In the wake of Hassan Joho’s school certificate saga, I am forced to acknowledge how futile it will be threatening my nephew that he won’t amount to much with a D- in the final exam. Hassan Joho who rose to become Governor of Mombasa county, Kenya’s second largest city, despite his poor high school score is proof that grades are, well, overrated.
In 2016, Dennis Itumbi, the chief Jubilee online spin doctor, also known as the director of Digital communication, brought to our attention, the chapati movement when he joined a group of volunteers, to distribute hot chapos off the pan to feed tens of street kids in Nairobi. With Itumbi in the mix, it came across as a publicity stunt lording the idea of his charitable side on his birthday. Kenyans On Twitter (KOT) were not impressed. However, the chapati movement is more than another of those annoying Jubilee publicity stunts.
I am humbled that you can find time to read this post.
As you well know because I have said this severally, I am humbled to be a prosperous Kenyan, one of the few millionaires in dollars. And at such a young age. I like to remind those who question my wealth that I came from humble roots.
I was born poor however, my God is able and demands that I celebrate my blessings. I have heard some people complaining that I should hide my blessings and all I say to them is “are you high?’ and then I humbly ask them to turn to the book of James 4 verse 2 that reads; “You do not have it because you do not ask God”.
I swung by my polling station, my village primary school in Sinaga, in Siaya County to ensure that I was on the National Voters Register. I chose the mid-morning because I assumed that the early morning would be buzzing with excited first time voters and political party mobilisers. When I arrived, I thought it was the wrong venue until I noticed the IEBC (Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission) officials seated behind a desk under a lone tree in the school compound. A young man and woman in bright green branded reflective jackets, were glued to their phones, like they were surfing Facebook. After confirming my details, I asked them where everyone was and they shot back a blank look. Traffic had been near absent. We made a joke about Kenyans and our last-minute culture.
The next day, I passed by the same venue to collect some details from the primary school and found the same IEBC duo having chapatti and dengu. They looked relieved to see a familiar face and even invited me for lunch. The numbers were not even trickling in at all.
Spotted on Twitter: “So what has been stolen over the weekend and by which branch of government?”
I like to start my week with a good slice of bad news and a healthy measure of worry. It keeps me focused. When I scroll through the news feeds, I deliberately seek out depressing news. Some nights, I binge on disasters stories for hours, flipping from one news channel to the next looking for stories that bleed. The Guardian online ran an opinion piece about an attack on civilians at Lido beach in Mogadishu in late January. I had been on that same beach, about a year ago as part of a crew doing a documentary about Somalia Rising and Lido beach was the site of renewed hopefulness in war weary Mogadishu. The news left me numbed. I glossed over the details, trying not to prod because my worry bandwidth had been eaten up by Donald Trump’s sustained popularity in the American presidential primaries. I am generally worried about the stability of the world in a post Obama America. The idea of giving the US presidency back to a white man is troubling. At least with Obama, there was always the reassurance that he would not do anything stupid like sparking a World War 3 to spite Putin.
I watch the news with a permanent scrawl on my face, head cocked towards my right shoulder, determined to make sense of what I hear. One Kenyan financial scandal once a week is about as much as I need to take off the sting of the previous one. Caring about the threat of bad things happening to good people is something I take far too seriously. The prospect of good news does not jolt me anymore. Arsenal extending its losing streak might keep me elated for a night or so but a terrorist attack in Paris keeps me wallowing for at least a week in fear.
I am not the only one afflicted by this condition. My friends do not receive good news enthusiastically anymore. Announcements of child birth, birthdays and accounts of prosperity are subjected to stifled compliments as part of social protocol. Joy bringers who share inspirational quotes and bible verses are seen as naive optimists who refuse to face reality. They are often secretly angling for attention as they pretend to contribute to the gross national happiness index.
Generally happiness is something we learn to keep close to our chests, for the children. To be the only happy person in the group is no fun. Happiness does not thrive without company. The knowledge that I could be feeling happy oblivious of all the bad things happening around me is self-indulgent. Going a day without bad news is stressful and brings about deep feelings of guilt.
Bad news is my anxiety drug of choice, the coffee in my hot water that I need to function. My brain requires a hit at least twice a day. The morning starts with coffee and twitter, to get a summary of the fears for the day. The Whatsapp group will on a good day serve up some shared concern like lions on the loose from the Nairobi National Park on a road I frequent that raises my anxiety to optimum levels. By midday I would have accumulated enough worries to seek out a place to vent my frustrations. Facebook is a good spot to be when you need to release some steam and it only takes a few moments to land on some collective outrage such Museveni’s callous treatment of his political rival Besigye. In the evening, I end the day with the evening news to recap the things I should remember to worry about just before bed.
I fear missing out on bad news and a restaurant that does allow me the facility to charge my phone or the decency of free wifi is not getting my hard earned money. Living in a virtual reality requires commitment. The other day I heard Karura Forest was getting grabbed and an elephant got electrocuted. It felt helpless. This should be trending news. Elephants have remained on my endangered list for some years now. Wangari Maathai has not even been gone 10 years and Karura forest is back in my list of things to worry about.
I have discovered, that the state of one finances determines how well one receives bad news. When you are down and out, hard up, stone broke, left with barely enough to pay for a roof over your head, you become indifferent to bad news. Poverty frees you from a lot of anxiety. If you were worried about hitting rock bottom and then you do, things can only get better because the worst has happened. One goes beyond embarrassment of social scorn because the worries are elementary. Food in the belly and the ability to sustain little livelihood to find more food the next day. Melting icebergs in the North Pole and stolen state funds become luxurious concerns that you cannot afford.
The less money you have, the less you worry because you can only think as far as your money can stretch. But even when we arrive at the full blown state of learned helplessness where worries rule our lives, we never ask for help.
I guess these are only normal worries.