Monday, September 12, 2011

Politics and Economics (made in Kenya)

The Kenyan political class and its unfortunate victims reached an unspoken deal some time back. The politicians decided, unilaterally, that ordinary Kenyans should wait around to cheer their next round of partisan mudslinging. Nowadays, watching news requires steely resolve. Prime Time is a circus where the clownish political leaders wear businesslike frowns and might as well juggle live grenades. The best juggler goes home with a 2012. 
As for “victims of post election violence,” such populist verbiage is frowned upon in the lofty halls of power. Post election violence has since been abbreviated to PEV, and its victims are neither to be seen nor heard while their resettlement funds are frittered away. The events of 2007-2008 have been left in the bin of history. Unlike Rwanda, which continues to maintain memorials to its 1994 genocide, Kenyan Politics is busy forgetting all evidence of such a thing as post election pevwhatever. Abracadabra! it will never happen again! On the public’s podiums, politicians, fresh from waving from the sunroofs of their SUVs at roadside-lining unemployed poor Kenyans, rally ‘their people’ to their political alliances. Far away from the delirious masses, in the camps of the displaced, victims shrug and sigh. They might take to the streets every now and then, banners aloft and all, but somebody’s poys will fire tearkas to tisperse the tisturpance. Resettlement? Our leaders believe that the displaced should return to their land, the same places they lived with their neighbors before 07-08 or PEV, whichever applies. The same neighbors had turned against them, evicting those they couldn’t catch to kill with crude weapons. Armed police nearby didn’t exactly help at the time. Now the IDPs are instructed to return to their former hoods (now it’s all good. Somehow.) Therefore, escapees should return to the same farms that had earlier on turned out to be death traps. In this understanding, any plans to resettle IDPs elsewhere (other than amidst the same now nameless “tribal warriors” who tried to kill them) have met vocal resistance. 

Is this too morbid to be real? Too far removed from reality? Idle speculative musing? Thriller fiction? Paranoia? Perhaps other pressing issues are more deserving of our time. Heaven knows Kenyans are so engrossed in the day to day struggle to survive that it’s hard enough just seeing to our own sustenance, let alone championing lost causes. International events outside our borders have us at the point where all prices of all things have been jacked up, and values of our currency are outlandish. Somehow, no one is to blame for anything. The economy is going to the dogs, yet no one above the consumer level is going to the dogs along with the economy. Should said consumer perchance want for someone to blame, faceless phantasmagoria proudly step forward to claim responsibility: “inflation pressure,” “international oil prices,” “foreign exchange rate.” It’s all so economic and unfortunate, what can be done, really? The complex quagmire is so difficult that the rules of Economics no longer fully apply, like before. The law of supply and demand has failed to restore price sanity. The Invisible Hand is off on its own ventures, or maybe it died of shock from the sudden simultaneous appearance of multiple faceless international economic phenomena. 

Meanwhile, in the struggle to extract flavor from this unpalatable combination of politics and economics called “life in the 21st century’s third world”, Kenyans are also continually bombarded on all sides by Hype. It’s everywhere. Every second inch of public space is an advertiser’s space. We can’t see the trees for the billboards. Are there even any trees left, hasn’t the urban jungle’s concrete tentacles consumed all the greenery there is to see in all directions? Speaking of which, real estate is a real hit, driving a massive construction boom, which is good for everybody. Ignore that everybody knows the cold reality of mortgage financing in Kenya today. Ignore the To Let signs in suburbs once considered hot. At microeconomic level, all manner of advertisements promise glee, ecstasy, joy, thrill. Everywhere we turn, showbiz personalities are hired to declare, “Just consume this here product and see if it doesn’t transform your life!” 

Of course, consumerism is a bummer at casual glance – lasting happiness clearly does not derive from the consumption of brands. But adverts hammer the lie consistently, and pass it off as harmless exaggeration. Do we not eventually internalize the lie? Friends, you would be surprised to know how much research goes into “shaping consumer behavior.” Products promise beauty and happiness, sparkle and fun, sophistication and sex appeal. Happiness. Consider the recent spate of locally produced TV dramas, so-called comedies et al which really are, if you can discern their thrust, politically correct morality plays. Alarming in their oversimplification of pertinent issues, stupefying in their intellectual vacuity, these programs are interrupted only by advertisements that promise heaven, love, peace of mind, etc in a newly launched, ergonomically designed, see-through packet. Endure all this frenetic marketing and survive the news, which ought to be called “olds” in the case of Kenyan politics, except when one-offs like the New Constitution happen, and charges are confirmed in lands afar. 

Honestly, between Kenyan politics, international economics and mass media, I don’t know what I’m saying until I fit it all in one big picture. Then I might as well become a full-time alarmist and a part-time doomsayer with a small Armageddon Consultancy on the side.


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