Wes

musings, ranting and raving of a Kenyan who is a cynical social critic

There’s a fine line between patriotism and posho

If one man offers you democracy and another offers you a bag of grain, at what stage of starvation will you prefer the grain to the vote?
~ Bertrand Russell

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This is a question I have spent a considerable amount of time pondering over the past few days: Are we ready to shut up and stuff our mouths with cheap posho at the cost of asking the hard questions about the direction this country is taking and how we got here in the first place?

Some background to the food crisis: Kenyan farmers planted maize as usual but were, however, provided with substandard fertiliser, naturally we ended up with very low yields (a situation not helped by poor rains), NCPB then refuses to buy their maize thus ensuring we have no SGR (strategic grain reserves). Hunger ensues. By the way, this is all happening while we’ve thrown 15 billion shillings at irrigation projects with nothing to show for it except for an outstanding debt that needs paying.

We are then told that private millers allegedly brought in almost 30,000 tonnes of maize within less than a week of imports being allowed (we’re told the ship came from Mexico, on pointing out Mexico is too far we are told it came from South Africa, on pressing we’re finally told it was just floating on the high seas trying to hawk maize to passers-by, jamani). Regarding the importers of the maize, the company at the forefront is called Holbud (UK) Limited

According to reports from Kenya’s newspaper of record:

“Two years ago, Holbud was in the news when the parliamentary committee on Agriculture was investigating how the company won a Sh6 billion fertiliser tender and the quality of fertiliser brought in (which has contributed to the food crisis we face)

Holbud was mentioned in Kenya again in 2004 and it was also about a maize scandal. This time NCPB officials sold 1 million bags of maize from the Strategic Grain Reserve to Holbud at “uneconomical prices” which it sold to Zimbabwe “to offset NCPB’s debt to farmers”. Holbud had neither asked to buy the maize nor tendered for it.

Earlier in 2002, the same firm had been allowed to import more than 16,000 tonnes of maize from South Africa, when the Kenya faced a crisis similar to the one we are in today.

Based in the UK, Holbud is run by Hasnain Roshanali Merali, David George Rowe, Mahmood Gulamhusein Khaku and Shaukat Akberali Merali.

But according to court filings in the US, both Holbud and Hydrey (P) Limited are “related companies controlled by Roshan Merali” as the two share directors.

Kenyan government officials say that Holbud was only a transporter of the maize aboard MV IVS Pinehurst, but it named among the importers Kitui Flour Mills, Pembe Flour Mills and Hydrey (P) Limited – meaning that Holbud shipped maize to itself through its sister company, Hydrey.”

The plot thickens…
So GoK then sends its own senior officials to receive this maize at the port that was supposedly bought by private businessmen, it then buys this maize and then sells the same loot to millers (who some say are the very same importers who sold the same maize earlier, so did it even leave the ship?) at subsidised rates. Finally, it then avails unga at 90 bob for the suffering wanainchi. Of course, the same wanainchi will pay for this subsidy from their own taxes since the government doesn’t simply print money. We are subsidising our own flour because the people paid to ensure we have a stock of grains for emergencies (which drought is not actually) either spent their time scratching their scrotal sacks as silos gathered cobwebs, or as some are alleging: they sold off our stockpile to South Sudan and never replenished it.

Some of us would rather we not question the source of this maize or the mechanism by which we have received this subsidy, they feel we should just be grateful to get something to eat. I disagree. I get it, they support your favourite politicians no matter what. Perhaps they even now conclude they have another good reason to buttress stubborn unwavering support for their beloved leaders on the basis that they lowered prices of unga. That’s well within everyone’s right.

But please don’t insult the intelligence of Kenyans by declaring that just because we were starving in the face of unaffordable flour it then follows that we have no right to question the means by which we have received subsidised posho in record time; and this courtesy of millers involved in past grain scandals. We’re not sheep.

