01 02 03 Africa Expat Wives Club: Comic Relief 2011 - Let's get some perspective on Kenya 04 05 15 16 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 31 32 33

Comic Relief 2011 - Let's get some perspective on Kenya

comic relief
I'm dying to watch the BBC Comic Relief documentary about 4 celebrities eking out a living for a week in Kibera slum.  Unfortunately you can't download BBC iplayer unless you are in the UK.  I remember feeling similar frustration last year when we missed a lot of the Comic Relief Kenya footage.

(sorry for fuzzy pictures)

Apparently 2011 Famous Rich and in the slums Part 1, goes something like this:

Lenny Henry, Samantha Womack, Reggie Yates and Angela Rippon experience unimaginable poverty as they spend a week living it for real in this ground-breaking, two-part documentary for Comic Relief.

All four agree to swap their lives of privilege and luxury for life in Kibera, reportedly Africa's largest slum. In this first programme, they are stripped of all their possessions and given under two pounds to buy the basics, before moving into cockroach-ridden individual shacks where they will live on their own for the first three days and nights.

While Lenny, Samantha and Angela haggle to buy basics such as toothpaste, Reggie decides to spend his limited budget on trying to escape his new reality for a while by watching a football match, crammed into a tiny shack in with other fans. But the victory of the game is short-lived as Reggie needs to get to work. He bags himself one of the highest paid jobs in the slums: emptying raw sewage from the public pit latrines through the night.

Lenny pays his way by making and selling samosas on the streets of the slum but agonises over whether to take his daily wage, which his boss could spend on vital medicine for his sick child. Samantha gets a cleaning job in a clinic where she witnesses shocking and emotional scenes, while Angela joins a queue of women from the slum offering to wash clothes in the affluent areas of Nairobi. She works so hard her hands are red raw, all for a pittance. Soon, she discovers the shocking reality of the choice her colleagues must make if they don't get picked for a job.

It sounds fascinating/shocking viewing and I am sure that it will inspire many a television watching Brit at home to reach into their pocket for Comic Relief.   I gather there's another film with celebs trekking across Kenya's Northern Frontier district to raise awareness for an eye charity. Great.

However, I do have a problem with this so wanted to put massive fund raising drives like this into the perspective of somebody who is 'on the ground' living in Kenya.

Kibera slum, poverty, the shocking state of the health system - these are fundamentally Kenya Government problems that are systematically failed to be addressed.  Fact: The endless in flow of aid money is providing politicians and leaders with a means to continue lining their own pockets and an excuse to dodge ecomonic key issues.  In 50 years since Independance, in spite of generous amounts of aid money, the average Kenyan has grown poorer.

Why, after decades of funding, are there still no toilets in Kibera?  Hundreds were promised in the 2007 election to be sponsored by Community Development Funds (CDF) - I think about six or ten public toilets were built.  I've seen them.  Kibera residents are sick of empty promises.  (see previous posts on Kibera).

In fact, now we come to mention it, why - after all the money that has been donated, the vaster part by foreign governments, does Kibera still exist at all?  And lets not forget the other major slums in Nairobi, Mathare, Karangware, Dandora, Korogocho, Soweto - the list goes on.

If you think me mean spirited - then look at the injustice of the fact that Kenyan politicians are among the richest people in the world!!  The more aid money that flows in, the more scams and siphoning that goes on.  The local papers filled with stories of corruption every day. 

Wikileaks quoted the US ambassador to Kenya Ranneburger as having said;
'Kenya is a flourishing swamp of corruption.'
He was bang on, but after the embarrassment of this and other unfavourable comments that he fed back to the USA being leaked, he was sent home.


Forgive me for spouting off using mass generalisations but:.....

The corruption is so endemic in Kenya that it filters down to all corners of daily life, you almost become anaesthetised to the problem as you live with it.  Politicians literally think they are immune to prosecution when public funding goes into their pockets - mainly because they have acted poorly with utter impunity for the past half century.  Since leaders in Kenya have forever led by an example using principals of  'survival of the fittest' and 'help yourself before helping others' even when you are already fat and rich - then what hope is there for everyone else?  It's not that ordinary people aren't nice - they couldn't be nicer, friendlier, sunnier in the face of adversity but when it comes down to it petty theft/corruption - it's almost understandable in the quest just to survive.

What really sucks is that even the aid givers/foreign consultants are nowadays complicit (you can see it in all the big organisations DFID, UN, USAID etc). - Suddenly big cars are needed for projects, generous house allowances required, school fees paid, flights home for consultants - then budgets, for want of knowing how best to disburse them, are given out by these consultants to highly convincing local government ministers.  The money never actually reaches the poorest who need it most.  Projects stall or fail, targets are not reached.  Years later, nobody is interested in following up on where the money has gone, was it spent effectively?  The poor end up having to continue as usual, fending for themselves, hustling, finding opportunities - and since this is what they are forced by circumstance to do, so then, the circle continues.

My advice would be to donate to Comic Relief charities in the UK.  At least Comic Relief representatives will be bothered to be on hand to oversee projects and make sure your money really makes a difference.  You, as the giver, can even track their progress. 

Maybe there are exceptions but I'm sorry to say this - (it's so damn depressing) - but more often than not, when money comes to Kenya, it tends to disappear into a black hole, never to be seen again.

Whatever Bono says; Trade, not Aid to Africa - is advisable as a way of taking things forward.

I would still love to see the Comic Relief film.  It sounds like the chosen celebs really had their work cut out, I would never have been able to meet the challenges they were set.  However, throwing money at Kibera via Comic Relief or wherever, with the best will in the world, is not going to make the place go away.

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