inside the world of modern slavery

I have grown up to experience brands, branding, brand products, even been a creative director for various social enterprise brands. I have been here during Tree Top, Cofta, Breacol, and Cow Boy cooking fat. I know quite a bit about brands and branding, contrary to what the art directors and copy writers club of Kenya think after I asked someone to develop for me a logo KES 5,000. I have nothing against brands and branding, but I have concern over the consumerism that branding creates.

Our society faces several problems today, from a people that do not care about their environment to people who fart and expect it not to smell. From governments that screw their own citizens on a sunny tarmac in broad day light to “fierce” lady gaga mojito sipping ratchets. Over the recent past, one thing that has caught my attention is the sheerness with which young people are becoming petty thieves, of wallets, shirts, shoes, underwear and “pants”.

I don’t know about you, but I have been a victim of a particular age set of friends, say between 18 to 28 years, who will, at any possible opportunity, steal your wallet, or not give change back after you send them to the shop, or clad in your decent shirt as soon as you leave it hanging on the line, or run away with your iPod or newly bought pair of kitenge shorts to go show off to their friends. They do silly things, which they expect to get away with, and be accepted back as “young and foolish”. They are increasingly becoming unpopular and unwanted at events, especially private parties where they have a way of showing up uninvited.

I kept wondering about this phenomenon for a few months now. And with time, I realize, these are young people wanting to become and belong, but not accepting that it takes hard work and sheepish sacrifice, or patience, like waiting to have sex in marriage. Their complementing age set, the 28 to 38 year old, popularly known as the working-class, have a different set of malfunction and problems, the which comes with the working class.

They work too hard (at least 40 hours a week, even more, with 21 days annual leave and are awarded a medical cover by the employer to ensure that they work through out the year) to earn enough to consume every penny on brands. And once it kicks off at 28, unless miraculously stopped, it is runs for a lifetime. So, from a wannabe-consumer to a perfect-lifetime consumer, who only eats chicken from Kentucky Fried Chicken and only washes it down with a Coke on the rocks.

What is consistent between these 2 age sets, and even beyond, is consumption tendencies, and the blindness with which the  society is slowly adjusting itself to normalize consumerism. I know I might sound silly but disturbing because I am possibly one of the few who see it this way, and simply because majority are caught up on the other side of consuming stuff, it doesn’t mean that majority is always is right. If majority is always right, look at Kenyans and their “50% + 1 vote majority” government today.

A billboard erected in front of shopping stalls in Westlands, Nairobi - Kenya. Photo courtesy of TENDWA.

A billboard erected in front of shopping stalls in Westlands, Nairobi – Kenya. Photo courtesy of TENDWA.

If you been keen enough over the past 10 years, you might have seen that the beauty of cities is now equivalent to the number of billboards erected on skyscrapers, fighting for the attention of the eye. You have seen billboard after billboard being erected around cities and villages, some precariously on top of buildings, others on paths, some that block the natural flow of light into buildings, forcing residents to keep lights on for night and day (blindly paying higher power bills and generally complaining about increasing standards of living).

Recently, they mounted multi million high resolution LCD panels for advertising on the neck of the Kenyatta International Conference Centre, and there was not a problem with the “business deal” until (some) Kenyans cried out loud, equating the act to raping a national monument. (Kenyans can be conveniently patriotic, but that’s a story for another day). Its only until then that the management of KICC realized they had gone too far into greed.

Every advert is meant to inculcate a non-thinking individual in the society, one that should not do nothing else but work hard/harder to earn some more money, then sit down to consume it all on brands. If you cant work-hard, then play-hard to get much money to support your consumption. Become a con, trickster, cyber porn star, politician, sell sex, get your self a daddy or mummy, sell air or a policy to insure someone’s hair against the weather.

Every single advert is meant to improve your life by lessening the amount of work you do, but does not explain what to do with the extra time saved. Don’t cook, go instant, get a microwave oven. Don’t wash dishes, get a dishwasher. Don’t wash clothes, get a front load washing machine. Keep your brain free from hassle as much as you can. You can hang out with friends as a full time occupation.

If not hanging out, just sit down, watch TV, watch more adverts, crave some more, work some more of you have a job, play harder if that’s what you need to keep it running, be jealous of your friends some more, buy a lot more stuff in order to fit in, consume some more, and grow more fat. Work more and more, to earn some more money, and live a miserable life that is attached to brands.

Its all covered for you, you are insured against earth, you have it delivered to your door step, its on your phone app, learn how to explain how real stuff works, use words like “at the touch of a button” and “its at your finger tips”. In return, just sit ad consume, consume some more, consume even more; all you need is a life without struggle, save for working harder and playing harder to maintain your consumerist lifestyle. Contrary to popular opinions that governments run the world, its actually corporates that do, through their citizens – the consumers.

And in Africa, they are trying to fit in and become. Contrary to popular belief that the international criminal court is the neo-colonization of Africa, consumerism is the real guy. Africans are increasingly becoming enslaved in consumerism, from cars to fashion, from tech gadgets to designer perfume, to eating pizza while encouraging the planting of flowers, tea and coffee for export.

They are lining up to buy the iPhone, which, until recently, was not allowed to be available in Africa. But what we did was, jail break the iPhones, running away from apple, not to get caught by apple for having an illegal phone that they would block, sticking with a phone whose operating system you do not upgrade – running way from the very functional Nokia 3310.  We also buy a lot of fake hiphones, from china.

With time, society is increasingly becoming brainless, and depending on self-help guides written by celebrities that “aid” people to become “real” people. Self help guides on “how to be a super man” and “how to be a fantastic woman”. All these border on consumerist tendencies, a watch here, a belt there, a hand bag, a hair product, a car… leaving back a people that don’t know how to manage their own emotions and garbage because they pay for it to be given or taken away from them respectively.  Like people can’t build stable interpersonal relationships just the same way they cannot dispose their own shit.

I been emancipating myself from consumerism slavery, and the last thing I kicked out of my bathroom bag was the deo stick. What was that thing about?


4 responses to “inside the world of modern slavery

  1. Thank you for penning this piece. I am often amazed at how individuals I consider intelligent do not quite get what consumerism has done to society. I do not own a TV, I have a library. I have not had TV since 2008. When visitors come to my home, they have no choice but to talk. Once I freed myself from TV,the freedom and great things that have come my way cannot be counted. when I see commercials while visiting family and friends, I feel like laughing at their absurdity. My husband and I are termed as hippies by close friends, but they visit us and stay for entire weekends, because even if they don’t know it,they are able to become themselves, when bullshit is tuned out and they are nit staring at the emptiness box. Hongera for this piece!

    • It’s been a few years without tv and radio, and it does fee truly liberating. I do hope that my kids will grow in the same space and not have to fall into the usual trap. That’s always a delicate balance

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