Reflections

Someone lied to you, mwananchi! (Part 1)

By Njoki Ngumi:

(NB. For the purposes of this note, MP’s are unanimously granted the male gender even in these politically correct times to make things easier for the writer – and to cut word count, because you can imagine what I would go through having to put “he or she” or even that hideous backslash everywhere. It deserves mention that Rudyard Kipling once said something about the female of the species being deadlier than the male, and true to form – in this, as in other matters, women leaders have also treated their constituents with unimaginable crassness).

Have you ever wondered, Mwananchi: why your MP has no compulsion at all to serve you? Why he goes to parliament and sleeps through his day job and receives a seating allowance to do so? How he can barge into your funerals and weddings and turn them into an opportunity to praise himself and his achievements (which your taxes paid for?) Why does he make technical appearances in his constituency and spend most of his time on trips and in seminars which never translate into visible change at the grassroots – except, of course, the brief swathe of tarmac from the main road into his gate through to his compound?

Why indeed? Here's the reason: He has already paid you.

You ask: HOW? He made all those promises, of jobs, and better land policy, and better infrastructure, and to carry the banner of change into the august house for you and the rest of the people he said he would serve for as long as you gave him the opportunity. THEN he said that it would only happen for certain if HE was in the house, and not his opponent, and that you had to make it happen for him. THEN he handed out the crisp 50, or 200, or 500, or 1000, or bundle of notes, as a token of the agreement that had been made, that you would do everything in your power to get him to where he needed to be. SO you took it and ticked his name or party emblem, and got as many people you knew to do the same. That day you ate chicken and bought rounds at the bar; or bought credit/airtime for your cell phone – And the money got finished. And he won. And he went off to live his high life on his tax-exempt salary, while you wonder what became of the promises he made.

Spot the difference: Girl is being chased by boy, who desires to prove his love for her by crossing multiple oceans hypothetically, but by having unprotected sex in reality. Girl narrows eyes and asks what assurance she has that if she puts out, and the thrill of waiting goes, or something bad happens, boy will stand by her. Boy looks deeply into her eyes and says, “Love is as love does,” or some other philosophically charged specimen of verbal depth with high emotional value, calculated to make girl swoon into a candyfloss – pink haze of romantic idealism. Girl buys it and puts out, expecting fair exchange on word-of-mouth promises alone. Boy goes AWOL. No calls, not texts, no picking up the phone.

So in both scenarios, Wanjiku (n: a girl’s name, also the word used to co-opt the Kenyan populace into a middle-aged, rural, headscarf-wearing, overburdened, long-suffering woman) got royally screwed. So if she misses her period, that's on her, because he's not picking the phone. And if the MP doesn't get anything done, it's because in his head, he's already lived up to his end of the bargain. OR, he doesn't really have to keep his end of things, now that you already gave him what he needed, and took what he offered in return.

And that…that is why, Mwananchi, the man can sit in your midst with no conscience, and has the balls to solicit your vote even after 5 years of doing nothing to improve your lives. He doesn't care that your kids have to sludge through kilometers of mud to get to the one school in the area that doesn't have elephant-size holes in the roof, and that even in that school the teacher has not said one word to your child personally because there are over 70 students in that class. He doesn't care that your vegetables rot waiting for the truck – that is owned by the middleman who will demand a price that effectively has you farming at a loss – because the road that was supposed to have been resurfaced about two campaigns ago, just wasn’t. He doesn't care that your sisters and nieces and wives risk death when they go into labour that refuses to progress and can't reach the hospital because there are no taxis near your area that are fool enough to go through multiple shock absorbers a day. Or drive through thug-infested bush land. He doesn't care that the money he is bringing to your church harambee is a kickback from arranging for a friend of a friend who runs a company he has ownership of to get a tender – the 0.1% of that total that is actually his personal contribution, but that he takes 200% credit for. He doesn't care that it is conflict of interest that his wife runs the constitutional development fund committee as well as a surprisingly – and suspiciously – well-funded NGO in the same area, while other relatives rule the local boards and go on multiple, all-expense-paid fact-finding trips. He doesn't care that out of the 3 students from the area who qualified for university, 2 have no money to go, and the only thing people hear about the one that actually made it is that he – or she- is constantly being pulled out of bars in town. He doesn’t care that the rest are losing hope because they have watched everything they ever hoped for crumbling with a bad result slip. He doesn't care that there have been poles for the electrification project lying idle for so long that people are thinking of chopping them up into firewood. He doesn't care that you have to walk into town daily and pay out 20 hard-earned shillings – that can buy unlimited texts for two days – just to charge your phone. He doesn't care that all the children in the region dream of making it out and never coming back.

Don't delude yourself, whatever he says. He doesn't care. And the fact that he is paying for your vote is saying something else – he doesn't respect you. He wants to pay you for a good time and leave. Not woo you, reason with you, and prove his love with actions that are not self-seeking.

And even if YOU yourself didn't take his handout, rest assured someone else did. And that someone's sell-out behavior will screw YOU too, if you continue keeping quiet and condoning someone else taking it.

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