Letter from America #1: inaugural issue: september 14, 2011

Everytime I commuted back to the US from Kenya, i have wanted to start something like a Letter from America, comparable to the column constructed in the mid-20th century by Alistair Cooke. But this time, at the coaxing of a dear friend, Jane Artabasy, i decided to finally do it. So thanks to Jane. And also thanks to Paul Koite at the Nairobi Star who often published some, though not all of my Letter from America:

By Margaretta wa Gacheru
September 14, 2011

How quickly the world has changed.
One day the US is on top of the world economy, the leading and singular ‘Superpower’ [to use the term coined by the father of George W Bush].

Meanwhile, as recently as when Al Gore was contemplating the Kyoto Protocol, China was only considered a ‘developing country’ whose carbon emissions were still seen as relatively inconsequential.

Now China is a major planetary polluter as well as the second largest economy in the world.

What’s more, on the same day the Chinese Premier says he is prepared to help Eurozone countries get out of their doldrums, the US is reporting record-breaking poverty among its own people.

So where does that leave the rest of the world?


We just saw a report that China has replaced the UK and Germany as the leading foreign investor in the Kenyan economy. Anyone who has seen the incredible road work the Chinese have constructed together with a load of both Kenyan and Chinese workers, can hardly dispute the Chinese have become major players in the global economy, including that of Kenya.

So how is that going? Kenyans seem to be quite philosophical about their new road systems, which the Chinese seem to have constructed practically “overnight”.

In the short terms, navigating the new roads can be messy, dusty and chaotic, especially as the Chinese and local government has been quite poor in put up appropriate signage.

But most Kenyans I spoke to recently said they knew these roads would be very good for the Kenyan economy in the long term.

“Who cares that the Chinese are developing our roads to more effectively extract our mineral wealth?” I heard Kenyans claim. The new roads have already begun to eradicate Nairobi’s horrific traffic jams, so that immediate benefit is pleasing to Kenyan people, whether they use public or private transportation.

A few Kenyans take note that Chinese goods are third-rate and easily breakable, unlike consumer items coming from either Germany or the US. But hey, who can afford those quality consumer items?

So those cheap consumer goods are fueling the rise of small business people’s opening small shops and stalls all over the cities and country side.

So while some Kenyans complain about the ‘invasion’ of Chinese workers, especially when they are taking jobs that could just as easily be done by Kenyans, the majority have many more pressing problems than the Chinese coming to town.

SINAI 9/12

Like Sinai and the horrific tragedy of more than 100 people dead and many more hospitalized with painful burns from which many may never recover.

As a testimony to the efficacy of global media, I woke up Monday morning outside Chicago, and the 7am news already was giving graphic details about the tragedy at Nairobi’s Sinai slum.

My heart goes out to the Kenyan people who are trying to make sense of this senseless event–the consequence of poverty and unplanned development and greed.

This is the time for hearing the “if only’s”:

“If only” the Government had not allowed an oil pipeline to snake its way through the capital city.

“If only” squatters had paid heed when they were told in 2009 to get out of that previously vacant land.

“If only” the culture of impunity had not gripped local politicians who want to live like kings and white collar crooks rather than perform their civic duties and take care of their electorate.

And “if only” the Kenyan Government had invested in solar panels rather than oil pipelines, we would have had clean energy meeting people’s basic fuel needs. It would be cheaper in the long run, especially as the sun shines free of charge.


But then, are Kenyan politicians any better or worse than American ones? I cannot claim they are.

Tragically, the American Congress is as corrupt as the Kenyan Parliament. That may sound like a stunning statement to make, but just look at the way President Obama is being treated by Republican Congressmen, quite a number of whom don’t even care to recognize that he is America’s duly elected president. They call him Obama, not even President Obama, and especially those aligned to the so-called ultra-right wing Tea Party have vowed to bury him politically and not allow any of his proposed legislation to pass, never to allow him to be seen as succeeding at any level.

As President Obama said on Tuesday to a crowd he had gathered to promote his new Jobs Bill, the Tea Party people have made a pact not to support anything he advocates, be it putting Americans back to work or rebuilding the country’s aging infrastructure.

The viciousness and the so-called ‘color-blind racism’ of the Tea Party’s stance against him are not only mean-spirited and malicious; it is politically and economically disastrous.
The recent debate over whether to raise the debt-ceiling or not nearly bankrupted the US economy. The consequences of such an event would have been disastrous, not only to the national but to the world economy as well.
All those countries that have lent America money — including the money George W. Bush borrowed from China to go to war in Iraq and generally to run his heinous ‘War on Terror’ – they would not only lost money.
They would have lost confidence in the US dollar, which since the Bretton Wood agreement of 1944, has been the #1 global currency, even after Richard Nixon took the dollar off the gold standard in 1971.
But the Tea Party politicians didn’t care about bankruptcy which they believed would primarily do damage to Obama who would then not get re-elected in 2012.
Yep, 2012 looms as large on the American political horizon as it does on the Kenyan political landscape.
Let us all pray that by the time 2012 arrives, the world will have changed even more, and changed for the better!


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