The money that pays the rich connected millers to have them ship in, sell maize to GoK, have GoK sell the maize back to them, and then put a sticker on old packets of flour and offer this so called subsidised unga is not from Uhuru’s or Ruto’s (or indeed RAO’s) pocket; it is us, the long-suffering Wanjikus, who will be ultimately paying from our own taxes for this ‘subsidy’ since the government doesn’t simply create money out of thin air but takes it from us, from our sweat. Of course our wonderful leaders won’t be using part of their fabulous wealth to feed us regardless of how much we think they love us and how strongly we feel about them that we’re willing to fight each other to keep them ensconced in palatial public offices and homes.

And do not forget that the fact we have needed this shameful rescue from hunger is itself an indictment on our leadership because it is as a direct result of a lack of planning, pure ineptitude, gross negligence, or perhaps even deliberate and unconscionable sabotage by an unfeeling bureaucracy that you sit there defending.

On 8/8/17 we’ll split the country right down the middle on the basis of tribe as usual, no one will remember the events of the last few weeks.

As for the local farmers, they simply continue to get the middle finger regarding the maize they tried to sell that was earlier rejected, no one offered them a subsidy, GoK is like screw them, let the weevils and rats have a feast. In the meantime, rich millers and connected commodities dealers who knew beforehand before even GoK opened up imports continue to laugh all the way to branches of international banks in the neighbourhoods of their McMansions in the leafy suburbs of Nairobi and other capitals of the world. And we get to have our own money banked for us, the very same monies that will be dished out to us in ninety days to vote enthusiastically for the most generous of our leaders.

On 8/8/17 we’ll split the country right down the middle on the basis of tribe as usual, no one will remember the events of the last few weeks.

#ThisIsKenya

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No, I’m not voting Baba. Neither am I voting Kamwana…. Here’s why

Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones weve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.”

– Barack Obama

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I am not voting for Raila, No! I also refuse to call him baba…

It is not that simple however, so hear me out first.

Yesterday I got accused by a close friend of being a closet supporter of Jubilee, reason being that I refuse to prostrate myself at the feet of any man and parrot those paid for public relations narratives that are ubiquitous in our media. It came somewhat as a shock to me to have this kind of thing thrown at me, as you see it was not because I have anything good to say about the current regime (a fact that must have made me many frenemies), but it was because I insist on pointing out that all our mainstream political leaders are deeply flawed, and that virtually all of them have been touched by allegations of corruption and self-seeking. The fact is that none of these men (and they are mostly men) is an angel, not a single one: not Raila, not Kalonzo, not Mudavadi, and certainly not Uhuru or Ruto. I am not sorry if this kind of observation offends anyone’s gentle sensitivities, because I don’t care to sugar coat matters that are out in the public domain.

But it is alright, you see thinking about these things made me come to one realization: we need to vote for ideas, not for men; we have to understand movements encompass the ideals of the people, they are not simply an avenue to place any one individual on a pedestal; and finally we have to always keep in mind Victor Hugo’s quip that nothing is as powerful as an idea whose time has come, and then know that if this idea is change then that change is dependent on us all moving things forward rather than expecting one person to deliver it to us on a silver platter: we have to cross the river Jordan on our own two feet, Joshua will not carry us on his back. That is why I am voting for NASA as a movement, taking every opportunity to stump for the opposition, and hoping that we can all view this coming election as a battle between status quo and change, and not between Raila and Uhuru, that we are picking between carrying on with business as usual (and piling on the debt, already close to 4 trillion), or changing direction towards the promise of fiscal responsibility.

What’s the difference between voting for Raila and voting for NASA you might ask, and rightly so. Well, the difference is that reducing matters to individuals inflames passions that only serve to create more heat than light, individuals are easy targets to attack and brand as bogeymen by their unscrupulous opponents, and individuals are not necessarily representative of what a movement stands for, for we end up creating heroes to worship and villains to mobilise against, and in the end the message is lost and the purpose of a contest is muddled and reduced to ad hominem exchanges and straw man arguments. We cannot afford to turn this into a baba vs kamwana contest. But we can instead choose to pick between what JAP stands for vs what NASA promises.

