Friday, 28 March 2008

Buy Safaricom, Build Kenya

Here is my opinion about this Safaricom IPO (of course I have one, don’t I?) thing; if you have some money when the bell rings for the Safaricom shares today, buy. I would if I could. In most places, investment decisions are driven by fear and greed, but only in Kenya Kenya, by politicians’ whims. I feel like I’ve been preaching to stones but I will never tire of telling us to stop being held hostage by politicians every time Kibaki doesn’t budge. It’s been the norm for ODM to threaten the Kenyan government with mass protests every time the ODM side did not get what they wanted. Not that ODM goes to the mass protests. Last time I checked it was the ‘meat’, not ‘bones’ ministries that they wanted. And there seems to be no better means of getting them than asking you not to go to work (if you have a job, isn’t it sad?) but go protest on the streets. I want to ask you ODManiacs, what’s in it (protests, or boycotting the IPO) for you?

Let me tell you why I think you should invest in Safaricom and telecommunication in general-it’s not only growing at the speed of light (OK, that is an exaggeration) , but the innovations in place are making even the developed countries gawk. Do you know that mobile banking is a relatively new concept hukos? Less than 10 years ago, very few - and only rich- Kenyans could afford landline phones. In 2008, many, even the poor, have cell phones. That is development, no pun intended. Safaricom came in as only the second national operator and was able to sign in multiples of what Celtel had in a matter of months. As I write this, they are probably in their 8th prefix in the 8 or so years that they have been in operation. Their profits have been astronomical. Isitoshe, they have transferred billions of shillings to millions of Kenyans whom the banks could not profitably reach in their now 1-year old M-Pesa product. And you tell me I can’t own part of that growth if I could? Dream on.

Second reason; it’s your country, own as much of it as you can. Kenya ni yetu, au sio? Kwanza if you have shares, you have a say. If you had the chance would your rather; vote, or whine?

To the rumour mongers: No in my opinion, Safaricom never made any undue profits. They had the ‘second mover advantage’ that enabled them to learn what the then Kencel had not done right, and hit the ground running. While I’m proud of Kencel’s successor, Celtel as the baby of our very own Mo Ibrahim, they seem to think that Africa is one big market with no individual countries that are very particular (“Hello Africa! Tell me how you’re doing!” Sounds familiar?) in what they need. If my memory serves me right, Safaricom was the first to introduce the 100 bob credit that needed no scratch card. Safcom recently introduced a 20 bob credit that is within reach for most of its customers. Now that gets more people switching to Safaricom, increasing revenue, and yes - making profit. Add to that our peculiar calling habits, and again M-Pesa.

So if you have some money, buy! If you have some but would rather go mass- protesting because someone thinks for you, well, honestly dear, I’d rather you just shut up and drink the kool-aid. But if you miraculously survive and, a few years down the line someone fails to be P, VP, PM, DPM, M or AM of some ‘meat ministry’ and you end up feeling a strong urge to burn Safaricom House or Telekom House because they are ‘owned by Kikuyus’, ask yourself who prevented you from owning it, then go burn his house.

Tuesday, 18 March 2008

The Road in Flamingo

I just kumbukad this kashairi I wrote and submitted while chasing a scholarship in Dec 2006. I didn't have pesa za kuishia L.A to see if I'd be nominated for the USD 10K . Then the jamaas sent me emails mob sana trying to make me subscribe to a poetry newsletter or something. My goal was to get some money, not spend the little that I had. My shairi has a new meaning now. Its kiasi long but I hope you enjoy life in my neighbourhood in Naikuru. I doubt much has changed, except I miss my ex-boyfriend, in a weird sense.


The road in Flamingo is busier

than a hive in the morning,

Adhiambo can't cook enough mandazi

by the gutter to feed the Flamingo population,

Mburu's grandmother has to get to the market

before the sun rises and withers the Sukuma Wiki from Dundori,

Soni runs to buy milk at Sugunoi Dairy,

the only place with unadulterated milk in town,

thanks to the kind Kalenjin,

Atieno needs to get to Pangani before James goes to work,

Or, someone else will do his laundry

Mama Karuga holds her three-year-old Stevo by the hand,

and rushes along lest he misses his Math and writing classes,

And Mathenge better run to School,

if only to avoid the angry master-on-duty's cane.

By noon, Mama Nguo has already

made her rounds in Flamingo,

and sold her imported mitumba clothes on credit

Tomorrow she will collect the

cash from last week's sales

The man from Dundori has sold

one sack of potatoes on his bike

Nyaloka has sold all her omena

fish to her fellow Luos and Luhyas

Tony and Nini finished unloading the Coca Cola Truck

And Kariuki Wakiraini has sold his usual portion of sugar

and yeast to the chan'gaa brewers.

At sunset Teacher Wangu

finishes her after-school Math

and English language tuition to three-year-olds

Wangui braids her last customer’s hair

Wambui tips her fellow brewers about the

young police officers pausing as chang’aa customers,

as if she doesn’t know who drinks at whose house

Chali brings his grandmother’s goats home.

