Cost of living: Ok, it's officially time to panic (or go get at least three jobs)

Thursday September 13 2018

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You thought living in Nairobi was expensive? You ain't seen nothing yet. FOTOSEARCH 

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You thought living in Nairobi was expensive? You ain't seen nothing yet.

I just received my electricity bill and it is two times more than last month’s. As much as I would like us all as citizens of the Republic of Kenya to have access to electricity, if it costs this much, how would my lovely grandmother afford this?

This morning, I took a taxi to a meeting and when I saw the amount charged, I exclaimed, “What? But how?”

What a rhetorical question; we do know how. The hullabaloo we are witnessing is not just about the prices of fuel increasing, we suddenly realise that everything is about to go up and we are feeling the panic.

Members of Parliament are scrambling to stop the new VAT on fuel, but one cannot help feeling that this dramatic charade is too little, too late.

This is the new lifestyle that is about to become ours. Kenyans tend to adapt quickly. When things similar to this happen, we find ways to adjust.

Perhaps we use our cars less. The boda boda business is picking up because it is more affordable. Middle-class families will choose to carpool to get to work to reduce the number of cars leaving the same neighbourhood.

Perhaps bulk shopping with neighbours is also on the cards. All that time being spent trying to outsmart the tax monster eating away our hard-earned money.

A slow walker

So when my taxi fare came as such a shock, I wondered why I just did not walk. Well, walking would have taken me about 30 minutes, I am a very slow walker, and I had stumbled out of my house late. It did bring me to the conclusion that saving money in Kenya takes time.

You want to buy something affordable; you have to be clever. It takes time to compare prices but sometimes being cheap is expensive. The fundi who can fix something for half-price? You find yourself calling him multiple times for other smaller unforeseen issues. The time it takes to compare prices because you want the best is often wasted.

I want to retire early

Well, the taxi ride was not a complete loss. At least I had a conversation with the young driver. He looked like he should be in class, a college student. Perhaps he was heading there after dropping me.

He mentioned casually, “I want to retire early. I wish I could. In fact, I want to get to a point where my money works for me.” At this point my pessimistic personality nearly made me yell, “In this country, you won’t!”

But I refrained, and he continued, “I have three jobs; the way things are now, you have to have more than one. Our parents worked hard. They probably worked hard in one place for up to 30 years. Seeing their salary increase gradually, very slowly, but they managed.

“For us, we have to hustle. I drive a taxi, I also have an online shop that sells happy socks and another that sells shoes. I work all the time. But you have to do that to fulfil your basic needs.”

Suddenly, I had a sense of respect for him. Like the street hawkers who are harassed by the city council by day but now fill the city streets at night to make some money. Here he was making do with what he had.

It’s cold, buy me tea

I find this preferable to being harassed by security guards who feel the need to tell you the cold has lasted abnormally long and because it is cold, you are expected to buy them tea… Or the boys who signal for you to park in a particular spot downtown and demand compensation for showing you a parking you had already seen without their assistance.

They used to accept anything; these days, they are likely to retort, “What am I supposed to do with these 20 shillings?”

What ticks me off the most is not the huge ocean of debt we find ourselves drowning in, it is the lack of urgency to tackle corruption. Nobody in their right mind would continue to pour water into a metal drum and expect it to fill up without patching the holes in its bottom.

Nerima Wako-Ojiwa is executive director at Siasa Place. Twitter: @NerimaW