“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.” If you read a lot of books, you probably are nodding your head to what surely is the greatest opening line in novel history, from ‘A Tale Of Two Cities’ by Charles Dickens or among the greatest if you include J.D Salinger’s classic opener to ‘The Catcher In The Rye’: “If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth”. If you can, read it, it’s one of those unforgettable books that you remember even when your brain has been factory reset by the trials and tribulations of being a resident Kenyan citizen.
A Tale Of Two Cities is a story about a French doctor, Manette, and his life in London with Lucie, his daughter, after an 18 year prison sentence in France. The story has more plot twists than the season preceding Kenyan elections. Treachery, murder, love, compromised justice systems, elites that move with impunity, betrayal, and loyalty in dizzying proportions. All these events take place against a backdrop of the Reign of Terror and The French Revolution. The line about the worst of times and the best of times has really spoken to me of late, with all the financial, psychological and physical upheavals that too many people are going through. There’s never been a bigger number of people, globally and locally, living so well, so luxuriously, so insulated from the vagaries of life, like we do now. Yet, in the same breath, we’ve never had so many people exposed to hunger, to death, to the suffering that accompanies financial insecurity, like we do now.
We’re literally living in the best of times, and in the worst of times.
We’re living with a pandemic that has seen over 1 billion vaccinations, and the fastest vaccine that has ever been developed. We’re also living with a pandemic that has exposed how broken down, and non-existent in some places, healthcare and service delivery systems worldwide are. India, the ‘world’s chemist’ exported the most vaccines of any country, and is now facing a heart-breaking wave of deaths that is ravaging the world’s largest democracy. Hospitals across the country are turning away dying patients. At the most advanced point of civilisation, it doesn’t feel like it for most people.
At home, most of Kenya’s youth unemployment numbers on government websites are hazy. Although there are no numbers that can deny the reality that large numbers of Kenyan youth are surviving off one-off gigs and the generosity of family and friends. Remittance from abroad totalled $3.09 billion in 2020, and there’s a running joke that most of that cash is usually from transcribing, online and academic writing industries. Sadly, the most physically productive, intellectual years of Kenya’s youth are being used to do college assignments for American and European students and admin tasks for foreign start-ups. Either that, or unpaid internships that are hard to come by or businesses that will be taxed to death by a cold, unresponsive government.
Most Kenyan firms, save for the top tier ones, can not afford to pay graduates and other youth what an individual college student in developed countries can, imagine that. For these companies, it’s not out of malice, or being tight fisted, but because of a population whose disposable income has shrunk while taxes and operational costs have skyrocketed. American and European college students, wearing crocs, Abercrombie and Fitch t shirts, and aviator sunglasses, can afford to pay me more money to write a ten page assignment, ($30) than I’d earn working at over 90% of Kenyan firms.
As a proud Kenyan and African, that hurts the very essence of my soul. What about the people who don’t have the skills to write essays like me, or do transcription work, work as PAs, or do social media marketing like the thousands of youth doing those jobs? Those held back by an archaic school system that prioritizes subservience over critical thinking. Churning out millions of ‘yes sir’ youth who question nothing and obey everything. For the ones lucky enough to escape the zombification, they are met by a business environment so brutal, almost two million people lost their jobs last year. A system that designates poor, black youth to a life that people really shouldn’t be living in 2021. Austin Rusell is making billions of dollars at 25, while his agemates in Pipeline, educated, hard-working men, are being paid $4 a day to clean culverts by the state. Sums it all up, the intellectual emptiness of this government.
‘An age of foolishness, and an age of wisdom’
This has got to be the period in civilization where children are the smartest they have ever been. Toddlers can skip ads on YouTube, download games, and memorize unlock patterns. This has also got to be the period where the collective IQ and EQ of elected officials is at its lowest. Officials who are raising taxes, ordering evictions in the rainy season and building projects that can wait, in the middle of food and basic need crises. All these instead of legislating financial bailouts and rent relief for their poorest constituents.
What we have are small people in big offices. Men and women who haven’t yet dealt with their childhood traumas of validation, egoistical power plays and addictions to their trauma responses. Officials who steal so much, aid agencies, which should not even have duties to attend to if the officials worked as they should, don’t trust them with donations. Aid agencies donating to the same poor people that shouldn’t be poor if greed wasn’t so available and kindness so scarce.
A season of light, and a season of darkness.
At the end of ‘A Tale Of Two Cities’ someone makes an ethical sacrifice, laying down his life in protest of actions he knows are unjust. There’s no memorable, stirring speech like that in the ‘Great Dictator’, only a quick, and bloody execution, his severed head collected in a bucket. Forgive the gory details. Revolutions are bloody affairs, full of bullet riddled bodies, decapitated prisoners of war and a scarcity of basic essentials. The taxes, intelligence, dignity and future of Kenyans is being squandered under a profligate, inept leadership, that is certain. A continuation of the status quo makes me link it with what I feel about trying cocaine; fearful, uncertain, and like a guilty Frenchman in The Reign of Terror, very, very tense.