Kenya chooses its presidents from the middle, from the centrists, not from the ideological wings. If we focus on individuals we end up with the false narrative of a socialist Raila vs a capitalist Uhuru, yet we all know that NASA and JAP are essentially a hotchpotch of all manner of ideologies that settle at more or less the same middle ground. That is why I am not voting Raila, I am voting NASA; because NASA’s agenda is to take power away from the JAP, and not to take royalty away from Uhuru (the narrative we are sold to balkanise us into tribal voting blocks). I am not voting Raila because I live in an idealist Utopia where he can do no wrong and is a personal hero to me, far from it, I am engaging in what American Democrats refer to as “transactional politics”, which is all about getting the best deal possible given the political realities, which are hopelessly stacked against the hopes and dreams of the young and the poor of this country.

In fact if I were to vote with my conscience, I should stand with Dida or Aukot or Pete Ondeng. For these gentlemen have probably never had the opportunity to be tainted by the allure of power and easy access to public resources, but it would be a fools errand to cast a vote for them; this is because standing on “purity” in matters of politics often only serves to stagnate movement in the most desirable direction. To move forward we cannot have an unwillingness to share the burden of morally ambiguous compromise, we must budge a little for the sake of progress, we must nudge our conscience a little to bend to the demands placed upon us by the prevailing realities, and they’re realities that call for incremental politics which in turn can give us the opportunity to have a leadership that can enable this country to stand a chance of working.

So to those in NASA who feel aggrieved that their man is not on the ballot, look at the bigger picture, stay transfixed on the prize, keep your focus on what matters. NASA as a movement is not about one individual, change is not the preserve of a tribal hero, the desire to see a difference is not on the shoulders of any one individual. We’re in this together to the end, as a movement with the goal to make sweeping changes and not merely bring a a man to the zenith of his political career –however deserving he may be; this may be self actualization for Raila, but I choose to see a Raila presidency less as a reward to him but rather as a victory for those of us that believe voting matters a damn thing in Kenya. We cannot afford to give up on this fledgling coalition simply because it is not Kalonzo or Mudavadi who comes first in the pecking order, we cannot say certain communities have been shortchanged or lied to, the squabbling serves no useful purpose, and in the end we’ll throw out the baby with the bathwater, and forever regret cutting off our own noses to spite our faces.

But there is hope, for just like me, you don’t have to vote for Raila, you don’t have to venerate the man as baba, but you owe it to yourself to consider voting for NASA if you’re truly displeased with the direction the country has taken in the last five years. Those who understand this struggle as I do we do not have many options besides putting a mark next to Raila’s name on 8/8/17, for that name represents not a man, not a tribe, but the National Super Alliance, a movement that brings together a coalition of men and women that promise (and surely deserve the chance to try deliver, just as we gave one to Jubilee) to make a difference for you and me and in the way this country is run.

“Leaders who do not help the people must be replaced by the people.”
― DaShanne Stokes

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A baptism of fire for Peter Kenneth

Politics is the art of choosing between the disastrous and the unpalatable.
~ John Kenneth Galbraith
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Peter Kenneth, the guy Miguna Miguna says he’d put in charge of beauty contests in the county, is a funny guy; either that or very naive, or both. He’s written a formal letter complaining that Nairobi Governor nominations aren’t free and fair, hahaha….

So this man gets into a contest for arguably the most lucrative job in Kenya (besides the presidency) with two of the most battle hardened, crude, unscrupulous, and recalcitrant Jubilee mandarins in Nairobi and then he expects it will be a clean fight? What is this guy smoking? He thought nominations in Nairobi would be a smooth affair like chomping on an aromatic Habanos Cohiba cigar while lounging on the terrace of his mansion in Runda as a flute of Chateau Margaux wine percolates on his quartz topped table? What a joke.

