“Wanawake saa hizi hata kushuka hatushuki . . . Hatuna muda hata wa kuenjoy na kina baba nyumbani, kwa ajili kila siku unawaza watoto watakula nini . . . kama baba ni dereva, mwenye gari ameuza (gari) kwa sababu mafuta imepanda bei. Kwa hivyo wewe mama ukabangaize ulete mboga, ukaokote mahindi  yanayotoka border ya Tanzania ili ulishe watoto . . . Ruto, umetuumiza sana.Umetufinya, mpaka hatuwezi kupumua.”

These are the words of Naomi Kadari, a Taita Taveta vegetable vendor, or mama mboga, who plies her trade at Taveta Market in the aftermath of the contentious Finance Bill 2023 (now the Finance Act 2023) and the subsequent budget as delivered by Treasury Cabinet Secretary Prof. Njuguna Ndung’u. 

These sentiments by a mama mboga should get President William Ruto and his deputy, Rigathi Gachagua, worried, given their campaign was hinged heavily on uplifting the wellbeing of the same mama mbogas and the so-called ‘hustlers’, going by their ‘bottom-up’ manifesto

When people are not making love anymore in households, it shows the happiness index is way down there, at least according to the street barometer. And it makes sense too, because how can you make love on an empty stomach after a long day hustling on the streets with nothing to show for it? Psychologists will tell you that standing up to the occasion becomes a problem.

What the President’s ‘hustlers’ are doing when they come back to their hovels after a long day of kuhoya-hoya is eating the meager soup that their hustles for the day brought in, chasing it down with lots of water to deceive the intestines, then praying to God, turning out the light, and turning in for the night, curled up in the embryonic position they remember from their mother’s womb, arms tucked between their knees, facing the wall, and doze off, hoping that their roof will not cave in on them before the dawn. They know that if the crack of dawn finds them still snuggled up in bed then they won’t have even a scrap to throw in the soup pot in the evening.

“Ni bottom (up) gani ambayo saa hizi bei ya sukari imekuja mia mbili na kitu . . . saa hizi unaambia watu wa boda boda ati walipe three percent ujenge nyumba. Unajenga nyumba na hakuna kitu kwa tumbo? . . .  Leo sijakunywa chai asubuhi bwana . . .unaenda kwa duka unaambiwa mia mbili, mia mbili iko wapi, jameni? . . . Tutaenda barabarani wote, na kama wanataka kutuua watuue. . .. tuko na uchungu sana.”

These are the words of Peter Kipkurui Arap Korir, an agitated boda boda rider in Nakuru, boda bodas who made up a sizable demographic of ‘hustlers’ who campaigned for and voted for the Kenya Kwanza government. Now Kipkurui has turned his back on the same government he voted in and is calling for opposition leader Raila Odinga to announce the resumption of maandamano. And going by what I was seeing in that clip, Kipkurui is not alone. His fellow boda boda appeared to be in agreement with everything he said.

In short, the youth are saying they no longer see prospects of marriage and building a future for themselves as we knew it traditionally. Meaning we might as well gear up for a redefined family unit going forward, together with the attendant challenges wrought by the disrupted traditional nuclear unit. 

We are talking here a huge social transformation and gargantuan challenges in form of increased numbers of street children; increased juvenile delinquency because of kids who are raised in dysfunctional homes; an increase in domestic violence; an increase in prostitution and the attendant mutant venereal diseases; an increase in drug and substance abuse by an angry and unemployed young population; an increase in crime and juvenile gangs (from the videos I have seen online they are the most vicious), an increase in mental health cases… and on and on. Even schools will no longer be manageable. Because of only one reason; a dysfunctional family unit. Keeping in mind that these young people will still have sex, regardless of the economy. And now that condoms are unaffordable due to excessive taxation, they will have it without them.

It gets even uglier. Pension schemes will eventually collapse because working-age graduates who can’t find work to sustain themselves will be unable to leave the nest and continue to depend on their retired parents for upkeep. Deep in the villages, that pesa kwa wazee payment that is disbursed to sustain our elders will go to feed the hordes of hungry grandchildren, abandoned by their sons who left home to go search for an elusive mjengo job in cities or daughters who sold everything they had and made the suicidal pilgrim to Saudia in search of work as domestics, in the full knowledge that they might come back in a coffin – I think the government already knows these things. In short, the social fabric will collapse and we’ll live like programmed robots waiting for the day when the system will decommission us.

And so, next time we prepare a budget, we should be thinking of allocating more funds for building more Borstal institutions and rescue and rehabilitation centres. Like in apartheid-era South Africa, we should be budgeting for expanding our jails and police cells to accommodate these hordes of angry, militarized and disillusioned young people, and buying more tear gas, teasers, bodycams and other electronic gadgetry that modern cops in our increasingly edgy cities are equipped with, in addition to even more rugged riot-control gear and Mad Max-type monster trucks that can drive through a field full of steel spikes. 

In other words, we should equip our cops to confront our collective anger resulting from systemic failure if we hope to keep the centre holding. These holding spaces will be our modern version of the Mau Mau-era concentration camps, complete with rolls of razor wire, to house our social delinquents who will no longer be welcome in our cities, but who we can’t wish away because they were born here. And then we’ll have to tax the sulky rich more to buy weevil-infested githeri to feed them.

“Raisi wetu alituahidi, na alivyotuahidi sivyo. Anatupatia (shilingi) mia tano. Kwa kweli mimi muuza maharagwe mia tano itanifanyia nini?” . . . “Mia tano ni nini? Mia tano ni nini, jamani rais? Ametuambia sisi mama mboga atatuinua, na ametulaza chini, na si hata kwa godoro!”

