Peace, affordable living is an apt gift for this season
Saturday December 24 2022
In one of his famous quotes, American entrepreneur James Cash Penney — he of J. C. Penney fame — said this of Christmas: “Christmas is not just a time for festivity and merrymaking. It is more than that. It is a time for the contemplation of eternal things. The Christmas spirit is a spirit of giving and forgiving.”
East Africa’s citizens and residents are in a festive season overcast by an escalating humanitarian crisis. Across the region, citizens face conflict, hunger and high cost of living triggered by global events, drought and global uncertainty.
In such circumstances, it is difficult for those in the eye of the storm to find reason for cheer. Equally, those whose circumstances are better might, in carefree abandon, not spare a thought for those whose circumstances might not be so propitious.
Penney’s message applies to both groups in equal measure. To those in distress, it is time to remember that Christmas represents higher values that the material. And to those fortunate to have overcome the perils of life’s uncertainties, it is time to reach out to the less fortunate. For both groups, it is also time to overcome the anguish over those that have wronged us, so that we can begin on a new slate and look to the future with hope.
East Africa is not short of tragedy and human suffering. This part of the world has become so used to adversity that bad times have almost become normalised.
For people living in the Horn of Africa, the only difference this time round might be the conflict in Ukraine which, while capturing global attention, has made a bad situation worse.
For the millions living in Somalia, the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Sahel, the risk from the Ukraine conflict is that it threatens to eclipse the smaller low-intensity conflicts that have caused a lot of displacement, forced women and young girls into captivity, occasioned needless deaths and a reversal of gains made towards achieving the United Nations Social Development Goals.
Climate stress is also amplifying long-standing tensions in the Horn, increasing infant mortality and exposing women to more risk and violence.
Meanwhile, the economic crisis laid bare by the conflict has made the lot of both the underprivileged and those that have newly slipped into the ranks of the economically displaced much worse.
For all these people, the governments need to be reminded of J. C. Penney’s spirit of giving. Under the social contract between citizens and their rulers, happiness and well-being are an implied right. Government’s primary duty to citizens is to provide both economic and material security. Even with the shrunken coffers and revenues increasingly under pressure, governments should make an effort to ease the burden on citizens.
Citizens’ expectations of their rulers are rather basic — peace, stable markets and a manageable cost of living. War is often made by bad, self-centred men. As Ethiopia has demonstrated, it is possible to find accord even in the most polarised situations.
Governments can also ease the burden on the average man by reining in on expenditure, rebalancing economies and making trade work for the masses.