This is Kenya, and Nairobi is the capital city that’s inhabited by the toughest of the lot: the status quo operatives, the pharmacists without chemists, and the wheeler dealer tenderpreneurs that supply air to the City Council, they run this joint. There’s no Madam Head of Civil Service to hold anyone’s hand here, bedroom bully credentials won’t count, you’re on your own. This is a fight to the death and rules don’t apply. This is Sonko and Doctor Bishop territory, straight out of MKU and St. Paul’s Universities with two year degrees without ever attending class; this is jailbird space and your opponents have already earned their stripes, with Mike having already done time at (and escaped from) Shimo La Tewa, and Doctor Bishop cooling her heels at Parklands Police Station cells as we speak. This is blue-collar roll up your sleeves and pop your collar work, it requires people that have lived by their wit and balls before and amassed wealth by taking food out of the mouths of babies by either the sword or the word; white collar stroke of the pen chicanery like the sort that brought Kenya Reinsurance to its knees won’t work here.

You’re in the throes of the very contest that made Baba Yao throw his hands up in exasperation and decide he’s better off retreating to face Don Kabogo in Kiambu. You’ve been thrown into the pits of the coliseum my friend, and there’s no escape, you’ll just have to grapple with these baby powder producing and “the seed” eating street fighters.

Like Johnny Vigeti of Kalamashaka rhymed in Punchline Kibao
“Zinedine Zidane, starting line up ya Real Madrid na hiyo inamaanisha huku hutoboi kudai number
Plus striker wao ashachoka, ako hoi anadai sub- ha!
Ni mambo na ku-mark territory, kwa hivyo ma-doggy za mitaa zingine hazikojoi mitaani hapa
Kuifanya iwe ngumu kwa huyu jamaa wa yoh-yoh ku-buy manga”

Besides, I’d have thought having been in Starch and all that, PK must have heard of the George Bernard Shaw quote

“I learned long ago, never to wrestle with a pig. You get dirty, and besides, the pig likes it.”

Welcome to Nairobbery Muthungu wa Gatanga, if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere

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I stand with our doctors

Nothing that has value, real value, has no cost. Not freedom, not food, not shelter, not healthcare.
~ Dean Kamen

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After all the grandstanding, and the threats, and the dithering, predictably, the chickens are coming  home to roost… Doctors will not back down, and this fight has finally come to a head.

Initially a lot of Kenyans on social media were talking about the doctors’ strike like something that’s way out there, that’s not really touching their lives directly, after all it was just another protest like many others. In fact I even saw some argue that doctors could be proving they are not indispensable because the country had gone 70 days already without doctors and they were still breathing. I just shook my head.

The update-posting, selfie-taking, pizza-eating, mall-cruising, tweeting middle-class did not particularly feel the pinch, not until today. You see many of us have medical covers and are not planning on going to that Vihiga District Hospital where patients relieve themselves in buckets on the ward floor; few of us have ever set foot in Kenyatta Hospital where you can watch a tractor drive out the back every morning with a pile of bodies from the wards headed to a mortuary piled to the ceiling with corpses in various states of decay; many have never been to those level 4 hospitals where you can watch patients die in waiting lines; they couldn’t understand how a quack doctor has been performing caesarian operations in a county for years without detection.

People felt cushioned from the ongoings, aloof to the struggle of the public hospital doctors; after all Aga Khan, Mater, Nairobi, Getrudes, etc, were all still operating at full speed, and with personal doctors sat dutifully at their work stations and doctors’ plazas. That’s until yesterday when things changed. That’s when panic set in, that is when matters were thrown into perspective, that is when shit got real.

