Honesty and hard work in Kenya do not pay; if you are too honest, Kenya just kills you.
We kill our best and brightest and reward the mediocre and the incompetent.
Politicians pay lip service to the empowerment of youth, but do nothing for those who are most in need of support.
Government youth programmes only end up helping the few who are politically connected.
There are some people who leave such an indelible impression on your mind that when they are gone, it becomes difficult to imagine how life will be without them. Mike Omondi was one such a person.
I met Mike about a decade ago when he worked as a motorbike rider for a new delivery service in Nairobi, which I used regularly. Mike was one of those people one develops an instant liking for – he was warm, open, sincere and hardworking.
A few months after I met him, he opted to start his own small delivery service, with him as the main rider. Mike could deliver anything I asked him to, from important documents to money and take-away meals.
He was my Man Friday; I could depend on him to do my errands more than I could on my own family.
My husband and I used to joke that if by chance we both died at the same time, we could rely on Mike to make all the necessary funeral arrangements. We didn’t know then that Mike would go before us.
A couple of weeks ago, Mike was killed on Mombasa Road, Nairobi, in an accident involving a matatu, just a few hours after I had asked him to make a delivery for me. He was only 33.
Like many thousands, if not millions, of Kenyans who have died on our roads over the years, he became another unfortunate statistic and another needless tragedy that is played out on the roads every single day because we live in a country where the authorities refuse to tame the carnage.
Mike was a victim of our hopelessly corrupt and dysfunctional public transport system, where some careless and highly incompetent matatu drivers and corrupt traffic police officers collude in making our roads among the most unsafe in the world.
He became a casualty of matatu owners who have held Nairobi and other major towns hostage for the last four decades and whose stifling hold on the public transport system cannot be broken even by the President.
Like many young men in this country, Mike was robbed of his life because the system does not protect road users and honest and hardworking people like him.
People like Mike are not valued in our society; we only value the rich, the corrupt and the devious. We kill our best and brightest and reward the mediocre and the incompetent.
Honesty and hard work in Kenya do not pay; if you are too honest and too hardworking, Kenya just kills you. Politicians pay lip service to the empowerment of youth, but do nothing for those who are most in need of support. Government youth programmes only end up helping the few who are politically connected.
Kenya killed Mike Omondi, just like it killed Njoroge, another hardworking young man I met in Malindi, who worked as a taxi driver.
Njoroge died before his time from a preventable illness because the public health system did not give him the support he needed.
Kenya also killed Kennedy, a handyman who could do all the electrical and plumbing work in my house at one-tenth the cost of a professional contractor, and with much more efficiency.
Kennedy died suddenly at the prime of his life from a disease that no one diagnosed. Then there was Karisa, a young and ambitious electrician, whose death remains a mystery.
I don’t know what killed him but I suspect Kenya played a part in his death, too.
Would Mike, Njoroge, Kennedy and Karisa be alive today if they lived somewhere else? Would they and their young families have prospered in a country that valued their lives and their contributions to society? I think so.
Kenya is killing its young people, particularly young men who are poor. They say that the life expectancy of males living in the slums is 28 years because young men in the poor urban neighbourhoods are likely to be shot dead by the police or slashed to death by a mugger.
A friend who used to work with youth in Nairobi’s Mathare slums told me that all the boys and young men she knew through a project she was involved in are now dead; most had been shot and killed by police, not because they were armed robbers, but simply because they were young, male and poor. When will we stop slaughtering our youth?
Rest in Peace, Mike Omondi!