Recently, I traveled back home to Kenya after almost three years. While there I was reminded of the greatness, but also of the ills, of the Kenyan society. In some ways, Kenyans are each other’s worst enemies.
It was wonderful to see family and friends and to soak in some sun. There has been so much development since the last time I was there. But there are also some glaring money problems among the working class.
Every month, I am unable to communicate with a friend or family member because their phone is “lost”. This is a polite Kenyan way of saying that their phone has been stolen. Last week, my friend Virginia’s phone was snatched as she sat in a “matatu” (public transportation van). The thief reached in through the open window, snatched her phone and ran away.
The month before, my cousin Veronica almost lost her ear to a thief. She was walking down the street and talking on the phone. A thief snatched her phone from behind her, and in the process grabbed her earring. The swelling in her ear only recently healed.
My sister, Nellie was in a matatu as well the month before my cousin lost her phone. She fell asleep in the van, after a long day. Thanks to the Nairobi traffic, one can afford to sleep in transit. When my sister woke up from her nap, her phone and the lady who had been seating next to her were nowhere to be seen. She had pickpocketed her while she took the nap.
I could go on and on.
There is a common joke I have heard among Kenyans. If a mugger attacks you and you don’t have a smartphone, they beat you up and ask you to get one. This is so that you will be worth their while, the next time they attack.
2. Kenyans Don’t Trust Each Other
Before we left for Kenya, I had my husband meet Ben Levey over Skype. Ben is the founder of the Likoni Community Football League in Kenya. His biggest frustration is that his staff in Kenya is unable to get meetings with local decision-makers. This means that they cannot get corporate sponsorships for sports events and have to rely on donations. On the other hand, when he is Kenya, he always manages to get meetings with the highest level individuals. In short, Kenyans often trust foreigners more than we trust each other.
I realize these are sweeping generalizations, and of course, they don’t apply to every Kenyan you meet. There can never be a single story. But when a society is falling apart, it is important to call out the ills and find a way to turn around.
One funny message we saw in Nairobi was at a butchery. The owner rightly knew you can’t give credit to a Kenyan and except pay without a fight. So below is what he tells his customers.
3. Kenyans Are Liars
In the song, Kama Kawaida” Fena Gitu, raps “If he says he’ll pay you next week he’s a fraud”. I recently learned, the hard way, that this is a true statement. Businesses are the most notorious culprits. Not only is service horrible in a lot of places, but if you pay for a good, returning it for a refund is usually impossible. We rented a car to travel around in, but it broke down a couple of times. We paid for repairs and brake pads replacement. The owner promised to refund us for the repairs for the car. Three days before we left Nairobi, the car completely gave up on us. We called the owner and asked for a refund for the two remaining days, and for the charges we had incurred in repairs. At the end of February, he promised to pay us back the next week.
To date, this businessman has not refunded us. This is despite my constant reminders, and bearing with his excuses to push his promised pay date. If you travel to Kenya, whatever you do, do not rent a car from George Mwangi of Wisdom Car Hire & Rentals. A friend I trust had recommended him but his horrible customer service is disappointing.
There is so much that can be recorded on the ills facing our country. Like how asking for the price of a commodity at a Kiosk automatically means the vendor can swindle a few shillings out of you. This experience is not unique to me. I cannot wait to invite others to share their experiences on the Youtube channel I run, Dadas Lounge. Somebody may argue here that I should have bargained. But how do you start bargaining the price of sanitary pads, or soda at a kiosk? The issue is not so much the little money that they take away from you, but the larger moral issue of dishonesty.
We have come a long way as a country. But to be great, we have to create institutions built on trust. I will never rent a car from George again, and I would never recommend his service to a friend. By choosing to gain a small sum of money, he forfeits a larger amount that could come from excellent customer service.
Caroline Mutoko, a Kenyan multi-media personality once said in a Youtube video.
The number one thing that Kenyans care about is money. The second thing that Kenyans care about is money by all means.
By all means, make money. But don’t do so by harvesting on another’s farm. Plant your own.
Are you Kenyan and have a story of how Kenyans can be each other’s worst enemy? Leave a comment below.