Sunday, May 15, 2005

Banning Second-Hand Shoes. Multi- National Company to force Kenyans to ONLY buy their shoes.

This is as Multi National as you could get!

This is my response to BATA shoe Company's Cowardice potrayed in the article below

I was born in 1981 in Nakuru and even with my short life span have vivid memories of the days when Bata used to be the only shoe shop in my town. I also remember vividly that only 10 years ago, almost everyone I knew had a pair of 'Akalas' - made from recycled tires, because this was all they could afford for daily wear, and even those who could afford BATA shoes, only used them for work (If they had an office/ white collar job), or as "Sunday Best".
I remember that most of us played bare foot, because our BATA shoes were only for school, and even in the middle class, many parents could not afford to buy a new shoe every year, so I wore shoes till they began to squeeze my feet, or "have a fish mouth" as in a gaping tear in the front for my parents to be convinced that I really needed a new shoe, because they could not afford BATA prices.

I remember vividly the days when the cobbler was your most visited business premises after the "kiosk", as people would have one pair of shoe for such a long time that they had to have it repaired over and over again. Have a new sole put in, have stitches from time to time, have the sole glued, have new laces every year, have new dye, have new buckles... all sorts of things!

I also remember (All this before the advent of Mitumba on a large scale), that most people working in the council market, car garages, teachers, house helps, doctors, nurses, civil servants, cobblers, touts, almost everyone I can think of from the huge collage of people from my childhood, all had some clothes with patches on the, and some even just walked around with tears that had not been mended.

I remember the days when people could tell at a glance the other person's level of income and "status " from a distance, because the rich "Who in Kenya have tended to be, not those who invent, create or innovate, but those with access to the public coffers, public tenders, the right parents... etc", these rich could afford to go abroad for shopping, or afford to buy imported clothes (Which they still do and will not stop whether or not Mitumba are banned), but the rest of us had to do with the one pair of BATA if you could afford it, or if not, your cobbler might make you a shoe, and you would pay in installments, or there was always Akala.

I remember days when a young (Or even an old Kenyan) would struggle to borrow a suit for a wedding, job interview, or funeral, form the one lucky friend they have in their circles who had a suit. This suit was most likely terrible quality, shinny, and mended several times, but several people had to share it, because having one could determine what kind of first impression you make at that Job interview where you next meal, you children's and siblings' school fees, rent, and medical expenses were at stake.

I know that the managing director of BATA (who has a foreign sounding name), I don't know where she is from, but if she is the MD she probably has no idea what it feels like to have lived in that era, and then awake to the era where for the same amount of expenditure (factor in inflation), a poor Kenyan can wear the best quality clothes from around the globe (Just like an MD and politician would have access to), a street family can wear original designer labels (just like the MD and Politicians can), the 'mama mboga' can wear fancy shoes in whatever color she desires, without clashing, because she can have as many shoes as she has dress colors in her wardrobe (just like the MD and the Politician have), and that Kids no longer have to have "laughing shoes" at school, kids no longer have to run bare foot for P.E, Kids no longer have to have only one Sunday best, one school uniform, and one "playing outfit" to be worn everyday when they come from school () and so are as comfortable as the MD's Kids and the Politician's Kids are.

It would be very unfair for the MD of BATA, whose salary is likely to increase if BATA profit margins increase to request the government to take away all this from Millions of Kenyans by the stroke of a pen. We know that he will still be able to buy imported clothes, and shoes, (I doubt he wears BATA), and will still be able to go shopping abroad (Unlike any of the other Kenyans he want to be forced by the law to only wear BATA). If MY Garcia wants our money, then he has to offer a superior product at the kind of prices Kenyans can afford. He has to seduce Kenyans to his product. It is cowardly and immoral to try and convince the powers that can, to sacrifice our right to buy things created by any other human being we please, just because he can. Being a business located in Kenya is no excuse to being mediocre. If Kenyan runners can be the best in the world (and as you can see BATA does not appreciate excellence because NIKE is already using the Kenyan runners to advertise their brand globally, while BATA has never thought of doing this, because they actually don't think anything good can come out of Kenya - including their shoes, that is why they are asking the government to force people to buy their shoes, as no one is buying them)

I think that BATA would do themselves and Kenya a big favor if they started realizing their potential. If they realized that the world is open for them to conquer, if they realized that there are so many talented shoe cobblers in Kenya and many more to be discovered, that they have the whole globe as a potential market, that they have Kenyan runners as potential endorsement, that they have lots of capital at their disposal from so many sources globally, that they can acquire skills, ideas and technology by thinking big, and attracting investors to facilitate the influx of these into their business, and that they could be as good as NIKE or anybody else, not by forcing poor Kenyans to buy their shoes, but b increasing their efficiency so their prices can come down, by targeting a wider market of people who can actually afford to buy new shoes across the globe, by trying to curve a niche for themselves in the global shoe industry and by adopting the mentality of making an honest living instead of trying to rob Kenyans of their hard earned money by force!
Please Bata for your sake and ours, stop thinking of Kenya as the only market you can manufacture for.

I would like to urge the government to think like wise about the textile industry, the sugar industry, and all other industries. You don't have to squeeze Kenyans with taxes, and rob them of the dignity of choice, and the exposure to diverse products (Which carry in them information on design and quality standards).

