“Lakini, you Kenyans you have serious issues, especially you blogger types…”
That’s the one thought that’s been running through my mind for the past week, after reading blog after blog post about how bad things are, how useless the Kenya@50 celebrations are, how far we are from the dream, how many people have died in the badlands near the border this week… I can’t believe I’m the one who’s going to say this, but it really isn’t that bad. Folks, Kenya at 50 is doing better than Kenya at 40, or 30, possibly even 20. Things are not that bad. They’re not excellent, but they’re not nearly as bad as we are making them out to be, and by we I mean the buggers with time and bandwidth to spare, yaani us bloggers. Again, I can’t believe I’m the idiot who gets to say this, especially given my never ending stream of abuse towards the powers that be, but all is nowhere near lost, and it’s time we stopped talking like it is. Look up, look around you, see the good as well as the bad.
Buggers are making me feel morose…
We turn 50 today. Actually, we turned 50 in June, but we’re natives so we must celebrate in December, festive season and whatnot. 50 years of independence, 50 years of nationhood, 50 years of being stuck together. It’s been great, no? I can see you saying no, but I don’t give a fuck, I’m feeling mildly optimistic and nobody’s gonna bring me down. No ‘woe is me’ bullshit, today we celebrate. Then tomorrow we’ll get back to calling people bad names and whining endlessly. Agreed? Good. Now I could sit here and throw a bunch of stats at you, show you the progress the country has made in the last half century; from improved child mortality rates to the near eradication of Polio; from to some form of electricity to green energy; from mabati roofing sheets to leather sofas made on Mombasa Road; from mobile networks covering the length and breadth of the country to sms’s at one bob and publicly traded shares in the largest network (shares that actually earn you money, finally); from locally processed and packaged coffee in our shops (kiosks and supermarkets) to the Naivasha brewery that wins international awards for their malt beer (or so they tell us); from 24 hour television, and radio, to bootleg DVD’s and broadband internet. 50 years later, we are not where we used to be. We should be further down the road, but we are not as far back as they, we, would have us believe.
Now you know I’m no apologist for this or any other government, and you know I get ridiculously upset at the antics of our politicians, but I’m coming to understand the importance of overblown national celebrations. I’m starting to see the value in stage managed kumbaya moments, especially the ones that actually have some merit. 50 years as a country? That deserves a fair bit of celebration. That we have not split, or tried to split, is worth a small celebration. That we have never gone Rwanda on each other, well, not to that scale, deserves another small celebration. That we have produced scientists, athletes, farmers, businessmen, soldiers, and yes, even politicians, of great repute is worth toasting to. We have one and a half Nobel Peace Prize winners to our name, older authors who are spoken of in the same breath as Achebe and younger authors touted as the new voices of Africa. Our athletes have so dominated the middle and long distance races they’re being banned from road races. Why not drink to that? Why not drink to our professors teaching in the most prestigious colleges all over the world? Let’s celebrate the spread cum sprawl of university education (hell, let’s celebrate free education, such as it is), once the preserve of a token few, now available to more than a few. Don’t worry, we’ll fight over the cost and quality of said education next week. Let’s pat ourselves on the back for our suspect katiba, the document that gives us the right to have as many idiot politicians as we desire, and a couple we don’t.
Celebrate. Anything. Everything.
Do we have problems in Kenya? Definitely, massive problems, but problems that can be overcome, that are being overcome, that will be overcome. There are parts of this country that have no piped water, no electricity, no hospitals, or police stations, or schools, or roads, people living a most medieval existence, and not only in rural areas, our urban poor are just as badly off, if not more so. If there is one reason why we should not celebrate, this would be it. We are not moving forward together. We need to do better. We have no choice but to do better. But while we keep slogging away, fighting the good fight and all that jazz, can we take a day to acknowledge how far we’ve come?
Yes, spending 500M on celebrations is obscene in light of the challenges we face, but the solution isn’t to not celebrate. My people, every so often we need to sit back, have a drink of whatever fluid we can lay our hands on, and chill. Have a fucking party. Celebrate, dammit. If nothing else, can we please celebrate the liberal society we live in that allows us to bitch and moan all over the place? There’s a lot of talk right now about dictatorship and a return to repression, but you need to remember the truly dark days of KANU, when your ranting on twitter would have earned you a swift ticket to Nyayo House, when calling your president a thief on his Facebook page would have you sporting a few bruises, the days when your only option for real news was BBC World Service and such like imperialists, days when a blog mouthing off about idiot politicians and press (ahem) would have been branded Mwakenya. All I’m saying is, while I have no objection to calling these geniuses out on their excesses, and revisionist tendencies, and short sighted paranoia, and general callousness and idiocy, I strongly object to the never ending stream of ‘woe is me’ bullshit. It’s not all bad in Kenya, and anyone who says it is needs to open their eyes, and maybe take some happy drugs.
We have come a long way.
We have further to go.
I plan to celebrate this jubilee, at the local, eating a Kenyan goat, and washing it down with…I don’t drink beer, so no, no Kenyan lager…I’ll drink foreign branded liquor manufactured by an enterprising Kenyan, hopefully not manufactured in Kariobangi. My budget is not nearly as great as my government’s, but I will still get my celebration on, and I hope you will too, if only for one day. The day after we can get back to the business of blame and self pity And country building.