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TMCNet:  Is Lupita Nyong'o a Poster Child for Kenyan Privilege? [opinion]

[February 03, 2014]

Is Lupita Nyong'o a Poster Child for Kenyan Privilege? [opinion]

(AllAfrica Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Kenyan actress Lupita Nyong'o has been riding a tidal wave of acclaim for her brilliant turn in the Oscar nominated biopic 12 Years a Slave.

But just as the plaudits have flowed in so has criticism that she owes her success to, as one critic put it, "the millions of poor Kenyans who have starved to fund her dream." A yawning income inequality gap means that conversations about the have-nots and have-lots are fairly common in our public discourse.


However this is the first time that the debate has centralised on a figure who is completely apolitical. But should we begrudge Lupita her success just because she is the daughter of a prominent Kenyan politician? At first blush it's easy to dismiss Lupita's critics as green-eyed never-do-wells choking with envy at the success of one of their own.

But there is more to this debate than meets the eye. Some people have made this all about Lupita's so-called 'tax-funded Oscar nomination', but this is bigger than that.

Specifically, this conversation is about a country which is capable of producing these two headlines in the space of a fortnight 'Lupita bags Oscar nomination,' and 'Families in Turkana eat dogs as hunger bites.' Lupita didn't consign a family in Turkana to poverty just because she was expensively educated but her privileged background owes a lot to a system in which her father is paid 30,000 times more than the average Kenyan.

This is a reality we have to face. Being the daughter of a Kenyan politician doesn't guarantee you an Oscar, but it sure does improve your odds.

------------------------------------------------------------------ The fallout from handling of the Westgate attack by security agencies continues. This week the ongoing criminal case against four suspects in the attack provided another clue as to why we may never find out the whole truth about what happened in the mall on that fateful weekend.

Testifying before the court last Tuesday Nairobi County Deputy Commander Moses Ombati claimed that GSU officers had shot dead one of the Al Shabaab attackers.

Pressed by the defence lawyer Mbugua Mureithi as to why they officers didn't collect the body, Ombati responded that they just didn't care at the time; "We were not interested...but we recovered his gun. It is with ballistics...a dead terrorist was not a concern to us, I didn't bother about him, but I know the man who was hiding in the mattresses was killed by one of our men," he said Ombati's claim is all the more interesting when you consider that he did not see the need of including it in his written witness statement after the Westgate attack.

The senior Police officer only excuse for not remembering this very important bit of information is that "not everything I have said is captured in that statement." The only people inclined to believe Ombati are those who don't know just how much Kenyan police officers like to brag about every new success, no matter how minuscule.

To watch local prime time news is to see an endless parade of officers displaying guns and stolen items seized from 'suspects' who invariable lie dead in the background.

On a slow day, village rapists and petty thieves (only ICC suspects are presumed innocent!) also get their turn to be shamed on national TV.

Ombati lying through his teeth like that makes you wonder what actual evidence the police have for trying these four young men for complicity in the Westgate attack.

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The old adage that 'those who keep on borrowing keep on sorrowing' turns out to be true. This is after it emerged this week that the Commercial Bank of Africa (CBA) has blacklisted 140,000 Kenyans who have defaulted on loans they got from the its M-Shwari facility.

CBA, which runs M-Shwari in collaboration with mobile service provider Safaricom, reportedly gives out 24,000 loans every day at a value of Sh7.3 million.

Being blacklisted means that a customer's name and other details have been given to the credit reference bureaus so as to make it more difficult for them to access other loans in the future.

The CBA is tight-lipped about the value of the defaults but it's estimated to be in the billions. Not that CBA is complaining though.

The success of M-Shwari has catapulted CBA to Kenya's second biggest retail bank on the basis of the number of deposit accounts. The bank is making money hand over fist. Kenyans love easy money and M-Shwari ticks the right boxes; easy, quick and accessible. The only glitch in the system is you have to pay the money back.

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Speaking of easy money, would you sue your parents for ruining your life? This is what a Nairobi man by the name Anthony Kariuki Mathia is attempting to do.

Kariuki is suing his parents for damages (lawyer-speak for compensation) amounting to Sh20 million for various forms of physical and psychological abuse which he says amounted to torture.

Kariuki says his parents turned on him after he became a born again Christian in 1995. He says they used all sorts of dehumanising tactics on him as punishment.

The 30 year old said that as result of the 'torture', he was unable to proceed with his education and therefore lost out on job prospects. Before going to court, Kariuki had also tried to report his parents to various institutions likes the National Commission on Human Rights and Mathari Hospital.

Kariuki might be on to something here. In some countries like the US people not only sue their parents but also their former schools and universities for not adequately preparing them for the realities of the world/job market. I'd be surprised if a Kenyan court bought Kariuki's line of argument but it doesn't hurt to try.

Copyright The Star. Distributed by AllAfrica Global Media (allAfrica.com).

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