I have got news for you: it’s always been real, it hit the fan a long time ago, and for us all. If you ram your jalopy into a truck carrying broilers pumped with steroids at Ngoliba you will not be taken to Karen Hospital, you will be dumped at the nearest public hospital which is manned by those same doctors we watched march on our wall mounted curved screen TVs as we discussed ‘their greed for money’ in our posh accents; your relatives in the sticks don’t have those medical cards to swipe at 5 star hospitals, they depend on those district hospitals where doctors don’t even have gloves or clean syringes, they sorely need those public hospital doctors; mothers giving birth in the boondocks, they don’t have the options of epidurals at fancy hospitals with Cayenne driving doctors; little babies in the ‘reserves’, those don’t have several branches of Getrudes at the corner of every estate. These calibre of patient all need better public hospitals with working facilities and well motivated doctors. In fact we all need the same things they need whether we know it or not.

As a matter of fact, it has been pointed out several times that what we call a middle class in Kenya is just but a working class, basically that means a class that is just one missed salary away from desperation and destitution; lose your job today and of course that medical cover will disappear faster than money is siphoned out of Afya House.

Let me give you a personal story: In December 2005 my late father was preparing to retire for the night at the Nairobi Club when he felt a sharp pain in his upper chest and neck, he called his doctor at Aga Khan, Kisumu, who on hearing the symptoms advised that he take a taxi immediately to Nairobi Hospital because it sounded like the onset of a heart attack. The old man did as he had been told and called a taxi which took him directly to the hospital, in fact he walked by himself from the car to the hospital main door as the taxi guy then left; which is the exact reason he was all by himself when he collapsed right there in the reception. Now the hospital could not book him in unless someone signed a guarantee. By the time they found my mum’s number in his diary and called her and she called me to rush over to the hospital, it was too late. You can’t sit around with a heart attack waiting for a cash guarantee (I hear it is now 600K). In fact in 1996 my dad had fallen gravely ill and been rushed to MP Shah, he was lucky that at that time he was with my mum and they had a Diners’ Club credit card, or they would not have been booked in without a 150,000 shilling cash deposit.

So what’s the point of my story you might be wondering, and just what is its relevance to the current doctors’ strike? Well look at it this way: doctors are fighting to have public hospitals equipped better, working and living conditions improved, and facilities for patients upgraded (it is all there in the dishonoured CBA, but the government would rather you only pay attention to salary demands). If this fight had been won all those years ago and public hospitals were better equipped and manned with motivated staff then it would have made better sense for the taxi driver to take my dad to Kenyatta Hospital instead (where they don’t ask for a Diners’ Club card or a deposit of half a million shillings to admit a dying person), maybe if Kenyatta Hospital or Mbagathi hospital had been a viable option I wouldn’t be writing this today and I would instead be telling you about the pressure from my dad to settle down… These second chances at life, these options for patients everywhere, that is what the doctors are fighting for.

If you are walking by yourself on the street and suddenly fall down in a heap, there’s a very good chance that you’ll find yourself at Mbagathi Hospital or Kenyatta Hospital, than that you’ll end up at Karen Hospital or Aga Khan. And even if you were taken to one of those premier private hospitals, woe be unto thee if you are not walking around with a travellers’ cheque for a million shillings in your pocket, for otherwise you might still find yourself at Mbagathi, if you make it there alive at all. That is when you will understand what the doctors’ strike is about, at that shattering moment when your relatives find you lying alone in a dark corridor because there was no space in the wards, and worse no one knows what’s wrong with you because there’s no functioning X-Ray machine, there’s no basic equipment, no anaesthesia, and in any case the doctors themselves are languishing at King’ong’o, Kamiti, and Kodiaga like common criminals for shining a light on our dark despicable healtchare conditions.

This fight is not just about better salaries for doctors, this fight is not just for the poor that go to public hospitals. This fight is about improving all public health facilities, it is about improving working conditions for medics and ultimately for patients, it is about equipping healthcare facilities with at least the basics. It is a fight that you are invested in whether you realize it or not.

Don’t wait until that day you wake up on the cold cracked floor of a public hospital with nothing but painkillers in your hand and not even a cup of clean water to wash them down with to come to the startling realization that this was your fight.

Don’t wait until that day you will be writing a story about losing a parent(s) at the reception of a private hospital that needed a million shilling deposit to book them in; and worse, they only went there because there was no public hospital in the vicinity that could have saved them.

