You’re stuck in traffic.
If you live in Nairobi as I do, there’s nothing special in that statement. We’re mostly stuck in traffic jams, most of the time. It’s the way we’ve become, numbed into the acceptance that wasting time in a vehicle is a natural state of being. Kenyans talk about jam so much that foreigners must think it’s our staple food.
However, what also happens in Nairobi traffic is that you will often hear sirens blaring behind you, and a motorcade of chase cars will appear out of nowhere and force you to make way. For whom? It used to be just the president and a few favoured ministers, but these days a whole assortment of governors, senators and other inflated egos are at it. The Big People are here, make way, make way.
We don’t have a choice but to make way, but we should perhaps use the time spent in jams to think deeply about this. Why do we move aside?
If you ask the Big People, they will tell you this: they are rushing to do very important work, with other very important people. They can’t spend all day dawdling mindlessly in traffic; they have a nation to run. They have to be places, meet people, make decisions, sign papers. So get out of the way, Little People; make way for the ones who really matter.
That is the message of the traffic-clearing convoy of chase cars. We matter more.
But do they really? Given what we see around us every day, are we really supposed to believe some of these characters are en route to anything meaningful? If they were really doing the work we elect them to do (and reward them handsomely to do), would we be in such dire straits of late?
And who is it that really matters in a nation – the leaders, or the people? To answer that, I ask you: where does the income of a country come from? All these bigwigs in the offices of state: are they the ones who generate GDP?
Not at all. GDP comes from millions and millions of exchanges and interactions – the products and services and ideas and initiatives that buzz around the economy. GDP comes from the people – their work, their sweat, their innovations, their solutions. Leaders don’t produce anything; their work is to facilitate others, to create an environment in which their followers can be productive.
And so, never forget: every chase car, every swanky limo, every retinue of aides, every well-upholstered chair, every foreign shopping junket, every ridiculously ostentatious mansion – every one of those things is paid for by the work of the people being asked to make way. Not by the folks who feel entitled to go first.
The big egos, big cars, big houses of public officials are not indicators of development – they are quite the opposite. They are the sign that something has gone very wrong with the development process, that obscene rewards have been usurped by those who should should have no special entitlement to them.
Real economic development happens when leaders cease to be faux-divine creatures who think the economy runs on their whims. It happens when leaders are appointed to work just like everyone else, and to produce real results or face the sack. It happens when the people elect leaders to deliver uplift for all, not engage in empty rhetoric and throw their weight around.
The traffic jam is a poignant example. All those economically productive people forced to squander time and GDP, just because those paid to do so can’t deliver a competent solution to the problem. On top of that, they want you to get out of their way…
Something to ponder as you sit there. Who creates wealth, and who squanders it?