The Honesty of African Governments
I was reading a blog piece by this American expat who moved to Kenya when her husband got a job there with a private company. Anyway, to make a long story short, she doesn’t particularly like Kenya and gripes about all the “third-world” living conditions she has to put up with even though she lives in a comfortable house in Runda.
So, as I was flipping through her blog, I came across a very good answer posted under the comments section by someone identifying themselves as “Gavin” and this person basically outlined why for him, African governments are actually much more honest than western governments and I provide his entire comment below, which I think he outlined beautifully and which I feel also has a very real message for aspiring entrepreneurs who may be thinking about starting businesses in Kenya and the message is this:
Don’t go there with aspirational and idealistic notions about changing the country for the better. Leave your hope and dreams behind and just make your money and get what you can get because at the end of the day, the government is there to f**k you, not help you and they make no bones about that. So, do what you gotta do, get your shit and get out!
The comment, extracted from this blog follows:
I’ve just been catching up on the past blogs (and been enjoying them), but I couldn’t help notice just a little first world chauvinism creeping in there at times. Now I know you’re wondering how I picked up on it, but lets just say I’m sometimes amazingly perceptive and leave it at that.
I also appreciated your more recent attempts to find some good in the alien circumstances in which you find yourself and I would like to help you out there. As a native, longstanding, of the ‘third world’, I feel like I might be able to point out a few positives about the ‘third world’ you seem to have missed, but which you may now finally feel belong to you too.
1) Honesty: In the third world, politicians, bureaucrats, police and the military make no pretense about being for sale. By and large, few of them even bother to claim that they are serving the people or making the country a better place to live. Better yet, no one, and I mean NO ONE at all, no matter how grossly ignorant or uneducated, thinks for a moment that they are. This is in stark contrast to the ‘first world’ where these same breeds function in much the same way, but have the temerity to claim moral authority as well.
Worse still, many aspects of the more ‘educated’, i.e. brainwashed, first-world public actually believes that the good people in government are fighting on their behalf; doing their best in an unfortunately flawed world. This while their civil rights are shredded, economic disparities increase and public resources of every kind are robbed and sold to corporate interests. Hell, I hear that in America they still think that if they just elect the ‘right’ president things will change despite all evidence to the contrary. It is fun to find points of comparison and I would recommend it as an interesting game to play in your spare time, e.g. in Kenya, ministers vote their salaries tax exempt, in England ministers bill the public purse to build moats outside their mansions and to buy houses to rent for their personal benefit.
In Kenya, you must be polite to border officials with their big stamps, lest they give you shit about entering their country, in America you must be Very polite to border officials, particularly if you have a big stamp in your passport, lest they strip search you, probe your anus and send you to an immigration prison, or just spirit you away to a secret detention facility. They’re many more delightful comparisons, but I leave those to you to find. Try a few. It’s fun. Really. And I think it will make you feel less alienated and homesick.
2) Honesty Again – I think this one is so good it deserves a second go, particularly as it relates to commercial extortion as, for example, found in Nairobbery. I think you have to appreciate that commercial vendors are willing to extort you directly. They don’t pretend that their job is to do anything other than extract as much from you as they can, or when they do they don’t really expect to be taken seriously. Again, I like to contrast this with the way things work in the first world where massive corporate fleecing is not only tolerated but held as an ideal to be achieved. And there they don’t have the sheer decency to do it to your face. They won’t negotiate, they’ll just buy the rights to fuck you directly from the government and have them make it law. 500$ for dstv is undeniably contemptible, but General Motors stealing billions of dollars from the US taxpayers is just a grand salute to the American way of life. (remember its called the American dream, because if you believe it you must be sleeping.)
3) Greater connection and interdependence of human beings in actual human relationships – in the third world everyone understands that people need help from other people. They understand that the government is there to fuck them (see 1) and that life is hard. They realize that the only help they can hope for will come from the people they know, their friends, families and employers. They are forced therefore to engage in often challenging decisions regarding the role they should play in helping the people around them improve their circumstances and this sometimes even requires that they find non-monetary ways of doing so, you know getting really hands on. And so people do often play that role of caring helper to the people in their lives in one way or another. (And good on you for helping your guys out.)
This is slightly different to the way it works in first worlds where it is assumed that institutions exist to take care of those problems and actually immersing yourself in someone else’s life-difficulties is not your job, particularly if they don’t belong to your immediate family, and anyway you probably wouldn’t have a close relationship with someone who really really needs your help. They are after all beneath you and, as evidenced by the fact that have real problems at all, they obviously deserve to be in the position they’re in.
4) Less responsibility for global catastrophe – I also feel quite proud that we in the third world tend to keep our problems to ourselves. We are the exploited, not the exploiters and, though this is largely a matter of historical happenstance rather than any innate moral superiority, I quite like to know that when we have no electricity we can merely write it off to governmental incompetence or corruption and not have to think that when we do have electricity it is because our government has spent a trillion dollars or so of the money they’ve extorted from us to occupy a foreign country and plunder their energy reserves, I’m sorry, excuse me, to protect their freedom in the face of tyrannical dictators. Just as I like to know when I take a bite of fruit that it didn’t get into my hands because my government installed a tyrannical dictator in some South American country to boost the bottom line of the united fruit company, or some other international conglomerate, by ensuring that the people there remain desperate and willing to accept slave’s wages to survive. I find it comforting that the corporations screwing us are finding innovative ways to do so, rather than merely adopting the traditional route of contract plundering so popular in the first world. I also like that we feel no need to attribute their success to the miraculous benefits of the ‘free’ market. (That term always makes me chuckle.)
5) That last point made me think of another cool thing about the third world. People here understand why the ‘trickle’ down theory is called the ‘trickle’ down theory. They get that a trickle is the few drops that escape from the tap when vast amounts of liquid are piped out in some other direction. (mostly gathered by corrupt politicians. But we get that.)
6) Less delusional – Its kind of a corollary of the whole honesty thing, but no one in the third world thinks that we have it good.
You got that peeps? Uta do?
Take this (it’s a free present from the coalition government because that’s the only real thing their going to be giving you, but at least it’s the truth) and have a very merry christmas and happy new year!