#IStandWithDoctors #HealthCrisisKE #KMPDU

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We’re now being told the Standard Gauge Railway is a “feature” through the Nairobi National Park… WTF!

“This park isn’t attracting proper income, but this feature (#SGR), will change the narrative”
~ Atanas Maina, Kenya Railways MD

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So Atanas Maina, Kenya Railways MD, had the nerve to go on national TV and proclaim that the Nairobi National Park isn’t attracting ‘proper’ income, and that passing a: noisy, polluting, animal movement impeding, eyesore of a railway through it will improve things? WTF!
 
A railway whose passing through the park has been opposed by anyone with sense is to be now considered a “feature” in a game park according to Atanas? The hell! I’m just wondering if the park will start to bring in ‘proper’ income on completion of the Standard Gauge Railway since apparently more tourists and other Kenyans will start to visit the park in larger numbers to see rumbling trains and take photos of massive concrete columns?
 
Jamaneni is this even for real? I mean, if the issue is the supposed value addition to our country’s infrastructure that the railway is planned to be (itself debatable), would this value have been lost had the railway bypassed the park?
 
People like Atanas, who I assume is no fool given he is managing a company, need to understand that the value of everything isn’t always equivalent to money it generates or selling price (something I am being made aware of everyday whenever I question the point of exotic white weddings 😉 ). This park isn’t just any other piece of land to be appropriated at will in a race to spend the Chinese debt we are continuously accumulating with grandiose steel and concrete developments. The very developments whose inflated budgets we are paying for through the nose as experts warn us of the likelihood of their becoming white elephants.
 
Do we not realize the animals in this park have every right to a peaceful existence in the tiny habitat we’ve carved out for them and which we are now planning to grab? Do we not remember this fauna once roamed free in the entire Nairobi and coexisted with the Maa community who it seems understood more about conservation then than we do now with our doctorates and our modernness.
 
But what do I know; I am sure I will be reminded that human beings, the whole 7,000,000,000 of us who are killing the planet with our breeding and feeding, have a right to live that wild animals do not because we were “promised dominion over animals”. I have no idea if dominion includes driving other species to extinction, or even if dominion means seven billion homo sapiens deserving to exist more than thirty thousand lions.

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Something Beyond Our Selves

The uncertainty of the danger belongs to the essence of terrorism.
~ Jurgen Habermas
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As I write this, I am shaken, confused, scared, angry… today morning I nearly lost sensation in my legs, I stood trembling in a dark corridor for an hour and fifteen minutes hearing the macabre symphony of grenades for snares and the terrifying staccato of 39mm AK-47 rounds ricocheting on walls and floors, and whizzing through the air, and ripping through human beings whose only mistake was to be non-locals and followers of a different faith that had chosen to try their luck in Mandera. This all took place a mere fifty metres from where I was trying to catch forty winks before being awoken by the loud bang of an Improvised Explosive Device whose purpose was to blow open the gate to a compound that held over thirty souls whose lives were about to be put on a knife’s edge by extremists who have no respect for the sanctity of life. At the end of the carnage, six were dead, scores were injured, and the police and other armed forces then kept the town on edge for hours as they shot continuously into the air targeting remorseless phantoms that had already disappeared into the night with innocent blood on their hands.

Those 75 minutes were excruciatingly long and hard, they brought me face to face with myself. I contemplated the worst. I was numb. But in all this, I remembered something I had read in a book recently: confronting the reality of our own mortality is important because it obliterates all the crappy, fragile, superficial values in life. While most people whittle their days chasing another buck, or a little bit more fame and attention, or a little bit more assurance that they’re right or loved, death confronts all of us with a far more painful and important question: What is your legacy?

Allow me to share a story from this book with you.

