the sewerage system. Instead, they go for knee-jerk reactions like water and power rationing; sometimes ignoring the problems in public transport which the uncomplaining citizen somehow finds a way to deal with.

But all is not lost. As long as the Kenyan youth goes to school and comes out looking for opportunities and seizing them, as long as the culture of handouts takes a backseat among the young people, things are looking up for the country.

As long as the so called youth leaders stop the political doublespeak that we’ve seen with the older generation, then the youth will have some hope of good governance.

The crucial solution is for the youth desist from violent clamour of their rights as this keeps away potential investors interested in tapping the huge work skills harboured by hundreds of Kenyan youth.

Meanwhile, the youth can stay positive and sober, keeping off the consumerism that alcohol and cigarette companies keeps throwing at them. A go-slow on the ‘party culture’ will also ensure that the most productive time is put to good use and not merely spent nursing hangovers.







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