May 1, 2011

KENYA: Are we witnessing the end of Hakuna Matata era?

KAMPALA, Uganda / Daily Monitor / OpEd / Commentary / May 1, 2011

By Nafha Maani Ebrahimi

The first time I heard the expression Hakuna Matata (a Swahili expression meaning No problem or no worries) was during my travels in Kenya. This was many years before the publication of the now famous movie ‘The Lion King’. Shortly after, one could hear many people using Hakuna Matata even though they did not speak any other Swahili word. This expression always reminded people of a mode of life that was laid back and associated with sun, sea, palm trees and a stress-free life.

Maybe they were right, because some years ago you would meet genuinely smiling faces on roads and in the hospitality industry, and from time to time notice someone dancing on a corner of a street while doing their daily chores.

But then I came across a recent report published by a Gallup poll that Kenyans are among the saddest people in the world; poverty and being unable to make ends meet were major causes of this sadness. I doubt if the story is any different in Uganda and Tanzania.

I once talked to an elderly Tanzanian and asked how the mood was some years ago, and he said that money had some value back then and even if you had a low salary, one could still buy things for the family and have a bit of saving for the rainy day. Today one’s salary evaporates even before it reaches the wallet. It is interesting that the smile did not leave the face of this man throughout our discussion! Now it seems that with population explosion, scarcity of land and adverse climate change, even the little that found itself on the table seems to have gone missing. But then is this sadness or something else?

The same Gallup Poll stated that poverty and the inability to buy food is one of the main reasons why people are sad. In another report the same Gallup Poll mentioned that the French are the saddest people in the world, so when I think of French, the situation in Europe and the number of immigrants trying to make it to that continent for one reason or another, then I wonder why would the French be the saddest people in the world? Gallup should conduct a poll on the definition of sadness and happiness; is being grim on the face because you are hungry considered sadness, or the need to have a decent meal? And why is it that in many European countries where food and leisure are available for most, people’s mood depends on how good or bad the weather is!

I don’t want to see the end of the Hakuna Matata era.

The joy and spirituality stemming from the pure hearts in our warm African continent should not be affected by the cold materialistic winds blowing in the world today. This continent seems to be one of the last refuges for an ailing humanity!

Ms Nafha Maani Ebrahimi is a social critic