But evidently, that didn’t happen, since now we were headed to Diani.
The rest, as they say, is history.
Our time at Diani was a time of bliss, but the time of love is always also the time of revolution. And so, while we were happy to be cut off from the world, we realized that it wasn’t just us who were cut off; it was the whole region that was cut off. There was little socioeconomic activity going on around us. For the longest time, we were about the only people in the hotel, yet the kitchen and housekeeping staff were at work. It was so eerie, that during one meal, we asked the waiter how the business was doing. He said it wasn’t good, but at least they were still at work. Other hotels were closed.
On one of the nights, we went out looking for a club so that we could have a change of scene. Many of the clubs were quiet. We eventually landed at one where people eventually walked in, but by the time they did, we were done for the day.
And then there were the gentlemen – popularly referred to as beach boys - who would come by every morning to sell artifacts, asking us to “promote” them. We eventually struck a friendship with one of them whom we paid to take us to the coral reef. On one of the days when we walked along the beach, he told us of his dream to become a tour van driver, since that was where the money was, except he didn’t have money to go to driving school. All this young man wanted was a driving license. And he couldn’t get one.
The absurdity of the whole situation hit home one day when we were doing our usual morning prayer. After thanking God for the day, for us and for the gift of marriage, my husband said: “And God, we pray for Diani.” And then he sighed. He then expressed to God his bewilderment at the depressed economy, and prayed for a breakthrough for the region.
By the time we left Diani, we had figured out why the hotel where we were staying was still open: it was owned by the same people who own one of Kenya’s sports betting companies. The hotel owners were not really that invested in Diani’s economy, which is to be expected. Gambling doesn’t inspire social consciousness, since money comes in anyway, without much work being done.
We then decided to break our return home with a stay at Voi, which one of our cousins arranged for us. At the hotel, as we were given instructions on meals, we were told that the crowd we found eating dinner would be leaving the next day, and so we would be eating in a different hall because we would be about the only guests left in the hotel. We enjoyed a drive in the dry Tsavo national park, and soon after, we returned home to our new life. Our hectic life.
However, I am still haunted by this lie called tourism, which, our leaders tell us, is the cornerstone of our economy. In every ad, in every wildlife documentary, we’re shown the amazing wonders of our country and our wildlife. But the cameras don’t show us the in-between days of little action, as the camera crew waits for the next time that the pride of lionesses goes hunting and finally kills their food. They don’t show us the empty hotels and beds, the staff going home to wait for the hotel to call them back when the next batch of guests arrives. They don’t tell us about the limited social services at places like Diani that lack even driving schools where young men can become tour van drivers, like the other men from upcountry whom they see bringing tourists.
But Frantz Fanon, writing towards the end of his short life, did warn us that that’s what tourism does. It does not encourage growth. It does not invest in the “brains and muscles” of the citizens. It doesn’t think about the nation or the environment; it cares only about money. We’re willing to sacrifice our wildlife – our own heritage – for roads and apartments, as we’ve done with the Nairobi National Park, when we find that buildings bring more revenue to personal coffers than tourists do to the national ones. Because tourism relies on Europe, and on their citizens feeling inspired to visit us, we have to wait for Europe to tell us to save our own parks and wildlife, or to honor our environmentalists, while our own government beats up our environmental heroes and fails to do something as simple as name a road after Wangari Maathai.
The cornerstone of tourism is enjoyment and relaxation of the rich, rather than the dignity of the citizens through the access to wholesome recreation and education. That is why our forests like Karura, or even our children’s playgrounds and university lands, are grabbed for the construction of malls and hotels. The grabbers are not creative enough to even say that they are building a referral public hospital, so that at least we Kenyans can be consoled that we’re benefiting from the evil. Land is always grabbed for hotels and malls. For the relaxation of people exhausted from stealing from us.
