How Africa Works

The village is Ol-Moran, nestled deep and pretty in the Kenyan savannah.  Women sit on low stools outside a smoke-filled, grass-thatched and mud-walled house. The women chatter about everything, from the weather to local gossip is on the table. Each holds forward a big enamel cup as the host pours thin tea from a large aluminum kettle. After quite some helping of tea, it is time for the business of the day to start.  Each woman fishes 50 shillings and puts it in the bowl on the centrally placed stool, all 20 of them. The secretary of the group gets her black book out; it is time for the late comers to pay their fines.  See, everybody was supposed to be here by 2:00 PM, the latecomers must pay a surcharge. The host of the day will be taking the sum of their contributions, 1000 shillings to be exact. She could buy seeds for the upcoming planting season, buy a new dress or pay fees for her children; it is up to her.  The urbane and schooled call this table banking, these women know none of this, this is a monthly contributory merry-go-round, and this is how these women get by.

This is Ronald Ngala Street Nairobi, it is 6.00 in the evening, crowds on their way home, matatus honking their way through the city. The hawkers in coordinated chirrups as they sell their wares, from vests to Chinese watches, handkerchiefs to exotic Kiwi fruits, they trade their wares. All of a sudden hell breaks loose, the hawkers disassemble their minute table top shops within seconds and dash, dash they must from the dreaded City Council police. Some of them with their tiny toddlers, some pregnant they disappear among the multitudes, they will be back. Much, much later in the night, they will sit together, each will contribute to the benevolent fund, and each will contribute their savings and credit scheme, one of them will walk with five thousand shillings today.

Back in the highlands, a truck has just delivered the tent and plastic seats the villagers have been saving for. It has taken them a year, and each house hold had to contribute 3,000 shillings. The tent buys convenience, no more being rained on in weddings and funerals, no more relying on the benevolence or lack thereof of the politicians, this is self-sufficiency.  

He parks his long distance articulated truck along the road and dashes into an M-pesa kiosk, he loads up money into his account and sends his mason 30,000 shillings. He is proud his new brick house is almost done; he would not have done had it not been for the savings scheme him and his fellow truck drivers have. 

The above stories must ring a bell, a big one if you are African and have been in this place long enough to internalize its struggles, tribulations and triumphs. The triumphs are built on the brow and sweat of ordinary everyday people. No! Not from that massive poverty eradication program by the government and certainly not from that overzealous NGO project. This is how Africa lifts herself up and walks towards the horizon that holds her destiny, the least you could do is keep-off the way.