“Ernest Becker was an academic outcast. In 1960, he got his Ph.D. in anthropology; his doctoral research compared the unlikely and unconventional practices of Zen Buddhism and psychoanalysis. At the time, Zen was seen as something for hippies and drug addicts, and Freudian psychoanalysis was considered a quack form of psychology left over from the Stone Age.
In his first job as an assistant professor, Becker quickly fell into a crowd that denounced the practice of psychiatry as a form of fascism. They saw the practice as an unscientific form of oppression against the weak and helpless.

The problem was that Becker’s boss was a psychiatrist. So it was kind of like walking into your first job and proudly comparing your boss to Hitler.
As you can imagine, he was fired.

So Becker took his radical ideas somewhere that they might be accepted: Berkeley, California. But this, too, didn’t last long.

Because it wasn’t just his anti-establishment tendencies that got Becker into trouble; it was his odd teaching methods as well. He would use Shakespeare to teach psychology, psychology textbooks to teach anthropology, and anthropological data to teach sociology. He’d dress up as King Lear and do mock sword fights in class and go on long political rants that had little to do with the lesson plan. His students adored him. The other faculty loathed him. Less than a year later, he was fired again.

Becker then landed at San Francisco State University, where he actually kept his job for more than a year. But when student protests erupted over the Vietnam War, the university called in the National Guard and things got violent. When Becker sided with the students and publicly condemned the actions of the dean (again, his boss being Hitleresque and everything), he was, once again, promptly fired.

Becker changed jobs four times in six years. And before he could get fired from the fifth, he got colon cancer. The prognosis was grim. He spent the next few years bedridden and had little hope of surviving. So Becker decided to write a book. This book would be about death.

Becker died in 1974. His book The Denial of Death, would win the Pulitzer Prize and become one of the most influential intellectual works of the twentieth century, shaking up the fields of psychology and anthropology, while making profound philosophical claims that are still influential today.

The Denial of Death essentially makes two points:

1. Humans are unique in that we’re the only animals that can conceptualize and think about ourselves abstractly. Dogs don’t sit around and worry about their career. Cats don’t think about their past mistakes or wonder what would have happened if they’d done something differently. Monkeys don’t argue over future possibilities, just as fish don’t sit around wondering if other fish would like them more if they had longer fins.
As humans, we’re blessed with the ability to imagine ourselves in hypothetical situations, to contemplate both the past and the future, to imagine other realities or situations where things might be different. And it’s because of this unique mental ability, Becker says, that we all, at some point, become aware of the inevitability of our own death. Because we’re able to conceptualize alternate versions of reality, we are also the only animal capable of imagining a reality without ourselves in it.
This realization causes what Becker calls “death terror,” a deep existential anxiety that underlies everything we think or do.

2. Becker’s second point starts with the premise that we essentially have two “selves.” The first self is the physical self—the one that eats, sleeps, snores, and poops. The second self is our conceptual self—our identity, or how we see ourselves.
Becker’s argument is this: We are all aware on some level that our physical self will eventually die, that this death is inevitable, and that its inevitability—on some unconscious level—scares the shit out of us. Therefore, in order to compensate for our fear of the inevitable loss of our physical self, we try to construct a conceptual self that will live forever. This is why people try so hard to put their names on buildings, on statues, on spines of books. It’s why we feel compelled to spend so much time giving ourselves to others, especially to children, in the hopes that our influence—our conceptual self—will last way beyond our physical self. That we will be remembered and revered and idolized long after our physical self ceases to exist.

Becker called such efforts our “immortality projects,” projects that allow our conceptual self to live on way past the point of our physical death. All of human civilization, he says, is basically a result of immortality projects: the cities and governments and structures and authorities in place today were all immortality projects of men and women who came before us. They are the remnants of conceptual selves that ceased to die. Names like Jesus, Muhammad, Napoleon, and Shakespeare are just as powerful today as when those men lived, if not more so. And that’s the whole point. Whether it be through mastering an art form, conquering a new land, gaining great riches, or simply having a large and loving family that will live on for generations, all the meaning in our life is shaped by this innate desire to never truly die.

