Leaders’ failure by design and why we need to save the elite from themselves Like a curse, the elite’s failure by design always returns to haunt them
Last week, I lamented the privations male Kenyans undergo on account of a public infrastructure system deliberately designed to impinge as much as possible on the dignity of a majority of citizens. I cited the case of a male literally driven to the wall in the desperate quest to rescue a measure of privacy while answering the call of nature in a public space, due to a lack of necessary amenities.
Nevertheless, the man remains on his feet, and ordinarily achieves a measure of relative privacy by averting his pelvic area from view. Of course, every passer-by can infer for themselves what is afoot without any trouble at all, hence the distress, embarrassment and odium such eventualities elicit.
Even so, you can be certain that in every instance of hardship, prejudice and torment, women fare far worse, and it is not just that they must go to greater trouble to configure their anatomies to achieve a purpose similar to that executed by men on their feet.
Neither is the difficulty about women’s greater vulnerability arising from an increased probability of abuse and even gender-based violence under these conditions.
Nor is it the atrocious prejudice exerted by exigencies requiring special sanitary arrangements, and such harrowing phenomena as period poverty.
Every one of these vulnerabilities compounds other dire, structurally induced complications, often intersecting to situate the women of our society within thoroughly improvident and shadowy margins, where they struggle in obscurity, their motion unseen, their voices unheard.
Because public and private spaces are built to inflict maximum punishment on black men, the spectacle of the suffering male is salient. We rarely pause to consider the condition of women with respect to such spaces. Whilst men merely struggle with these infrastructures, women are utterly obliterated, rendered invisible and silent. Not many people wonder, much fewer loudly, where pressed females go.
It is generally understood that “Usikojoe hapa!” and other admonitions are addressed to men, and intended to curb their notorious proclivities. This renders the plight of women — a heinous aggregation of violent injustices and atrocious improvidence — virtually invisible. Indeed, going by the state of many public spaces, the counterintuitive inference that women do not exist in our society is necessary.
Where do women go, then? What about pregnant women? Or the disabled? If we respond to our access to dignity problems on the basis of salient phenomena, visible infractions and notorious propensities, our solutions will privilege male dignity, and neglect female imperatives.
It really is astonishing, come to think of it, that the most prevalent response to the lack of sanitary facilities in public spaces consists of warnings against urinating and threats of prosecution. Given that “usikojoe hapa” is a well-known traditional measure of a real problem, it is fair to assume that reflects the sum total of administrative consensus.
In other words, our administrative brain trust is indifferent to elementary human biology, and oblivious to the management problems presented by certain imperatives that go with it. It is reasonable to suppose that every person in this city comes fitted with alimentary and renal infrastructures that make certain bodily events inevitable.
How do these people then proceed to design and build public spaces that demonstrate absolute ignorance of these natural facts? Wilful incomprehension’s reign of terror is not without distressing consequences beyond the customary suffering of toilet-deprived commuters and other wayfarers.
Because of the desperate, clandestine measures they are forced to resort to, people are unable to take the sanitary measures which accompany the urgent deed, or at all. This makes the city an ideal environment for the proliferation of pestilences like cholera, dysentery and even typhoid. The transmission of these deadly afflictions often reaches the elite, including the biology-denying administrators. Like a curse, their actions return to haunt them, and they imitate the agony of desperate wayfarers inside their well-appointed quarters in affluent addresses.
Johnson Sakaja’s promise of dignity in addition to order is not just an affair of dignifying the lives of the great unwashed. It is also an opportunity save Nairobi from its elite, and the elite from themselves. The tragedy of our many public failures is symptomatic of a calamitous psychosis in an elite which enjoys tormenting the masses through deprivation while indulging a headlong ignorance of its material interest in broadly inclusive, affirmative and effective public services. It sees the provision of public services as fundamentally indulgent, a favour to the undeserving masses.
This political delusion inspires the elite to obstruct the implementation of the constitution while re-creating a feudal-colonial system of neocolonial overlords and subordinate others. Their war with reality is not confined to merely denying the biological facts of human anatomy and physiology.
Mr Ng’eno is an advocate of the High Court.