We are a generation riddled in debt, who will save us?

We are a generation riddled in debt, who will save us? Photo | Photosearch

What you need to know:

  • Young Kenyan men have a debt problem and it's gotten worse over time
  • We're not yet at the Squid Game level where where elimination is through death but some people are running on that Hamster wheel

Have you read David Copperfield by Charles Dickens? You should read it when you get the time. I don't ascribe it to it because of its placement on the literary western canon which consists of 15 writers and their best friends, but because Dickens has an interesting view on poverty, debt, wealth, and class tensions.

Pip, in Great Expectations, consistently lived wildly beyond his means which brought him no immediate or future satisfaction. Mr. Scrooge from A Christmas Carol had more money than he knew what to do with, but it didn't bring him the happiness he thought it would. 

One of the most famous quotes from David Copperfield was by a character in the book called Wilkins Micawber.

"Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen and six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds ought and six, result in misery."

Micawber is a clerk in the novel with a rather optimistic belief that things will work out and that "something will turn up" eventually. He's caught up in a debt trap that sees him incarcerated for being unable to meet his debts and eventually learns his lesson about debt. Micawber, at some point, almost giving up to his fate says, "Welcome poverty! Welcome misery, welcome homelessness, welcome hunger, rags, tempest, and beggary! Confidence will sustain us to the end!"

This brings us to something that's plaguing a lot of young men today—debt. Growing up, I knew of debt being in the form of a SACCO loan to pay school fees or to buy a nondescript piece of land in the middle of a bush as you hope that prayer and the lack of land policies and regulations, your land's value would grow exponentially. 

It's while at university that I encountered students who were deep in debt already. This time they were not in the hole for long-term assets and sustenance but because a man cared for a beer, a packet of cigarettes, or a trip to Mombasa. They wanted the hot Huawei IDEOS phone, a device that had the country on a chokehold. Oh, not forgetting they needed a subwoofer for their hostel room, or they were in a goose chase for luxury, so they got into betting on their favourite football team and which was unfortunately Arsenal

Young Kenyan men have a debt problem and it's gotten worse over time. We're not yet at the Squid Game level where we will have to play children's games, where elimination is through death but some people are running on that Hamster wheel. It's worrying because sometimes debt can lead to tragic consequences like depression or suicide. The problem is that this frivolous debt can be a vicious cycle dipping generations into poverty. 

I understand how tempting it is to get unsecured loans at the touch of a button is. I almost fell for it until I did the math. I started to realise how exploitative the whole loan system was and I would be worse off after the instant fix. Yes, my situation was dire, I was surviving on a diet of noodles and tomato sauce as my nutrition for the day, but piling up mobile loans with their atrocious interest rates, was going to dig me into a hole, that I was not sure I could get out of. 

At annual percentage rates of over 400 percent, young men are unknowingly falling into the poverty trap which could last an eternity. With a good portion of people getting blacklisted by Credit Reference Bureaus for amounts of less than Sh1,000, we're going to have men in debt locked out of credit access when they actually need it.

A friend went on holiday recently with a group and one of the bros tried to dash out of the upscale cave restaurant, after the fine dining. He and his friend also tried to mooch off the group's accommodation for the final nights of the holiday. Eventually, they didn't have enough fare to get back home from Mombasa. My friend realised that these men had Fulizad their way to a holiday and they finance their lives through debt.

Predatory loans sold as financial inclusion are ruining young men's lives and the easy access to money coupled with a lack of financial education has created a disaster in motion. We need to talk to teens about what debt looks like and its consequences and for many of us, we need to talk to our friends who have more loan apps than Kenya's Chinese debt. If you have to think about getting a loan, you probably don't need it.

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