Thursday, October 9, 2008



The Standard
Nairobi, Kenya

By Nancy Mburu

Things are ominous in the West: As economists argue over semantics — whether America is staring at a depression or recession — problems continue to pile up for the superpower, in what Time magazine calls ‘The New Hard Times’.

The $700 billion Government bailout decided on last week has prevented more bleeding but the market is still depressed.

The crisis is taking its toll on the people. Unable to take it anymore, a man committed a capital offence in California. The MBA-holder shot and killed his wife, three children and his mother-in-law, before turning the gun on himself. Police said the man, who had been out of work for several months, had previously worked for major accounting firms such as Pricewaterhouse.

In Ohio, an elderly woman shot and injured herself after police attempted to evict her from her foreclosed home over an unpaid mortgage.

Shocked by her action, mortgage lenders quickly forgave the 90-year-old woman’s debt. But, as some observed, she may have to sell the home anyway to pay hospital bills arising from two gunshot wounds to her chest.

Such acts are a sign of the troubled times in the West. During America’s Great Depression of 1929 when Wall Street crashed, many people took their lives after being unable to deal with joblessness, poverty and low profits. Asian countries, too, such as Japan, have ‘honour deaths’ where killing oneself to avoid bankruptcy and poverty is considered an easier option than living to face the hardships.

That is where our good old resilience as Africans comes in.

As one observer recently said: "Americans think they have problems? Tell them to come to Africa, and they will know what problems are". Given our litany of problems, how many of us would choose suicide as a form of escape? If we chose this path, a third of us would be six feet under! But we die many times over spiritually and come back to tackle the problems.

Soft landing

The global financial crisis will only accentuate what we have lived with for most of our lives. What with runaway inflation, poverty, disease, illiteracy and food insecurity.

It is about time those in leadership gave us a soft landing.

There may be some things the Government has no control over, such as global crude oil prices, but there are others it could regulate. President Kibaki made a step in the right direction after ordering a review of the taxes and levies charged on electricity tariffs. The move is long overdue, since the Government was dragging its feet as electricity prices soared by 600 per cent over the last 12 months.

Any foreigner would marvel at our endurance levels. We are slow to anger. Just how do we manage? The country’s poverty index has assumed new levels. Kenyans are poorer especially after the post-election violence. Food has become expensive and scarce and there is little money circulating in households.

What if the world enters into a real depression? The 1929 Wall Street crash affected not only the US but the whole world. The Government needs to up its antennae on ‘global financial disaster preparedness’ and cushion citizens from suffering further.

The world is increasingly becoming impatient with leaders who are out of touch with ordinary people. Former South African president, Thabo Mbeki, has become a casualty despite his impressive economic record, for favouring the bourgeoisie. He concentrated on business policies that favoured the wealthy, leaving out the majority poor. The latter’s anger exploded in xenophobic attacks.

In the US, despite detractors accusing Democrat candidate Barrack Obama of dallying with terrorists, his pledge to give a new lease of life to the heavily taxed middle class is music to voters’ ears. His rival, John McCain, represents the rich snobs, who are not in touch with the suffering of the people.

America’s Wall Street crisis should serve as a wake-up call to African governments to develop their own shock absorbers early enough. If things get worse, we should not imagine that we shall remain untouched, especially in global trade.

Things are bad enough currently. The Government must move with speed and fast-track achievement of the UN Millennium Development Goals. We must tackle our own recession before it consumes us. Who says we cannot come up with solutions for the world? Must we always be on the receiving end?

You can bet that if things get worse in the West, those countries will think of saving themselves first. And Africa, which is often in its own form of recession most of the time, will remain the forgotten ‘Dark Continent’.