It’s been a while since the last rains. You can see it everywhere. The trees don’t rustle anymore; they sigh languidly. The parched grass bows low beneath the sun’s cruel gaze. The flowers have long since fallen, died, been trampled and turned to dust, and when you breathe the air of this long-suffering city, it steals whatever moisture it can take. January ended with a few drops that teased her thirst, but Nairobi was not fooled. Over the years, she has learned to know an empty promise.
People sigh and mutter in her streets as they heave and struggle with loaded carts, as they lift yet another sheet of paper from the stacks in front of them, sign it carelessly and throw it back on their desks with a wistful glance at their windows, as they frown in the fierce glare of the sun burning them through their windshields.
A driver feels a sudden jolt as his car sinks tyre-deep into another pothole in some moonscape of a road. A boda-boda whizzes past him – on the left side. Shock and anger; a heartfelt curse. The rider is already far in the distance, weaving in and out of the traffic, his reflector jacket flapping like Zorro’s cape.
From an old house tucked in some corner of the city, an elderly man stares out through the fractured glass. The dawn struggles past the smoke that always lingers nowadays; faint, it staggers in through the window. Heaps of rubbish tower just outside the four blackened walls he calls home. His eyes grow distant. He shuts them and takes in a deep breath – then sputters, disgusted at the stench. “Inakufa…Inakufa…” He repeats the word like a chant as he mourns the death of the Kenya he fought for so long ago.
Night falls and the darkness is deep. Gunshots sound in the blackness. Nairobi’s children toss and turn, and dream troubled dreams. Over the years, they have heard so many empty promises.
Njaanuary is gone, but the air is still restless.
In Rongai, an angry mob surrounds a matatu, rolls it over and sets it on fire. In the fever and the flames, they forget the “why”; he dies, splayed on the road.
MPs drive around in hulking Land Cruisers; doctors, having been forced to carry out operations without gloves, take to the streets in protest. Caught in the fray, countless men, women and children bleed and die. Countless tears fall. They mix with the dirt.
Lecturers, too, leave their posts. Thousands of students are left floating in a vacuum. Maybe they wonder. Maybe they also brood on the past five, ten, twenty years.
Maybe they’re also sick of empty promises.
Looking at all the chaos, the suffering, the anger, the pain, maybe you…lose hope. Maybe you falter. Maybe you feel weak and overwhelmed. Maybe you ask: Where are they, the good ones, in all this? What happened to us? What happened to saints, and miracles? Maybe you wake up at night from painful dreams: the darkness is so deep…!
But what if all this is mostly our fault? After all, we voted. We picked the leaders, and now, when things are bad, we remain silent. Well, we grumble and complain, but only that. We don’t rise beyond mere words. We mutter things beneath our breath about tribalism and fostering unity, and then what do we do? We gossip about each other. We steal from each other. We discriminate against each other. We are cold and cruel to one another. We are fixed on our thoughts and our rights and our opinions and our tribes and our freedom…the list goes on. We pray; we forget that God also wants us to co-operate. Our leaders are nothing but a reflection of the people who chose them. And our complaints are even hollower than their empty promises.
So why don’t we stop moaning about the empty promises and change? Why don’t we do something? If each of us changed, Nairobi would be different. Kenya would be different. It starts small, in little things: working for all of the time that you should because it’s just, according to the contract you signed; refusing to give or take bribes in your place of work and on the road; sending letters to the newspaper editors when something…off appears; greeting the guards outside your house or office building, getting acquainted; being a true friend to your friends, helping them, pushing them to break bad habits, to go home to their wives instead of spending three, five, seven nights a week in a bar…. Encourage those around you to do the same. Slowly, things will change.
Nairobi has heard enough crying for rain. Nairobi doesn’t need any more hollow words, or bitter tears. She’s had enough of empty promises.
Nairobi needs rainmakers.