These are the words of Monica Ndunge, another mama mboga who like her earlier colleague from Taita Taveta, is decrying the fact that even the produce they used to procure from Tanzania across the border is no longer coming in due to the silent diplomatic tiff between Kenya and Tanzania that is affecting cross-border business, and which has a direct impact on the small ‘vibanda’ traders.

And it would seem like every one of them is experiencing the pinch, starting from the poster ‘mama mboga’ of the Kenya Kwanza campaign, 70-year old Kiambu vegetable-grocer Pauline Waithira, who told the media that she was used and dumped by the Kenya Kwanza campaign; but who later recanted the story in unclear circumstances. 

The mama mboga I usually buy my sukuma wiki from told me the other day that her kids have now grown accustomed to one solid meal a day. That this all important evening meal constitutes of recycled left-over ugali (the kids have been severely warned never to throw away any left-over ugali, however stale it may taste, meaning the mongrel dogs, chokoras and stray cats that used to feed out of garbage bins are also feeling this thing). 

Often, the ugali will be accompanied by the sukuma that she failed to sell, or whenever she can afford to make them a special, she buys either chicken castoffs – legs, heads and necks that trickle down to her social demographic from the city’s high-end eateries, or she throws in a bit of omena (dried Lake Victoria sardines). The trick with omena is to put in lots of soup and add a touch of pepper to make the kids leave the table early and dash for the water tin, their tongues lolling out.

On the special days when the sales are good, she treats them to either half a cow hoof or mgongo wazi fish (the head-and-skeleton cast-offs from the packaging factories which have been stripped of all the filet) – again with lots of watery soup. Christmas comes early to the kids whenever they can afford to suck off the rich folks’ bones like this at supper time.

Teatime in the mornings also calls for dexterity – she has six school-going kids (why the poor always pop more kids than the rich remains a puzzle). There is a brand of industrial sugar that sells in her neighbourhood which is more affordable, and which gets the job done. The alternative is a lump of raw brown sugar (jaggery), popular with the manufacturers of illicit brews, and which she throws into the porridge pot. On the days when both are unavailable, the kids will have to make do with ‘whistling’ strungi mkafu (sugarless black tea). 

The escort is a special mandazi that she asks the mandazi woman to extend before she dips it in the ‘transformer’ frying oil so that it can be shared between two and give them an illusion of having had a full breakfast. In the event of chapati it is that special ghetto-type that has been stretched and rolled so thin you can see through it if you hold it up. 

On the days when they have bread, it is a special mouldy one that was rejected in the bakeries in Thika and wherever else Nairobi’s bread is baked, and which sells for about half the price of a normal loaf in the city’s ghettos. That is how your ‘hustlers’ are living, Mr. President. And I think you remember that life from your days in Ongwaro when you were still hustling after university.

If you tell my mama mboga about Kenya Kwanza’s pre-election pledges she could wring your neck. The same applies to that angry and hungry lot in the Nakuru video. These people are bitter, and the bile strings from Lake Victoria to the coast and on up to the Al-Shabaab-infested badlands in the north and the bandit-riddled north-west. The revolution has turned its back on its children and is now busy feasting on them. 

Save for the Nakuru ‘boda boda’ guy, I don’t know the political persuasion of the other respondents, and which side they voted on at the past presidential elections, but one thing is certain: they are united in grief and anger under the yoke of excessive taxation. When one can no longer put food on the table then politics, region or tribe take a backburner.

Or maybe this excessive taxation isn’t such a bad thing when viewed from another lens? Could it be methodical and intentional? Is it a clever version of the razing of Nairobi’s Indian bazaar in 1902 to combat bubonic plague that was threatening to overrun the city? Reason being, for one, it will help to reduce our population since we’ll have less sex. Then it will make us as thin as flagstaffs, thus saving the government the headache of treating our obesity, diabetes, cancers, hypertension, gout and a myriad other lifestyle diseases.

It will also make us visit the loo less often and discharge less garbage, saving Nairobi County the headache of managing the tons of waste we pump into its sewerage system and landfills every day. It will make flowers sprout on the Dandora dumpsite and make the air cleaner and send away the horrid marabou storks, vultures and dirty Dandora pigs to go find another foraging site far away in Uganda . . .  or Sudan, or wherever. It will save the government the headache of buying mosquito nets, Covid and Polio vaccines, condoms, or importing maize from Mexico and mercury-laced sugar from wherever to feed her starving subjects.

It will make our cities more manageable, because we will have culled ourselves like they do with guns in the game parks, the undertaker kept busy dispatching us off Shakahola-style to make compost in Lang’ata Cemetery. Then the Governor will go have a beer at 1824 club, burp heartily, shoot some pool, make a few false promises to coat-hangers looking for tenders to supply City Hall with Bic biros and toilet paper, and retire to a sound sleep somewhere in the leafy suburbs.

And Nairobi will flip over and transform into Kuala Lumpur overnight, and the wazungu will come with their dollars and euros and be bused from Tribe Hotel to go and marvel at the lions licking their chops in the park and the wildebeest grunting and mating in the Mara. Thereafter, they will adopt a three-legged hyena or a hunchbacked vervet monkey at the orphanage in Lang’ata for a ton of ‘guilt’ money and name it after their toothless grandmother who made her fortune from rubber car tires provisioned by hapless Congolese villagers whose limbs were chopped off by Leopold’s goons. Then they will buy Safari boots and a ‘Hakuna Matata’ t-shirt and eat mamba nyam chom at The Carnivore and plant a commemorative tree in front of the cameras, before being driven back to the airport to board their plane back home. 

Yeah, maybe over-taxation isn’t such a dumb thing after all!

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