If there’s one thing that Kenyans love it’s gossip, especially when that gossip is around a celebrity. Even better when that gossip is around something considered shameful or embarrassing. Is life even interesting if you didn’t hear that so and so did this or that and there are pictures or videos to prove it? Tapping into this has been a boon for gossip bloggers, and even mainstream media has picked up on a few of these stories to garner some guaranteed clicks on an increasingly ad driven internet. 

One of the latest stories is the ‘fall’ of Colonel Mustapha, a famous 2000s era musician, caught on camera working as a casual labourer at a construction site. It’s a rags to riches to rags story so the public interest is understandable. Colonel Mustapha was part of the duo Deux Vultures with Nasty Thomas, putting out huge hits including Mona Lisa, Katika and Kinyaunyau, all arguably Kenyan classics that defined that era.

Hugely successful Kenyan artistes going broke is not a new thing. Over the last couple of years, they’ve been a few cases that have been highlighted on the news and gossip blogs. It’s the same story – they thought the money and fame would never end, were young and naive with no one to properly advise them and they now live with the regret of wasted resources especially after the industry spat them out after their fame waned. It’s the name of the game though – fame is the owner of the house and the house always wins.

We can wax lyrical about the financial planning that artistes should do. Actually, the financial planning that all adults should do. There’s the prevailing thought that under capitalism, we should all endeavour to be financially literate and therefore financially responsible. Any financial losses or really any lifestyle that is akin to poverty is squarely our fault. Nevermind structural issues that doom most of us either into a cycle of poverty or into the anxiety of the neverending rat race to stay afloat or to desperately cling to the rung on the ladder that is the middle-class.

So of course it was not a surprise that there were a lot of loud voices online condemning Mustapha for being fiscally irresponsible. Because how could such a successful musician end up haggard working at a construction site? In fact, many people thought it was a publicity stunt. A cheap one. One that wasn’t going to work because we know better than to fall for these new music promos now. Or at least have been spoiled by more outrageous celebrity stunts so this paled in comparison. When it was then confirmed to be real, there was an annoyance that he was looking for handouts and we weren’t falling for it.

Eventually, it was made clear that he had not staged the photos and in fact it was a third-party that had taken and shared them. The man was quietly working to make ends meet and to support his ailing mother through her cancer treatment. He was neither looking for pity nor handouts. The media frenzy that followed was, in my opinion, outrageous. I watched some of the interviews and my heart broke. Here was a man clearly going through a difficult time, being bombarded with interviews that went out of their way to ask deeply personal questions in the name of helping, but really to feed into the clickbait machinery. 

A fundraiser was started to help Mustapha especially with his mom’s cancer treatment. He even landed a meeting with Cabinet Secretary for Youth Affairs, Sports and the Arts, Ababu Namwamba, where he apparently was promised support including in the form of a job. So far, Mustapha claims he’s received various job offers that he’s following up on and offers of financial support for a business as well as for land and other assets. All this is great and I truly wish him the best as I am a huge fan. However, we really aren’t having the conversation we should be having. 

The latest news on NHIF is that Kenyans are being turned away from hospitals due  to delayed payments. There is a story every few weeks on doctors and other healthcare professionals not receiving their salaries for months on end and murmurs of a push for more of them to emigrate. Even sadder, there are stories of doctors taking their own lives because of lack of opportunities and the stress that comes with it in an unforgiving country. 

As if that wasn’t enough, cancer treatment in this country will deplete all your resources, if it doesn’t kill you first. The queues for treatment like chemotherapy in public hospitals can stretch into years, and the money required for multiple lifesaving sessions is not accessible to most Kenyans. As in much of Africa, most cancer cases in Kenya are diagnosed at an advanced stage, when treatment options are limited and families must sell assets or fundraise to cover treatment.

An estimated 30,000 people in Kenya die from cancer, while 47,000 are diagnosed with the disease every year, with the government estimating the prevalence of cases at 90,000 annually. The National Cancer Control Programme says treatment in Kenya goes for KSh 175,000 to KSh 800,000 where there is no need for an operation. With surgery, the charges range from KSh 800,000 to KSh1.5 million, depending on the hospital and type of treatment. A cancer patient would need to spend about KSh 70,000 at Kenyatta National Hospital (KNH) on tests and surgery, even before the start of chemotherapy or radiotherapy. The cost of tests alone at private hospitals is KSh 100,000 to KSh 150,000.

I could go on and on about the various costs for cancer treatment but I’m sure you get the picture. It’s expensive. Even the wealthy go for treatment abroad, with India and the US being popular choices.

The Constitution of Kenya, under the Bill of Rights, gives citizens the right to the highest attainable standards of health and Universal health coverage (UHC) has been adopted as Target 3.8 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), with a clear goal of ensuring that individuals and communities receive the health services they need without suffering financial hardship. 

On 12 December 2018, President Uhuru Kenyatta declared Universal Health Coverage (UHC) to be a national priority in Kenya, as part of his ‘Big Four Agenda’ for national sustainable development. Under this initiative, the Government of Kenya committed to make strategic investments in health to ensure that all residents of Kenya can access the essential health services they require by 2022. As we can all see, there’s quite a lot yet to be done. 

Most of us are not celebrities so we are not going to get the kind of coverage and support Mustapha is getting. And whatever our financial reality on the scale of social class, it should not affect our access to lifesaving healthcare. We should be looking at this and seeing it as yet another example of a healthcare system that isn’t working for the majority, and push for better. Progress towards UHC is progress towards equity and social inclusion, and it’s what every Kenyan deserves.

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