If you were born in Nairobi or have been living here for a while, then you are familiar with matatu preachers or matatu hawkers; the ones who always seem to get into a mat and begin to take merchandise round the vehicle when you are in your worst mood and the result is that you arrive at your destination with a pounding headache. But I witnessed something a bit off late time last year: a hawker came into the mat I was in and after taking round his merchandise (I do not remember what they were), and getting absolutely no one to buy even a single item, he turned and said: “Si mmekataa kununua, hizo simu zenyu tu ndio nitaiba.”
I looked into his eyes and he was not joking. But the reaction from the people in the matatu disturbed me: they laughed. Could it be that people in Nairobi no longer mind getting mugged or is it that they have been mugged for so long and they no longer care?
There is this other question at the top of my mind: when someone shares a video on whatsapp or Facebook about an accident scene or a video of someone being mugged, who shoots such a video? I mean, when something bad is happening to someone next to us, isn’t helping supposed to take the top priority on our minds? Why does our top priority then seem to be showing people’s miseries to the entire world? Well, I wanted to simply say that Nairobians have become cold, non-caring people. But on second thought, I realised that it is important to give a dog a name before killing it. Therefore, one important question that we need answered here is; why have Nairobians turned cold? Did Nairobians ever care for their neighbours?
a) Lack of hope for the possibility of anything changing at all.
It feels like the circle of corruption in this country. I once had a conversation with an expatriate from somewhere in Europe just after the NYS saga blew up and in his words,
“Nothing in Kenya is changing because you Kenyans are not angry enough,” he said with conviction. He was referring to how quick Kenyans are when it comes to creating memes about scandals and laughing at the victims instead of squarely facing the problem and solving it. I wanted to agree with him that in deed, Kenyans are just not serious about dealing with corruption. But I realised that this –laughing at problems— could be our own version of satire. We have looked into the face of many dire situations, hopelessly and listened to one fake promise of solution after another and as Kenyans we have gotten to that point where laughter is our only relief.
Look at it this way: the justice system in the country is not always dependable (it should, by the way), 53% of people polled believe that the country is headed in the wrong direction, the politics of this country read like a novella just a bit drab and Kenyans are basically breaking at the seams as they try to deal with the ever-rising cost of living. Could this be a reason Kenyans just look at annoying things and laugh? You can call it escapism but could this be a reason?
Well, I am sure you know that I’m not about to legalise armed robbery as an answer to unemployment. What I am saying is, could our economy be turning young, energetic individuals into dangerous citizens? Is it just me who gets scared when I see throngs of idle, energetic young people whiling away their time in recreation parks around the city when they could be doing something productive with their time? I am not scared of them; I am scared for them and for the future of this country. And then there is the bitterness at what is seen as the unfairness of nature in that, those who do not have jobs blame those who do for their miseries and in their twisted way, take revenge on these people (think about pick-pocketing, assaulting and mugging).
c) A lot of problems to deal with
I wanted to call this point “capitalism” but I thought that probably I should not. What I am looking at is the growing number of concerns that an average Nairobian has to deal with: ever rising transport fare, house rent/mortgage, electricity, truant kids, sickly ageing parents, an impossible boss, relationship problems, traffic jams… could this be one of the reasons why Nairobians just tend to have their hands full at any given time and would rather not concern themselves with other people’s problems?
d) It is difficult to tell who is genuine
Ever seen those people who beg on the roadsides with huge raw scars on their legs who suddenly take off when it begins to rain? Or that blind man begging for alms but who will insult you if you give him a shilling? More frightening: have you read the stories about people who stopped to help another whose car had broken down only to end up mugged, his car stolen and perhaps even killed? Yes, that’s a setup. Such scenarios also make Nairobians cold because again, your good intentions notwithstanding, you might just contribute part of your hard-earned money to a lazy man pretending to be a cripple in order to reap where he did not sow. Or worse still, end up dead.
The I-don’t-care attitude is also sinking deeper and deeper into us and it never hits us until it actually hits us. When we see someone’s laptop or tablet or phone being stolen through the matatu window, we do not exactly care because it is not happening to us. This is a bad attitude to have because the fact is that ten Nairobians on one street can comfortably catch a thief who tries to snatch a phone from an innocent citizen who worked hard to purchase one. But because of apathy, we would rather turn a blind eye. Don’t worry, when it gets to you and you wonder why no one bothers to help you, do not search far for answers.