So in my mind this morning is this Eric Wainaina song ‘Ni nchi ya kitu kidogo’. It is such a plain honest song; sung years back yet still very true. We are a nation of ‘kitu kidogo’. The cost of not being a ‘kitu kidogo’ person is so high, almost like you are being penalized for not conforming to what most will do, pay ‘kitu kidogo’.
The other day I was in a conference where road contractors were up in arms. They were angry over two things. One is the fact that the government seems to be giving all the big road construction jobs to the Chinese thereby rendering them ‘jobless’. Two was the high cost of doing business for local contractors. Turns out in the ministry they deal with, there are several ‘toll stations’ that will collect cash from contractors before they can process payment for any job they have done. Apparently this toll station start with the secretary to the tea girl before you get to the most senior person and in each of these toll station you leave some cash.
I felt sorry for these guys, actually that is not true. I felt nothing for them. Am sorry this sounds cold but I will explain.
My first problem with them is what one lady raised; how many roads do you and I know that have been started by these local contractors and never completed? And how many shoddy jobs have they done, no sooner have they finished constructing the road than the potholes are up. So why should I feel sorry for them just because they are Kenyan? Everyone must earn respect. Just because you are Kenyan does not entitle you to construct these roads – if we cannot trust you with this little roads how do we entrust you with the super highways. I am sorry road contractors, much as I hear your appeal; you need to prove that you can do it. Recently the city center was being re-carpeted; a very small section took months, am not even sure if it has even been completed many months on! So how long would you take to do super highways, generations?
My second problem is this. I hear these contractors concerning the toll stations. That must be really frustrating. But the thing is this, rather than get us to feel sorry for themselves; they need to do something about it. If all the contractors decided we are not paying bribes, then perhaps they would have a chance in changing this culture. They have to be the change they want to see. It will mean they will lose some jobs but in the long run they will benefit from these stand, someone within these contractors needs to stand for what is right.
As a nation we struggle with doing what is right. As my pastor recently said, we blame our leaders but these leaders are really just a reflection of who we are.
Truth be told, we all have very good reasons for avoiding doing the right thing, but I bet even our leaders do. You see it starts with us and with the simple things.
I struggle with giving way at our roads, I would much rather squeeze everyone out. But I have seen the effect of that, it is the reason we get stuck in traffic for 20 hours. Telling me to stop just because the traffic lights are red is an insult not only to me but to also the car behind me; we need to be on the move! Telling a pedestrian not to alight from a ‘matatu’ from a stage that is inexistent and therefore cause lots of traffic is just impractical. Did I mention matatus? I won’t go there; matatus are special; but are they really?
I am surprised that in some lands people will be entrusted with paying for parking in the city by just going to a machine. If we were left to that, many of us would never pay these parking fees.
I am surprised that some supermarkets do not have a qualm with people entering the supermarkets with the bags and infact have very few staff manning the supermarkets. People will even pay for what they buy to a machine. If that was here I would be running without paying.
Doing the right thing does not come naturally to many of us.
Be the change
Many times I find myself saying I will be counter cultural; I will be the change I want to see in this country. That means not paying ‘kitu kidogo’ right? Needless to say, I have paid sometimes very dearly for this. But I still would not have it any other way.
You see I am convinced that we have to stand for what is right for no other reason than it is the right thing.
I am also convinced that when we begin to have thin grey lines on say matters that are costly, this quickly infects even areas we would never have thought we would compromise.
It is the reason why we have so many charities and non-governmental organisation misusing people’s funds. Raising cash and using it for personal empowerment rather than the reason they were intended for. I think this is the saddest phenomena. You just never know which charity is genuine!
As I advocate for giving in this country, I hear a real concern from Kenyans. Of times when they have given and their giving was misused. Of times when people enriched themselves using hard earned giving. Mistrust has therefore taken root and is a serious show stopper for anyone who wants to give. I think that is sad. I think it is also a reflection of our country’s values, ‘nchi ya kitu kidogo’.
I challenge you and me to start doing the right thing for no other reason than it being the right thing. I challenge charities and NGOs to recognize the responsibility that comes with receiving monies from the rest of us.
But I also tell myself and the rest of the army of givers this; there are charities and initiatives out there that are genuine. Do not let yourself get entangled in the disbelief and therefore ‘do not give web’. Do your homework, talk to people, I promise you there are genuinely honest charities out there. I chose not to allow the one spoilt egg to spoil my broth. BUT DO YOUR HOMEWORK!