And Kimondo picks out new people

who might have cell phones worth some cash

Mothers sit at their doorsteps

cutting Sukuma Wiki to eat with Ugali,

Chatting with their neighbours across the open sewer

Fathers come home from the new mjengo construction job

Boys go to buy maize flour at Kariuki Wakiraini's

Girls light the charcoal jikos

And Kamau Wetu is already drunk enough

to give his daily political speech on the

deplorable standards of living in Flamingo

“Siasa mbaya, maisha mabaya”.

The road in Flamingo is full of mangoes in January

Pears in April

Guavas in August

Red plums in December

And every day,

The road in Flamingo is full of mourners,

boys running around with no pants on, and drunk men.

Monday, 17 March 2008

What Do We Want?

Well, now that the deal was signed-did both sides sign the same deal, ama one side did not read the deal, au one side amended the deal after it was signed? Whatever the case, good things must have happened for MK and RAO to be so cozy they are referring to each other as President and PM-designate. Works for me. At least it stopped the blood-letting spree to a large degree.

Sasa the part I don’t get is; why are folks so disappointed? As in would it be better if RAO and MK never talked to each other? I think it’s better for these guys to be calling each other those sweet things if it’s the only thing that can make people live peacefully. Yaani kama hatuwezi jifikiria si we just let them dictate how we behave? Ndio sielewi why people are feeling betrayed, coz the option of not feeling that way is the ‘bravery’ of RAO or MK as manifested by not engaging in discussion, and we know where that took us.

Another thought, the one I tried to put across in my last post; it’d be a great idea if we stopped looking up to politicians for our well-being. That way, you don’t get disappointed. I’m not saying don’t demand what is due to you, but nafikira to expect that things will be suddenly better because so and so is Councilor, Mayor, MP, DPM, PM or P (no hii serikali imekuwa tu kubwa sana) is to expect too much. I know that’s pretty hard in a country like ours where the majority are poor and politics is one way of getting out of poverty, but I’m convinced beyond any shadow of a doubt that only a negligible number of politicians are in it because they care (for us). In one sense they are hustling just like us, you know? Only that the payoff is much greater. Like if you make it to bunge, consider yourself officially out of poverty. But they are kiasi too selfish given the reality of every-day life for most Kenyans. I read somewhere that they amuad to give themselves a huge lump-sum once one’s term is over, plus monthly ‘allowances’ to the tune of close to half a million bob. We! That’s the kind of thing they never argue about in the August house. The kind you and I never hear about until imeshapitishwa. Well unless it’s for only one of them as was the case with an increase for MK and Rucy. In that case, they make a lot of noise. I don’t elewa, why do we turn a blind eye to this? If equitable distribution of resources should start anywhere, that place is parliament. Hakuna vile they deserve that kind of money from the mwananchi wa kawaida’s taxes when mwananchi wa kawaida is stretching kindu 70 bob to get through the day. So bado sijaelewa why we deify these people. Even if we end up with the many posts suggested in the deal, lets put power in institutions and the various posts, not the individuals.

Kazi iendele....iendelee. AU ia....ianze. Whatever you think, you're spot on.

Saturday, 01 March 2008


Finally brethren -or is this just a start?-looks like our prayers are answered. We seem headed out of this nightmare of an election fiasco gone bloody. I was very worried a few weeks ago when Raila and Kibaki shook hands, maybe even smiled, in the full glare of local and international media cameras; only for fighting to break out afresh and claim more lives in the days that followed. I have heard that in most cases during the healing process, things initially get worse before they get better. It’s my hope that with the deal to ‘share power’ (must admit I’m not very clear whatever that means) signed and the promise of a truth and reconciliation committee, things can only get better. That even though the scars shall remain in our identity as a nation, they will serve to remind us that indeed we did get wounded, but are truly healed. That we shall one day look back and say kweli waKenya tumetoka mbali.

Now the hard part begins. Sababu for many people, 1,000+ and 600,000+ are not just numbers. It’s a son, a daughter, husband, wife, name them, colleague, relative or friend, even neighbour who was and is no more. At least not in the physical, if only to be positive. People’s lives are permanently changed. I am skeptical of the power of any power-sharing deal between ODM and PNU to ease their pain. Most people have to learn to love and trust again.
My lesson learned? Call me a pessimist, but I think there is us, and then there is them. Them-wenye nchi wa kawaida, birds of a father that flock to gather at whatever cost, and us-wananchi wa kawaida, the birds of a feather flocking together. I’m trying hard to be in a deal-was-signed mood, but its not easy to ignore the fact that while wananchi were butchering each other in the city and on the countryside, our ‘leaders’ had probably flown their families out of the country, and are probably eating and drinking together now, probably doing more deals than will see the light of the press.

On a positive note, I will never forget that day when I came back after chasing my HELB money, only to find chaos on campus after a student strike. When I lost my one and only bag with my most precious earthly belongings and my buddy traced me and delivered it intact, it didn’t matter that I was Kikuyu and he Luo.
Its time we wananchi wa kawaida got our act together. Wanasiasa now have the best forum to fight it out with constructive ideas and debate.
Let the good fight begin, and kazi ngumu sana ianze!