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By SILAS NYANCHWANI.
THE MIDDLE-CLASS CURSE
The three decades between 1990 to 2020 were extremely wild for Kenyans. We went from being an extremely poor, badly managed country in the 1990s, to an unlikely prosperous country in the 2000s, only to sink back to a debt-ridden, badly mismanaged country in the 2010s. And the consequences for the so-called middle class have been dire.
Now, this is not a political memo, but allow men to make a historical detour. So keep political sentiments at bay.
President Moi, killed the middle-class and as you have seen, it is Musalia Mudavadi, then serving as the Minister of Finance who signed the death warrant for the middle-class when he ballooned the PAYE, and with Goldenberg, the country back by as much as a tenth of our GDP. That meant the Bretton Wood institutions came to town and that is how so many parastatals collapsed under the deceptive eye of privatisation. That is where we find ourselves today with many public universities closed due to lack of funds.
President Kibaki turned the fortunes of Kenya around, and showed us what was possible. I am not Kibaki’s biggest fan, but one thing I will eternally be grateful for him, is that he opened up the country to the world of possibilities. The Thika Super Highway(which a visiting German girlfriend marveled at when she came around), was to show us what Kenya can and could be.
The economic expansion under Kibaki, propelled by sectors such as banking, real estate, higher education, media and ICT, gave Kenya a sizable middle class that is responsible for the runaway expansion of satellite towns such as Kitengela, Rongai, Utawala, Ruiru, and everything along Kangundo Road. For the first time in a long while, folks could actually buy land and build their homes. Access to credit was guaranteed and even mortgages became a reachable dream for many a working-class Kenyan.
Enter President Uhuru in 2013, and everything Kibaki achieved was undone within the first five years. Everything sector that thrived under Kibaki, thinned out, stagnated or collapsed like what we see in higher education. Many folks lost their jobs in the banking sector. Universities collapsed and the media became a joke.
What the numbers don’t tell is the story of people suffering because of the government ineptitude. Success and failure become an individual problem and those who fall by the wayside are charged to the Darwinian cliché of survival of the fittest.
In the three governments that served in the three decades became , a curse for older generation (that of our fathers), boon time for millennials born from around 1978-1985, and those born after 1988, some got unlucky to come of age when Jubilee took over.
The rich, when well fortified can well, remain the rich. The poor hardly change their station in life. It is the middle class who are the most fragile because as they climb up the ladder, the risk of falling back to poverty is an existential one. All it takes for one to be setback a good one is a job loss, a divorce and a sickness. And in Kenya we don’t have any social protection programs that can stop the sinking. And that is what makes being middle-class such a vulnerable space, worse for men, and for two reasons.
For an educated man, what determines your life the most is who is in government by the time you are in your mid-20s and what choices you make at the time. In the past when it was expected for men to marry immediately after college, many men were married by latest 28. They picked their college mates, or women younger than them to start the family with.
Now, here is the danger of higher education. It makes you aspire for a higher life. Even when it is unreachable, education can give you an illusion that it is attainable. There is no mistake in having higher aspirations. The dream of any educated boy and girl is that 5-bedroom house, four-wheel SUV, two or three beautiful and bright children, one wife/husband. And some will achieve this. And most will struggle to achieve this. Worse for those who fail to make peace with the fact.
I have never had trouble with those who want a good life. But the worst affliction of these kind of dreams is that sometimes we lose our sense of self-awareness and end up making very poor choices. And everything can be undone with one misfortune.
For starters, there are men who upon landing their first gig, they got wild and uncontrollable. What we came to call as the “cheers-baba generation.” They squandered everything on their Subarus, road trips and fueled the rugby-frenzy hedonism of the mid-2010s. Their wives walked away, and the men are now out here with very good memories, and an uncertain future.
And then, there were the unlucky men who married women out of their leagues who pushed them over the edge. And they didn’t know what to do when fortunes changed. Many men who lived in better addresses were shocked when they told their wives, “we need to adjust our lifestyles a bit in order to live within our means” and their wives without hesitation told them, “it is you to move out, I can afford this life.”
Here is the thing. The middle-class dream is pretty much pegged on the American dream, which frequently is a nightmare. Any time the economy tanks, the middle-class are the hardest hit.
And for Kenya, the economic environment has not been a good one in the last ten years. Hence you see far fewer weddings, and you hear more about separations, divorces, men killing themselves, a lot of cheating, and stories that can break your heart.
The tragedy is that many people who pursue the middle-class dream, rarely pause long enough to ask themselves, “why do I want this so bad?” And without values, we can make very silly choices. You will be a man who has a good job, maybe the salary is not good enough, but you can get by it. But because you picked a materialistic wife and you have a weak will, she will push you to commit fraud to buy a bigger car.
And when you are caught and you lose your job, she will abandon you. Without values, a materialistic woman won’t value her marriage, because if sleeping with her boss guarantees her better perks, the collapse of her marriage and kids won’t matter much for her.
Middle-class couples who survive the bad times of their marriage are those who have strong values, a strong inclination to safeguard their family and the future of their children. Not men who pick a string of mistresses when they can afford and disrespect their wives only to expect angel treatment when the taps run dry. Not women who look at their men as merely an ATM. When the ATM says, “insufficient funds”, suddenly the man becomes abusive, narcissistic, boring, not hard-working, you know the drill.
Couples who have values, who respect each other, have always adjusted accordingly to the prevailing economic conditions. I know couples who started from Donholm, ended up in upmarket Nairobi and when shit hit the fan, moved to their humble bungalow in the outskirts of Nairobi and lived to tell.
Here is a reminder for men. Good governments will come and go. Bad governments will replace good governments, all too frequently. But as a man, you must remain permanently aware of your prevailing economic circumstances.
Always remember your first ever good deal, may well be the last, make the right choices. Deny yourself a lot fun and pleasure when younger. Fun and pleasure is best enjoyed when much older and settled and life has a ring of certainty.
Know yourself and know your woman. Don’t ever marry out of infatuation or lust. Many men chose to domesticate ostriches because they thought they are rich and can afford rich men’s fetishes. When the ostriches ran them out of their houses, they had no one to blame.
What will make you survive the middle class is values. Not money. Not material things. Material things sometimes are ephemeral. So, if you are educated with middle-class dreams and hopes of marriage, get yourself a woman you can live with in a shanty in Kibera, in a two-bedroom house in Donholm with mitungis in the balcony and if you hit pay dirt, you can comfortably live in Karen. That will be the greatest favour you will do yourself. And if you succeed, teach me how.
The Kenyan DAILY POST.