Religion, politics, sports, art, and technological innovation are the result of people’s immortality projects. Becker argues that wars and revolutions and mass murder occur when one group of people’s immortality projects rub up against another group’s. Centuries of oppression and the bloodshed of millions have been justified as the defense of one group’s immortality project against another’s.

But, when our immortality projects fail, when the meaning is lost, when the prospect of our conceptual self outliving our physical self no longer seems possible or likely, death terror—that horrible, depressing anxiety—creeps back into our mind. Trauma can cause this, as can shame and social ridicule. As can, as Becker points out, mental illness.

Becker later came to a startling realization on his deathbed: that people’s immortality projects were actually the problem, not the solution; that rather than attempting to implement, often through lethal force, their conceptual self across the world, people should question their conceptual self and become more comfortable with the reality of their own death. Becker called this “the bitter antidote,” and struggled with reconciling it himself as he stared down his own demise. While death is bad, it is inevitable. Therefore, we should not avoid this realization, but rather come to terms with it as best we can. Because once we become comfortable with the fact of our own death—the root terror, the underlying anxiety motivating all of life’s frivolous ambitions—we can then choose our values more freely, unrestrained by the illogical quest for immortality, and freed from dangerous dogmatic views.”

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The leaders of the future without hope for it

Equal treatment for children in unequal situations is not justice.
– Jerry Brown

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Growing up in a small village in the western part of Kenya, I thought I knew struggle. The first school I attended in the late 80s was very rudimentary in terms of infrastructure, and the colonies of jiggers flourishing in the earth floors in the classrooms didn’t lack for food, this is because most pupils went barefoot as cheap plastic Sandak shoes were out of reach for all but a few. To keep the gnats at bay required applying cowdung on floors by hand every Friday (a disgusting task that was not optional), even worse if your family had no cows, or they didn’t do the needful, then you’d have to go to a neighbour’s compound, container in hand, and request a serving of animal waste. Fumigation or other means of pest control was unheard of and most likely unaffordable anyway.

I cannot really say I knew hunger, three meals a day were a given. In deed my biggest worry in those days was getting a shilling to go with to school every day (wrapped in a handkerchief pinned to my chest). Back then a single bob could buy ten vitumbwas or sugarcane almost a metre long come break time, plus there was the free nyayo milk that assuaged the pain of having to cram the dictatorial propaganda that was Nyayo Philosophy.

Fast forward to 2016, thirty years later, and passing through Mandera I behold scenes of kids eager to learn having to make do with: tattered clothing, lessons in swirling dust under thorn trees, a semi-illiterate teacher, no furniture whatsoever, scorching heat. And all these when their diet consists of a cup of black sugar-free tea in the morning that will keep them running till they’ll have some porridge for dinner, plain drinking water is in fact a luxury. I now realize I had it really good growing up actually, my childhood was a walk in the park in comparison. The discomfort of a bloodsucking jigger is tame compared to an empty rumbling belly in dusty forty degree heat; blistering sandak shoes are far more comfortable compared to tiny bare feet on blazing sand in landscapes teeming with scorpions, snakes, and thorns as tough as nails.

These kids don’t need laptops, they need a roof over their makeshift class. They don’t need roadshows, they need school feeding programs, they don’t need non-existent stadia, or fables about sovereign bonds, or yarns about togetherness and unity. It’s water they lack, clothes they don’t have, food they could do with, some shelter that would do them good. These kids just want a qualified teacher. The basics of starting out in education and life.

We need our leaders, if we can call them that, to understand this: we can’t keep our children in such conditions and then boast of percentages in growth while nibbling on croissants and sipping iced tea in air conditioned hotels in cities.

It is the children forgotten in such conditions, without hope and without a future, that we will tomorrow claim to not understand their choice (or lack of choice) in embracing radical strains of politics, extreme religious ideologies, and conversion to mercenaries for hire with little respect for the sanctity of life and human dignity, a dignity they’re denied now.

Wake up. The children are the future. Take care of them today and invest in future stability.

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