Since the Sinai event—it is ongoing—a startling consensus has emerged in Kenya’s newspapers, or perhaps simply the Daily Nation. It is probably best captured in Dr. Lukoye Atwoli’s statement:
Poverty has been made into the stock excuse for all the criminal activity we carry out, and we are bringing up children with a sense of entitlement that enables them to forcefully ask for handouts while warning us that the alternative is a life of crime.
We knew that slumdwellers were lazy and irresponsible—no doubt, this is why we entrust them with our children and our houses, as ayahs, nannies, domestics, gardeners, and askaris—now we know that they also feel “entitled.”
Good people, if you ever doubted that Kenya exists in a continual state of class war, welcome to the trenches.
Those who have tried to offer alternative ideas about poverty and social disenfranchisement have been dismissed as liberal do-gooders. Meanwhile, a line has formed behind Macharia Gaitho to defend his claims about slumdwellers. Macharia Gaitho, we are told, is a good guy. Why, some of the people who write for the DN have had drinks with him and can attest to his good nature. (“As Macharia Gaitho and I are colleagues, and have occasionally had a drink together, I can confidently say that he is neither insensitive nor elitist,” Rasna Warah.) Thus, his statements about slumdwellers are in no way intended to be malicious. They are hard, real truth. It is time we stopped coddling slumdwellers and let them know what’s what. Pampered slumdwellers need to get with the program, or they’ll be left behind as we head toward Vision 2030.
Slumdwellers are holding us hostage and they feel too entitled. (Since we don’t have welfare in Kenya, I am wondering where those writing against slumdwellers will find Cadillac-driving single mothers. No doubt, they will be found.) One thing is clear: we will no longer be hold hostage to the whims of irresponsible and entitled slumdwellers. We have drawn a line in the sand. If they cannot take care of themselves, so be it.
I wonder if these are the kinds of conversations that the Kenyan elite have about the rest of us. “If the Kenyan middle classes cannot figure out how to steal millions of shillings, then let them struggle. We cannot be responsible for their laziness and incompetence.”
The variously arrogant, condescending, and heartless statements circulating in our mainstream media about slums and slumdwellers should give us pause. The various consolidations around questions of personal responsibility and respectability, around middle class propriety and middle class values of “hard work” and “fair play” should similarly give us pause. One hears in all these statements that there are proper and right ways of practicing responsible citizenship, that slumdwellers have refused to fulfill the terms of their citizenship contracts, that we have little to no space and very little patience with those who refuse to be good wananchi.
Statements about slumdwellers circulate with such authority, such certainty that one can only stutter or remain silent in response. Slumdwellers have been surveyed by those who know—Dr. Atwoli is a psychiatrist!—and they have been found wanting. Criminal. Entitled. Unworthy.
Something ugly happened at Sinai.
Something even uglier continues to happen in our discourse on Sinai.