BY TOM ODHIAMBO
The market. The church. The media. What do these three have in common? Not much, at face value. But really a lot, if you dig a little bit more. These three have become the unholy alliance that is lulling Kenyans into facile hopefulness whose consequences is really hopelessness. This trinity is powerful, very. It offers the goods, here on earth. And if you can’t get your new widescreen TV set, latest model of a four-wheeler, an apartment in the green and leafy suburbs (how lazy can Kenyan editors be; where are the lawns and trees in Nairobi), a five figure cellphone and a credit card to boot, then wait for milk and honey, in heaven. Of course you will have to ‘plant a seed’ for your heavenly benefits to begin to accrue. And if these two don’t deliver your dreams, aah, the TV is there with its brain-roasting programs, hare-brained commentators, beauty parades and endless talk on sex, politics and tribalism (I will talk about this trinity next). Ooh, or move to Facebook, Twitter or Whatsapp to bare your misery, gaze at your beautiful navel or stalk your enemy! The market. This is one place that many of us liked visiting when growing up. It was the seduction of meeting friends or relatives. Or to gaze at all those goods. The shoes, pair of jeans, t-shirts; the radios, TV sets; all sorts of things we didn’t have at home and wished we had. It was where you smelt strange foods and perfumes. The market is where you took the cassavas from your shamba to sell in order to raise the 50 shillings annual school fees (ooh, by the way some government day schools charged Sh50 as annual school fees in the early 1980s!). Now the market means something else. It means either the supermarket, nay, the glitzy shopping mall where the wealthy go to show off their credit cards whilst the only poor people who can come near or into it are the salespeople, the askaris, the cleaners and porters. Well, the market now means hundreds of billboards advertising ‘unattainable’ life of wealth and comfort for the majority of Kenyans. The market means that internet shop which at the push of the send button will deliver anything at the doorstep of whoever who can afford.
But how can the market deliver all these dreams of beauty, comfort and unimaginable consumables in a country on economic slowdown? How? Well, there is that little card that allows you to spend your future earnings or wealth. That little magic card is what controls the real market these days. It is what says you are creditworthy. In other words, by just waving this card you automatically access all the goods and services that 98% of Kenyans can only dream about. But that card has a trick on its magnetic strip. It has enslaved hundreds of Kenyans into cycles of loans and debts and camouflaged poverty. That little card delivers homes, cars, TV sets, microwave ovens, suits, shoes, a seven-day-holiday-on-an-exotic-island with that special person. In other words, the market, and its main key, that innocuous card, run our lives today.
The church. Yes, we Kenyans are a religious lot, aren’t we? It is just that we forget to separate the church and religion. But let’s just say that in the past the church used to make religion worth the effort. The church offered certainty in a world that increasingly alienated and destroyed the soul. The church would mend souls and even minds and bodies.
Do you remember the days when going to a church-run school or hospital guaranteed a good grade at the end of studies and recovered health, affordably? Yes, there were such days. I guess that some church managed schools still produce good young women and men at the end of their schooling and I can say that some church-owned hospitals in this country still do their bit about mending the body.
But where did this thing about ‘planting the seed’ here on earth so that you may reap milk and honey only in heaven come from? Why are priests hollering about, commanding their congregations to make as much money in this world as possible? How did it happen that bishops now endorse political criminals as God-ordained or enter politics themselves? Why are reports of pastors sexually molesting their followers such a daily fare? What is a good Christian or Muslim to do when the priest or imam claims that it is godly to kill your enemy?
Strangely though, former cinema halls and superstores converted into ‘God’s sanctuaries’ are filling with thousands of those wretched of the earth who live on the peripheries of the market or those who have just newly acquired that magic card we speak of above. The first group needs prayers and miracles to help them also reap where they can hardly sow. The second group is looking for prayers to keep the gift of the market. One can understand then when the prayer master asks for the planting of seeds. There are just too many people asking to be prayed for. I was taught that only I can pray to God for blessings. But I think that this whole church thing is no longer about religion; I think it is biashara, simple! I think that gospel that sought to take us all to heaven is no longer available in church today. I suspect that the church has abandoned many to stew in this hell on earth, hardly speaking out against political thuggery, unsustainable inequality, tribal favoritism in distribution of state opportunities, violence etc. And yet millions of Kenyans still look to those robed men – and women – to offer them a living hope! This is why the story of Pastor Kanyari isn’t a story; it’s stale news.
Probably really the less said about the media the better. There used to be a reason for calling the media the fourth estate. I doubt if many journalists today know what that term means. But how the Kenyan media has abandoned pretense to protecting the interests of the majority! How our media goes on weird journeys of navel gazing, right in front of our eyes! So, our media will not commission a story on a local event; instead it will use foreign sources. Our media will speak about the International Criminal court (ICC) and the Kenyans accused there as if it doesn’t know how and why the accused became the accused! Our media speaks about Kenya as if it is Nairobi. Our media thinks that the few Nairobians idling on Facebook and Twitter actually represent Kenyans. What’s this thing called ‘trending news’?
Do the Kenyan media managers know that millions of Kenyans can’t read and write in English or Kiswahili? Millions of Kenyans speak Kiswahili yet news in this language is treated by media editors as supplementary to the news in English. The Kenyan media behaves as if to critique the government is to oppose it; as if the Constitution doesn’t guarantee Kenyans the right to oppose government policies since anyone working for the government is actually an employee of Kenyans. The Kenyan media indulges in slogans like we-are-one – tuko pamoja – as if it is a fact of life! No, we-are-not-one; we-are-many-and-different. The biting poverty of most of northeastern Kenya will prove our socio-economic inequality.
The violence of upper west Rift Valley and the Coast will confirm our difference and separateness. The despair of life in the tens of mukurus in Nairobi should shock and shame any believer in this silliness of good life, peace, unity, love and progress offered by the market, church and media in Kenya today.