Woozy in a wobbling world

For the past few months I have spent much time trying to reorient my brain. All of a sudden, in the past 15 months or so, the world decided to wobble and nothing seems clear anymore. Today I was reading in the New York Times that Austria and Italy are effectively bankrupt — they can’t afford to cover the huge loans they gave to Eastern Europe, which itself is imploding.

You have to love newspapers. And as we are now mourning the imminent collapse of much of the newspaper industry (the New York Times is teetering, and it reports this elegantly while reporting new trends in depression fashion), it is comforting to note that even when tens of trillions of dollars are disappearing into thin air, we can turn to the Mail & Guardian for a theatre review and to find out about getting to Timbuktu and Philip Hughes’s double century. (Cricket itself is teetering.)

But the balm on all these crises is that they are measured comfortably into newspaper columns and pictures, and neatly tagged. So Michelle Obama’s naked arms stand right next to the imminent collapse of the lives of a few hundred million in China. I am waiting for the headline that goes “America is bankrupt” and a side-piece about an innovative cooking style evolving in barter-trade restaurants in Tuscany.


Then there is Kenya. The beast coming at us is much larger than our weapons.

The minister of education announces that they have no money for free primary school education. Our MPs, of course, are paid on time — R100 000 a month. Tax free.

A few days ago, two human rights activists were gunned down in Nairobi, not far from State House. Most of us think it has something to do with the government. Some say it has something to do with Mungiki, a militia that has ties to some elements of our political establishment. And these days those beasts do not know what their limbs are doing.

Baby beasts are cutting away from the big beasts now and going rogue as the scramble for the next election begins, and we all doubt the possibility that we will arrive there intact. Escalating cycles of self-doubt start to infect every area of public space.

Then there is the problem of mealie meal for the masses. It is a very postmodern narrative. It was stolen and sold at high prices by speculators, oh, and — erm — then it wasn’t. Meanwhile people starve. Then more mealies were imported but, Honourable Minister, these mealies are, erm, “unfit for human consumption”.

A few days later. Erm, Mr Prime Minister, new tests have ascertained that the said mealies were, actually, fit for human consumption. But we still do not know where they are. Sir, the mealies themselves seem to have, erm, mysteriously disappeared. Mr Minister, we are trying to trace them, we suspect they have been sold by criminal elements.

It is crystal clear to our political establishment that you don’t fuck with The Belly. So, they are running around trying to appease the starving bellies, knowing full well the electoral cost of this failure, but they find they cannot get the mealies to the public mouth.

Now the people who are busy dealing with this — the civil servants and ministers, the institutions — are all garlanded with titles and degrees and suits, and some have read Fanon. Others studied Warehousing and Logistics in Japan. Some work for institutions such as the Kenya Bureau of Standards that have spent the past few years doing Best Practice workshops, and making Strategic Plans. There are forensic accountants with good imported skills, and commentators of intellect and detail.

But if faith is the oxygen of a young state, faith in a viable future, there is very little oxygen in Kenya right now. What these suits mask is an escalating free for all, as people use the fronts of respectability and institutional credibility to collect what they can before Armageddon.

On the other side there are evidence-collecting human rights lawyers. Hard-hitting journalists. Bloggers. There are politicians who were human rights activists, and devastating political scientists, and doers. But to survive this one, we will need a surge — a surge such as we have never seen — of national pride, a moral assertion of Kenyan values, by Kenyans. To keep making noises about “corruption and governance” is no longer useful.

For why invest too much in the 2012 election, or in your job as an agronomist, when you know that seismic events are coming? Why listen to your party leader? If there is no place in Kenya to invest your faith in the future, why bother?

I am happy to report, in the meantime, that Kenya beat Fiji in the semifinals of the Dubai Sevens rugby tournament. And Crystal Okusa, in Kenya’s Sunday Standard, Unveils the Perfect Dress for a Sunny Day.

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever. But it comes at a cost. Advertisers are cancelling campaigns, and our live events have come to an abrupt halt. Our income has been slashed.

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