/ 14 July 2006

The power of love

I was 14 years old when We Are the World filled our television screens — and I discovered that we are loved.

That was an amazing kind of love: a giant chorus of exotic-looking people coming together as one, and they pouted and gurgled and they agreed. Yeah, yeah. Once in a while one of them would bend forward as if they were retching their love for Ethiopia from a really deep place in their belly, a personal testimony, and I knew it was true the world would be a better place, for you-uu-uu, and for me-ii-ii.

And there was this guy, who looked pale and thin and bruised, with wispy brown English hair, like Jesus had, who suffered for us, abandoning Boomtown Rats and Stray Cats to reach out and touch. And he is now the king of Ethiopia.

Then Canada did the same in a weepy song called Tears Are Not Enough. Vowels wobbled, words stretched out. Tears, tears, are not Enou-ou-ou-gh.

And the French gurgled, L’Ethiopieeeeeeeeee….ohhh! L’Ethiopeeeeee.

In the years since then, much love has poured into my city, Nairobi. For The Girl Child, for many hundreds of Awarenesses, for Poverty Eradi-cation, for the Angelina Jolification and Anti-Desertification of Semi-Arid Regions in Sahelian Countries.

The resources poured in have been incredible: tens of thousands of 4x4s are tearing the country apart looking for a project to love. It used to be that big expensive cars were needed by the Fathers of Our Nations, so they could Develop Our Nations. Now, the Lovers of Our Nations are here to Develop Our Nations, and of course, they need cars to be efficient. Standards must be maintained. Things need to be run with International Standards.

Rents in Nairobi are now on a par with Europe, to service the tens of thousands of Kenya-loving people who run Kenya-loving projects to save Kenyans and Sudanese and others from Misery. Restaurants with names like Casablanca and Java and Lord Erroll feed these people at a very high standard, and many parts of Nairobi look like New York City. And we are very excited about this! We have a German school, a French school, a Swedish school and an international school. This means Nairobi is developing very fast. You can get cappuccino in Loki — a giant refugee camp in northern Kenya.

I have learnt that I, we, are a dollar-a-day people (which is terrible, they say, because a cow in Japan is worth $9 a day). This means that a Japanese cow would be a middle-class Kenyan. Now, a dollar-a-day person cannot know what is good for him — which means that a $9-a-day cow from Japan could very well head a humanitarian NGO in Kenya. Massages are very cheap in Nairobi, so the cow will be comfortable.

Nairobi is crawling with $5-a-day, 25-year-old backpackers who came and loved and compassioned and are now the beneficiaries of $5 000 a month consulting for the United Nations (CV: After working in bars in London, I was involved in a tobacco-harvesting project near the gorilla sanctuary in Uganda when the overland truck was stranded for five days, and I taught schoolchildren to sing Born in the USA), while master’s students from Kenya are selling fruit by the side of the road for a dollar a day, and live in Kibera slum, the only place where rent is cheap, but this may change since Ralph Fiennes went and loved Kibera.

(Am I the only person who thought Fiennes’s wife in the film was sleeping with the black doctor, only to discover that the black doctor was gay? The doctor was a placebo to political correctness, to authenticate the movie, just like an ineffectual Steve Biko authenticated Cry Freedom, showing how Donald Woods rescued South Africa from apartheid. The doctor cannot affect the narrative — the true saviours of his country are Fiennes and Rachel Weisz. But they love him. They really really love the good gay doctor. They would never sleep with him on screen, though.)

Last year I met a lovely young woman from England, all of 19, who came all the way to Naivasha, to a specific location very near a lovely lake, next to several beautiful game sanctuaries and a lodge run by her boyfriend’s father. But these were not her concern. She was in Kenya to teach the people of some peri-urban location how to use a condom. She told me that she talks to groups of men and shows them how a condom can save their lives. I asked her whether there were no nurses or teachers who could do this at maybe a tenth or one hundred-thousandth of the cost it would take to keep her in this lovely and rather expensive location, and her eyes melted and she said, ”But I care about people. Can’t you see people are dying? Something must be done.”

”In my gap year.”

She did not add.

I was very moved.

Various royal princes have been here in their gap years, and we have seen them cutting a tree or hugging a baby. One famous actress will adopt all the babies of Africa. And the Strategic Development Goal of that is that in 15 years, the Hollywood Bratpack will be Ethiopian and they will sing a song to save Ethiopia in a more authentic manner.

Many of our schoolchildren have been raised to Awareness, and this is thrilling news, that they are now aware. And every so often, on tele-vision, we are treated to schools’ music festival poems by six-year olds, which go something like this:

The Girl Child! Let us all educate,

The Girl Child!

The Girl Child!

For our Millennium Development


The Girl Child! The Girl Child!

In 1995, I got a part-time job with a cotton ginnery in Mwea district that my father had invested in. My job was to meet with farmers in the dry areas and encourage them to grow cotton. It was not difficult to do — farmers wanted to grow cotton, but lacked a market. Throughout those few months I heard talk of a legendary African king called PlanInternationo. People said that PlanInternationo gave them water and tanks and school fees, and every chief and government official I met went all moist talking about this king.

One day we went to Thika district agricultural office to talk to the extension officers, whose paid job it is to advise farmers on their options. They asked us if we had been to see the people at PlanInternationo. We said no. They looked rather sad. We asked them if they could give us a person to take us around to meet farmers. They said yes, for some unaffordable number of dollars a day, many more than nine, or 90, they would. We can’t afford that, I said. Oh, but that’s what PlanInternationo pays, they said. They love us very much!

Then I met a senior guy at one of the big Humanitarian Agencies in Kenya, who said he wants to bring Bono to perform a concert in Mogadishu. To raise awareness.

Late last year we heard that people were starving to death in many places all over Kenya. Immediately, the government urged the donor community to help. And the donor community urged the world community to help. And we saw large sad eyes of many nameless people on the very verge of death; and caring spokespeople, all white and tanned, told the world: people are dying!

Meanwhile, our government had broken all tax collection records, and in other parts of Kenya, we were having huge bumper harvests. People died.

The most-loved people in Africa are the tall, thin noble people who were once or are still nomads and who live near Wild Animals. The Pokot, the Samburu, the Maasai have received more love than anybody in the world.

I met a woman at a dinner in New York who resembles and speaks like Scarlett O’Hara (My dadee this, my dadee that), who said she was a friend of Rafe (Fiennes). Scarlett is about to start producing handbags from the tails of Mongolian horses and she Just Luuurves Kenya and she is building a clinic for the Maasai people and sending a group to London to sing about manhood ceremonies to raise money. Nobody, really, has seen how the Maasai have become wealthy or even healthy out of all the thousands and thousands of Projects. But the Maasai, they can be certain that they are loved.

What you can be sure about in all these love projects is that it is easier for a thirtysomething Scarlett O’Hara — or a Boomtown Rat — than it is for a PhD-wielding, Maasai-speaking, Maasai person, to decide who the Maasai will be to the world.

Because that is the Power of Love.

Binyavanga Wainaina is a writer based in Nairobi. He is the founding editor of Kwani, a leading Kenyan literary magazine (www.kwani.org)