|The Vision Window
Promissory notes are fine, but when signed by individuals tempered at the forge of the robber baron governments we have always known, there is a bad smell in the air; there is that sinking feeling of more of the same. And like sheep being led to the slaughter, we are to buy the rebranded document loaded in governmentspeak jargon labeled "vision 2030", without a squeak, without the need to be inspired. ‘Father knows best’ is the assumption.
The other fellow traveler, the mainstream media meanwhile behaves like embeded hardware within this machinery. They trumpet this proclamation in pomp and fanfare like the second coming, in banner headlines without pausing to ask fundamental questions of this tower of Babel and its ilk. In the course of their evening broadcasts they throw in infantile "yes and no" opinion questions to beguile the public into thinking they are critically engaging in citizen participation - furthering the national epidemic of dystopia. Together with the establishment they are laying the patience horizon, cajoling us to wait another twenty years before we can finally join in on the debate as satiated inhabitants of the then middle income country.
In between the pit-stops of failed policies of water for all, health for all and all the other for alls, the titled class - heretofore referred to as "mheshimiwas" feed us other remarkable gabfests of plans, blueprints, policy papers and development programs uttered from the one stop shops of funeral podiums and other mouth fests and happenings. And as an obedient servant, the media has been racking up these vaudeville acts and reporting them to be consumed as news to be taken seriously.
For a country that has for twenty years been grappling bemusedly with attempts at building southern and northern bypasses and mythical flyovers and other gewgaws around Nairobi - presumably from plans and designs that most certainly should by now have been overtaken by time, it requires a leap of faith to be sanguine. And the curtains refuse to come down on this theatre of the absurd as another fisticuff act opens over a meandering, escarpment hugging narrow-gauge colonial relic of a railway line built in the 19th century for steam locomotives that the nabobs believe will solve 21st century haulage problems - as if the rebranding and concession of an antic make it contemporary.
Not to be out-done, the tenants of the coliseum - the judoka limestone behemoth known as city hall are in a frenzy to turn the CBD into a rain forest, and where they fail, they sprout thickets - without any practical or aesthetic considerations; a literal over the top interpretation of turning 21st century cities green.
As a grand delusion, this feat matched by unconcealed zeal to revamp the flagship city of this country is fast becoming a marvel of wondrous inefficiency and hodge-podge. As the city fathers strive to cobble up the Nairobi of their younger selves as the green city in the sun, they are overshooting by a country mile the contemporary trend wherein cities now offer a more pedestrian friendlier street culture - edgier and hip, with wider and airier streets of less cars and clutter.
While the focus of this century is on energy saving measures, material use, genuine necessity, economy and ingenuity, our city is selling us the opposite vision. And as a people accustomed to years of settling for less, we are buying in. There is not a squeak from architects, both urban and landscape designers or our university departments. The media like a good mother prepares us for bed with lullabies and musical toys.
As Rob Walker says in "Buying In"- buying in is fine, as long as we know who's pulling the wool over our eyes - and most of the time we're doing it to ourselves.
One hopes the media will rouse from its slumber and start a debate over this vision thing document together with the other attendant bells and whistles of "fun and launch fests" - the perpetual conferences, retreats, workshops, pronouncements and that newest of things - selling the country's image abroad. What image? As the saying goes, you build it and they will come. It would make much sense for the country to sell its image to its bona fide inhabitants first.
But then again as the Italian philosopher Antonio Gramsci noted – the media as a bourgeois establishment, is just another tool for inducing the populace with a false consciousness, lulling them into thinking they are being informed. What with all the music and wiggly dance programs that spill over our television channels!
Now, that vision thing - does it even have a slogan or say, feel and resonance with the led citizenry? What on earth does it inspire?
And before you begin rolling your eyes; just remember that the heirs to this illustrious dream have been enacting a devastating scorched earth policy on their dormitories, railing at an education system they feel is a one way trip down the precipitous alley where garish nightmarish visions of class are conjured. Not to be outdone, their immediate seniors from that top drawer institution of technology and research on Juja road on whose shoulders the vision squarely rests visited the same tantrums of extermination on public property.
By Onyango Oketch,
Author and Performing Artist