Kenya Telecom did not improve by keeping out cell phones, actually it is after they faced competition that they discovered that Kenyans were only putting up with them because they had to by law.

Let us look and learn from Asia. It is by increasing the quality, quantity of what we produce and effectively marketing it to the whole world that we will build out industries. This requires better technology, true competition to squeeze out laziness and bad ideas, and lots of seduction. Seducing the Capital into our country, seducing local capital (Kenyans can only invest in industry, if they are can get all their basic needs as cheaply as possible- including shoes and clothes).

We need to learn the mentality of seducing rather than force, in all spheres of out Kenyan life.

As for our journalists, please don’t just report things, with out analyzing them. You do great analysis when one of you is assaulted, but when the rest of us are under assault you just report on it like you are not going to be affected by these things. Please wake UP!!!

June Arunga

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Lucy Kibaki should be thanked for stripping away the illusion that is Kenya

Kenya is stripped naked. Actually, scratch that, there is nothing like Kenya in anything but name anymore. The absurdity of it has been on open display since 2002 and stretching back to the 1960s. Landlord-tenant quarrels have now become diplomatic incidents while fights between co-wives – Lucy and Wambui – are responsible for some of the more important political alignments at State House.

The about-to-be-transferred World Bank Director, Makhtar Diop, has been the tenant of the First Family. The latest events in Kenyan cuckoo land were set in motion when Lucy turned up at his house, wearing her pyjamas, to complain about his noisy going away party. Reports of the incident later revealed that one of the ambassadors who has been taking the government to task for corruption is also a tenant of the Kibakis. And that the party, hosted by the jazz-loving Diop, was attended by the Kibaki kids and a host of NGO and diplomatic high-flyers. Kenya’s great and good, who with every passing day reveal themselves to be the soul of a cosy, incestuous vulture class.

On the Friday night in question, Lucy was indignant that the party animals should think that they could behave as if they were in the slums of Korogocho and forget that they were in posh Muthaiga. What delicious irony! The party was filled with people who manage to attend such affairs and live in Muthaiga precisely because of the poor people in Korogocho. In joyful attendance was the guitar-strumming Diop, in town to ‘eradicate poverty’; the diplomats who are our ‘development partners’; and the NGO ‘watchdogs’ who act in "the public interest". All with their fangs sunk deep in Korogocho.

During working hours, they may maintain separate offices, different functions and sometimes even assume the pose of rivalry. But, like the Billy Ocean song went, “the freaks (really do) come out at night”. When the cocktail hour is at hand, the truth of Kenya and its crème de la crème is on full display. They sip their whiskeys together, live in the same neighbourhoods and drive their kids to the same schools, in the same gasoline guzzling cars.

Even as Lucy storms into police stations and newspapers, alternating between hysterical laughter and slapping reporters, MPs are busy feathering their own nests. Despite the KShs 6 million they earn per year for rarely attending parliamentary sessions, they have decided that their two spouses and eight dependants should be able to visit any hospital on the planet at taxpayer expense. Wambui Kibaki if she was ever worried about her health should take heart in knowing that she is now in good hands. But she is probably too busy campaigning for her marriage in Othaya where she turned up last week to make a development contribution to a local hospital. After songs from the usual gaggle of praise singers, always kept on hand should the goody distributing class pass by, she should have had the courtesy to publicly reveal that her ‘contribution’ had been made by a Dutch NGO.

Then here comes the minister responsible for internal security, John Michuki, calling for the reinstitution of the Chief’s Act which was repealed in 1997. It is familiar territory for him: as Koigi Wamwere has been reminding us daily, Michuki was a colonial 'homungati' now turned government strong man.

The Chief's Act: a colonial relic used to great effect by the Moi dictatorship is to be brought back since the natives are definitely restless. What a country! On the one hand applauding the recent publication of books revealing the brutality Kenyans suffered during the Emergency and with the other considering the use of the laws used to impose that suffering.

Keeping up the litany of absurdity that is our lot, the British Council recently hosted a discussion of David Anderson's book which uncovers the colonial government's inhuman conduct during the Emergency. The event was well attended by "radical" Kenyans who commenced a spirited discussion on British colonialism in a British government office!

A few days later, the women’s rights lobby celebrated a castration law for rapists reasoning that prosecutions should be pursued with more vigour. No one cared that the same prosecutors, the police and judges keep no records of the trials, rarely follow correct procedure and never hesitate to trample on the rights of anyone accused of a crime or victimised by it. Because the abiding interest in our naked Kenya is to always keep an eye out for donors, locate the next 'funding stream' (anybody out there for 'judicial reform'?)

It goes on. Headline grabbing statements instructing us on how many wives the president has are officially issued by State House. Biwott, the Total Man of Totally Unproductive Politics, is said to be on the way back to government despite the allegations of political assassination that continue to dog him. Anti-corruption officials have had to flee for their lives. Mitumba taxes have been raised by 200%, perhaps as insurance against the Korogocho poor affording the same pair of pyjamas Lucy wears to break-up her tenants' parties. Then, unable to deliver on the half a million new jobs a year it promised, the government mimics colonial policy and chases hawkers out of Nairobi’s central business district.

© Martin Kimani