Sifting through all the New Year advice from rich celebrities, reports on the college bowl games and the NFL playoffs as well as coach firings, I came upon an interestingly thought provoking article by Robyn Dixon.
Dixon recently posted an article in the Los Angeles Times about a man named Francis Otieno whom she describes as a freelance slum electrician. The 36 year old Kenyan resides in the slum of Kibera which is located outside of Nairobi, Kenya’s capitol.
According to the article, the Kenyan Government has failed to connect the mud hunts and corrugated iron shacks within this slum with electricity. However, electricity sold legally to Otieno by his boss is patched illegally to 40 households in and around Otieno. The boss supplies Otieno with wire to connect the 40 households in his patch for a profit.
Otieno collects a monthly payment of about $5 per house, skimming off a small commission and delivering the rest to his boss.
Because electrical problems are frequent. Otieno gets calls from dawn until after dark, often abandoning his dinner plate to investigate problems. “I leave my dish of food and go to serve them first,” he says.
There exist many dangers in his job. Sometimes children or mothers died when they have a short,” says Otieno, a father of three. “Sometimes people’s houses burn down.” He speaks slowly, searching for words, pausing frequently.
The main problem for a freelance electrician is rats. Both the two legged and four legged kind.
There are millions of the rodents in Kibera, creeping into people’s shacks, chewing through electrical wires.
Otieno’s best friend who held the job before him, and was killed when he jumped on a roof to fix a short. The man was unaware that the roof was live because a rat had nibbled at a wire.
The other danger is the rainy season, which turns Kibera into a slippery, muddy swamp — particularly “downtown,” as the bottom of the hill where Otieno lives is known.
The water trickles through shack roofs as leaky as colanders, dripping into electrical wiring and sometimes shocking the person trying to fix the damage.
Out in the rain, struggling to fix wiring with wet shoes and sopping clothes, Otieno has had a couple of shocks that way.
Sometimes the problems are caused by people hanging clothing on the electrical wires to dry.
Sometimes someone switches the power on, just when he’s trying to make a repair. (That happened when he was connecting two wires, and it nearly cost him his life.)
Sometimes the money Otieno collects doesn’t cover the power used in his area. There are people who can’t pay.
“Not all the neighbors pay their money on time. Some can go three or four months without having money to give us,” Otieno says.
He gives them three months’ grace before cutting them off.
Another reason the books don’t balance is the thieves who hack into the wires, connect up their houses and draw off power without paying.
“They just come at night,” Otieno says.
“They might not be using their lights, just the radio, so no one knows.
“I tell them, ‘You’re a human being just like me. Just come to me, because you’ve got problems. Even me, I’ve got problems. We can just talk and work it out.’ ”
Otieno’s dream is to save enough capital to start his own welding workshop, so as not to rely on bosses for pay. But it’s an elusive one. So, for $12 a month, he risks his life as an electrician.
“It’s a risk, I know, it’s a risk. That risk isn’t good,” he says. “But life is hard.”
Otieno is a hero in Kibera.
In light of the events occurring on Northwest flight 253 in Detroit on Christmas day, he should also be considered a hero here in America.
It would have been more comprehensible had Umar Farouk Abdul Mutallib had lead the hard life of Otieno.
Otieno would be a prime target as an al-Qaeda recruit except that Otieno choose life. Although he risks his life for $12.00 per month, he shows that he respects life by trying to work with his neighbors to insure that they have electricity.
The hard life must be frustrating at times. It was certainly frustrating for Barack Obama Sr. who took to the bottle to sooth his pain.
Unlike many Africans, the senior Obama came to America to become educated. After earning his doctorate, he returned to his homeland of Kenya to make a difference.
Before returning, he left America a gift: a son who is now the first African America President.
Now some 48 years later, Africans continue to come to America to be educated, but do not return to their homeland to make a difference. They cite the continuing corruption as reasons.
However, some use that same excuse as a disguise to perpetuate their own greed and comfort here in America.
For example, a federal jury in Greenbelt Maryland convicted Louisa Satia and her husband Kevin Nanji of holding an uneducated Cameroonian teenager in involuntary servitude. Involuntary servitude is a violation of the 13th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution which outlawed slavery in this country.
The teenager testified that her family expected that she would work as a domestic while attending high school when she came to the country illegally in December 1996. Instead, she said she was ordered to work round-the-clock, cleaning, cooking and caring for the couple’s three young children.
U.S. District Judge Alexander Williams Jr. also ordered Louisa Satia, 36, and Kevin Nanji, 41, to pay their victim $105,306. Williams said the figure was a conservative estimate of what the couple owed the teenager, who is now 18, for her labor if she had been paid a little more than $12 an hour. Ironically, the hourly rate is the equivalent of Otieno’s monthly earnings.
With its vast natural resources, which apparently includes the people, there is no reason for the ongoing poverty in Africa, which is compounded by the lack of bacteria free drinking water.
But for the government sanctioned corruption, there should be enough money to feed and educate all who reside on the Dark Continent. The corruption permits outside countries such as Australia to exploit the natural resources for financial gain which is shared by the corrupt government officials who doesn’t pretend to practice the fairytale trickle down economic theory of the Reagan administration.
Rich and wealthy African Americans like Oprah Winfrey, Alicia Keyes, Chris Rock, and Jay Z raise funds here in the U.S. to assist the unfortunate inhabitants. Although they spend millions, it pales in comparison to the money that is taken out as a result of the corruption.
Further it does not resolve the problem. It only throws money at it. As the old Chinese proverb says, “Give a man a fish, you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime”. We have taught many Africans how to fish, but they do so in our pond. In order to be helpful, they must take these skills back to their homeland and teach others. Further they must stay and demand change in their corrupt Government.
Although Otieno chooses life, will the next generation do the same? African Americans know all- to- well the answer, after experiencing the drug epidemic that has destroyed the Black community. Every day, we see and read about the gang activity that stands as the foundation of the criminal activity existing in the once upon a time segregated communities. Despite the civil rights movement, the ghetto, and/or rural slums have become a breeding ground for gang life.
As we now know Umar Farouk Abdul Mutallib comes from no such background. The young 23 year old Nigerian is the son of Alhaji Umaru Mutallib, a prominent Nigerian banker and former cabinet official. We don’t know what prompted this son of privilege to join al Qaeda in its’ quest to kill Americans. But if a son of privilege will jump on the radical bandwagon, it is no doubt that poverty stricken Africa is a breeding ground for the terrorist gang known as al-Qaeda.
The only remedy is to stop the corruption within and without.
We know that the senior Barack Obama was not successful at alleviating the corruption. Will his son who is the most powerful man on earth be successful?
In World War II, African Americans were faced with fighting discrimination within the United States, and fighting Hitler outside. A double victory campaign was initiated in the African American community. I suggest that we embark on a new double victory campaign to assure the success of our President.
A double victory for the father and the son.
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Tags: Africa, africans, al Qaeda, Alhaji Umaru Mutallib, Alicia Keyes, Chris Rock, Detroit, Francis Otieno, James Thompson, Jay-Z, Kevin Nanji, Kibera, Louisa Satia, Nairobi, Northwest Flight 253, Oprah Winfrey, Robyn Dixon, Susan Kidd, U.S. Judge Alexander Williams Jr., Umar Farouk Abdul Mutallib