Who will fight for Wanjiku?

Friday February 24 2017

Health Cabinet Secretary Cleopa Mailu (right, in spectacles) addresses people who had been demonstrating outside Afya House, the ministry's headquarters, in Nairobi on February 24, 2017. They had been protesting what they termed as deplorable conditions in health facilities and failure of services in public hospitals as the doctors’ strike went on. PHOTO | JEFF ANGOTE | NATION MEDIA GROUP

Health Cabinet Secretary Cleopa Mailu (right, in spectacles) addresses people who had been demonstrating outside Afya House, the ministry's headquarters, in Nairobi on February 24, 2017. They had been protesting what they termed as deplorable conditions in health facilities and failure of services in public hospitals as the doctors’ strike went on. PHOTO | JEFF ANGOTE | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

By GABRIEL DOLAN
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The manner in which the Executive has responded to the health crisis is appalling, yet my sympathy for the doctors’ strike is waning by the day. Their steadfastness, unity and focus on the future are to be admired. But the right to life surpasses all other demands and hundreds of Kenyans have died unnecessarily in the past three months. Wanjiku has borne the brunt of the strike and she will also be handed the bill for the increased salaries and benefits that doctors will eventually be granted.

That is not to deny the medical profession their just entitlements. But we should contextualise the strike and recall that 42 percent of Kenyans live below the poverty line of Sh200 per day. Every sane citizen would also acknowledge that the minimum salary is an unjust wage that keeps the majority in poverty, enslavement or debt. The desire here, however, is not to belittle the doctors’ demands but to highlight the shocking inequality that exists in society.

Of course doctors or university lecturers are not to blame for that inequality. One can sense how aggrieved doctors are when the new “Lords of Poverty”, 1,450 Members of County Assembly, earn more than they do, but are best known for overseas junkets and extravagant allowances. Members of Parliament earn a minimum of $78,500 (Sh8.1 million) per annum, which is 97 times more than the minimum salary and makes them by far the best paid legislators on the planet. Greed dominates the politicians’ agenda. There was hope that the Salaries and Remuneration Commission would bring sanity, equity and reason to the discussion table, but they, too, were intimidated into insignificance by Parliament.

POOREST-PAID WORKER

But who will fight for Wanjiku and when will the Executive make a collective bargaining agreement (CBA) with the poorest-paid and most exploited of workers? Labour Day is arguably the most shameful day in the national calendar. Francis Atwoli, the secretary-general of the Central organization of Trade Unions - Kenya, devotes his energy to making kings in his ethnic backyard but stands idly by when some minor presidential emissary announces on May 1 each year that the minimum salary cannot be increased until "the economy improves". That reasoning of course doesn’t apply to politicians, university dons, board members of irrelevant parastatals or any other sector that has clout to unsettle the Executive.

But what if Wanjiku, Atieno or Akiru discovered that they possess the "tyranny of numbers" that they are the majority and have power? Take, for example, the private security sector, which arguably is the largest employer in the country. Imagine if they downed tools and stayed away from work until their demands were met. The country would panic and thieves have a field day.

Somehow, it is acceptable to close hospitals, universities and schools during strikes but unimaginable that askaris, factory workers, dhobis and matatu drivers could collectively bring the nation to a halt.

But that day may not be far away. Only a fool believes that the poor are satisfied with their lot. They are not just content to clean the toilets or frisk customers entering newly opened shopping malls. They, too, aspire to buy little luxuries for their children and to be assured that they can access treatment when they fall ill.

@GabrielDolan1