Monday, 2 December 2013


Kenyans seem to be very fond of big time events and ceremonies. Lately, I’ve witnessed two.

Despite of its remarkable natural beauty, the Taita Hills are not that well known to the outside world. Given the state of the roads here, I’d put that down to a question of accessibility, but the local decision makers are not giving up that easily. It’s a question of fame, they say! So what you do is you organize a big thing, in lack of a better word to describe it with. You contract some local pop starlets to perform, and most importantly you pay to have the top three football teams in the country play games on the central stadium (a description that is more than slightly exaggerated from the European point of view), the fourth team attending being a collection of local heroes called Taita Combined (Note: They did not call it Taita United).

And so the whole community gathers on this patch of grass with a goal in both ends. As is the custom here, no numbers are given or estimated, but I would say the attendance easily reaches five digit numbers. And of course there’s no chance of a cloudy day, not to mention a shady spot to sit down on. In the first game Taita Combined meets the reigning Kenyan champions, Gor Mahia. It’s a slaughter, but what I remember from the game is the celebration that ensued as Taita managed to score that one precious goal, despite already being 0-4 down. On a stadium where the line between the field and ‘the stands’ is very fluid and with one policeman around keeping order, it was no surprise that the field was in a blink of an eye flooded with cheering Taitas, hugging everything in red, singing songs, blowing vuvuzelas and dancing. After quite some time, when I was about to make the decision to leave, the game continued and Goliath scored a few more goals. No one cared. In the following game, the big national favorites, the Leopards, took a beating that was on par with that seen in the first match.

What I found a bit worrying was that some of the spectators had clearly carried from home rocks instead of snacks. I’ve heard of throwing items on the pitch in fanatic football cultures, but this seemed a bit too much… In the end, they were not used on the players but on fellow supporters! I was apparently in a section exclusively for sitting down. Get up, get hit! Some did, with painful consequences.

Big Man comes
But that wasn’t all. On half-time of the second match, the unmistakable sound of helicopter wings could be heard. A big boss had decided to make an appearance, and landed flat in the middle of the football field, sending players, officials and fans scattering to all directions. Speeches were held in Swahili, there were standing ovations, but still to this day I don’t know who the big boss was. Some say it was the local governor (in Kiswahili called, imaginatively, gavana), some say it was the deputy president William Ruto himself, supposed to be in The Hague for all I know…

Anyway, after hours in the sun, we all staggered home roasted and exhausted. I pity those who live out of walking distance: there was enough public transport for about one percent of the people. There was something about the rawness and stripped down execution of the event that made the experience so much more intense than something similar back home. No order, no services, only the core of the happening itself. (The same, by the way, goes for the East Africa Safari Classic, which surprisingly returned to Taita seven days after leaving town.)


The chaotic view left by such an event on a communal gathering place with little waste management is beyond description. This is where the second event comes in. After a week of beholding the field of polythene bags, beer cans and other trash that once was the football stadium, a pride of the community, someone decided to do something. An NGO called the Taita Environment Initiative (TEI) took the initiative to pick up the trash, if only slightly late, mobilizing other community based groups and ending up with about one hundred people (farmers, students, scouts…) cleaning up the mess.

During an interview with the fine people at TEI, I was naturally invited with one day’s notice. Me being a mzungu running around town asking questions on, among other things, waste management and the collection system, I shouldn’t have been that surprised. So I went there, sat on stage for the opening ceremonies (as what some have in other contexts called the ‘token white man’) and gathered garbage for an hour. For some minutes during that morning, I felt like a celebrity:  Nothing tells more about the sick twists of history and global relations than noticing that a few Kenyans are filming a white man picking up trash in a public space. Anyway, good deed of the year done!

I don’t want to take anything away from an awareness-raising event such as this. Of course, it is a good step towards making a community cleaner, but what is easily forgotten is that it is just plain wrong that waste collection is allowed to become a special event in the communal routine, instead of the continuous activity it should be. If someone (What about the organizers of the first event?) would take their responsibility, such ‘cleaning days’ would not and should not be needed. And still, the centering of trash to piles only goes so far if no containers are provided. Piles can of course be collected by truck, but it’s hardly a sustainable solution, given everything from rain and wind to animals in spreading that garbage again. And of course, this cleaning day only concentrated on collecting the waste and transporting it to big dumpsites, but there were not many mentions on the final disposal of the waste. I assume it is still burned. Wouldn’t this have been a wonderful opportunity to talk also about recycling?

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