And yet, Fanon warned us that this will happen, except that we Kenyans don’t read books like The Wretched of the Earth. That’s theory, we’re told, and what we need is practical knowledge. And so Kenyans don’t know how eerily predictable it is for tourism to share such similar characteristics with gambling. Here’s the prophecy of Fanon:
In its decadent aspect, the national bourgeoisie…establishes holiday resorts and playgrounds for entertaining the Western bourgeoisie. The sector goes by the name of tourism and becomes a national industry for this very purpose…Because it is lacking in ideas, because it is inward-looking, cut off from the people, sapped by its congenital incapacity to evaluate issues on the basis of the national as a whole, the national bourgeoisie assumes the role of manager for the companies of the west and turns its country virtually into a bordello for Europe.
Not surprisingly, the gamble of tourism has now evolved into the gamble of betting. As was reported by the Sunday Nation yesterday, we’re spending a whopping 3 billion shillings a month on betting. People who should be in the shambas, in the schools, in the factories, or in the labs or anywhere else creating wealth are, instead, on their mobile phones.
And because our media are receiving advertising revenue from these companies, they are sugar-coating gambling by depicting it as a personal choice, calling us a “gambling nation” instead of a “gambling den,” and telling us that betting is like “any sport, [where] some are winning handsomely while a vast majority loses their money.” And to add insult to injury, they put that headline right above the expensive footer advert inviting Kenyans to win over 100 million shillings twice a week.
Gambling is not, and can never be, a sport. Gambling is not like a marathon where one’s physical training boosts a person’s health, whether they win the marathon on not. In gambling, training is losing money many times, and sometimes losing one’s life. Gambling is an addiction. To call it a sport or a business is as reckless as saying that alcohol is a beverage like tea or that snuffing cocaine is like smoking a cigarette.
But the tragedy is that since Kenyans shun theory, educational institutions are powerless to help our students understand the hell that we have invited into our nation. Many times when I raise concern about gambling on social media, wananchi tell me that those who gamble are greedy pigs seeking to make a quick buck, so it should be seen as a personal weakness, rather than a social problem. They genuinely wonder at the relevance of my question as to whether alcoholism and drug addiction should also be treated as a personal weakness.
The press, who like to call themselves our watch dog, don’t get it either. And with the advertising revenues from betting companies, they can’t get it, even if they wanted to.
And neither does our government, who are now worried more about reaping taxes from the betting companies than about the companies destroying our soul.
When our institutions are in bed with this evil, you’d think the church would collectively stand up and raise concern about this scourge. But their sights are on the games of politicians, namely the IEBC stalemate, and even on declaring some of the politicians God's anointed, so and they haven’t issued a public outcry about the increase in gambling companies.
With no institutions to cushion us, we wananchi are on our own, being conned by the betting companies that the gambling is actually good for us because sports companies provide billions to sports in sponsorship contracts. Meanwhile, CS Hassan Wario remains so clueless, that at an UNCTAD forum two weeks ago, he would celebrate the government’s commitment to the creative economy in the paltry allocation of KES 500 million to sports and culture for the entire financial year. Another lottery promising new beginnings responded to Kenyans’ concerns about the rise in betting by saying that the lottery’s profits will go to a hospitals, in the hope that our concerns about public health infrastructure would go away.
But when one understands that betting companies are essentially sustaining sports so that we can go on betting on the same sports, then one understands, as Malcolm X would say, that we’ve been bamboozled. We’ve been had. We’ve been took. And the perpetual losers are the ordinary wananchi of Kenya, whose recreational land has been grabbed, whose schools are burning, and whose education is too incoherent to offer intellectual tools to resist the onslaught of advertising and programming sponsored by betting companies. Like the young man in Diani, wananchi have been abandoned to gambling by a decadent political elite that has no national consciousness.
The field day enjoyed by betting companies does not make Kenya a “gambling nation.” It makes us a gambling plantation. The abandonment by Kenyan leaders follows the economic logic of the slave plantation and its offspring, the colonial settler economy. Like the plantations in the Americas, where African slaves cultivated, like the colonial settlers on the continent, the masters of this economy take away our freedom, dignity and self-actualization by making us rely on chance instead of on hard work, and making profits from this exploitation. But just like Africans in the Americas, we in the homeland can still pray to God to trouble the water, and demand an economy that affirms that there’s dignity in the sweat of our brow and in the work of our hands, as reflected in the final words of our prayerful national anthem: tuungane mikono, pamoja kazini, kila siku tuwe na shukrani.