By Wandia Njoya
Britain established the National Health Service, from which Boris Johnson walked out yesterday, to provide “freedom from fear.”
In the US, the fear of getting sick is so real. In one story I read, a woman who was involved in an accident cried to the members of the public not to call an ambulance because her insurance wouldnt pay the $3,000 fee.
In Kenya, our shaky and privatized healthcare (only 46% of our health facilities are public) sends Kenyans into the exploitative arms of preachers who humiliate, mislead and extort from people in the name of miracles. The educated middle class who feel liberated from fellow African healers are still so paranoid, that they respond to a mere question about a treatment proposed by a certain white man with hysteria.
We need a political commitment to a Kenyan national health service. But it would require changing many of our values, which is actually where the problem is.
1. The church would have to give up the missionary theology of doing Caesar’s work of providing social services and start a theology is social justice that demands social services from the people who tax us
2. We would need an education system that is about moulding people, not training for jobs and obsession with money. The reason why the bureaucratised miduklas can’t understand the need for a public health service is because freedom from fear doesnt make sense to them, since freedom from fear is not tangible and cannot be bought and sold. In Kenya, we are beaten by the school system to believe that anything that doesn’t have a money value doesn’t exist. We have a very tunnel visioned education logic that needs to be replaced.
3. We would have to change our attitude towards work. Work is not employment. It’s labour that creates something of value. And value is not always tangible. The reason why Kenya has such bad public services is because we dont value the work of the caring classes who perform them: the teachers, the farmers, the ecologists, the vets, the artists, the cleaners, the trash collectors, the house helps, the fundis, medical workers, etc. We think the work they do is simple, that we can even do it ourselves from home, and we pay them peanuts and have no respect for them. The point isn’t whether one can homeschool or treat with home remedies or clean their own house. The point is that we need people who render that service to the public and that we cant do it when we are doing something else.
Until we understand that what they do is work, and stop glorifying money counters, tax collectors and managers who reap where they do not sow, we will not understand the concept of public healthcare. Money, managerial and bureaucratic jobs are bullshit jobs, and they are responsible for underpaying and exploiting care work.
4. We must end racism. Kenyans who read this might think: “almost all of us are Africans, so racism doesn’t apply.” It does. What we value and defend is determined by how white it is. That’s why criticizing Bill Gates in Kenya generates such hysteria. White supremacy is embedded in our policy and government. We sacrifice unnecessarily too many resources to relaxation of white folk, an enterprise known as tourism. Policy making in every sector of government is driven by the belief that if it’s done in US or UK, it’s good. We have a huge vocabulary of words like benchmarking, development, progress, technology, future etc which we use to say “we Africans are always behind the West and we need to follow their cue.”
How willing are we to change our values?