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A few months ago, I burnt my Safaricom modem. It was a Friday. I had stayed up late on Thursday with a big deadline that needed me to be online. For months, my unlimited data bundle had been stopping, starting, vanishing, lying, pretending and generally behaving like a Sub-Chief during the late Moi years. When they stopped unlimited internet, I bought enough data under the promise made by Bob Collymore (the parallel president of Kenya, and the Vice President of the Twitterverse of Kenya) that the system would no longer be overwhelmed. I like to know I am connected, and have been a huge buyer of bandwidth, first from CELTEL, and later from Safaricom. Zuku and AccessKenya are not available in my area. Orange has no network that works near Bomas of Kenya. At 1 am Thursday, I gave up. It felt like I was using a 1980s dialup. I decided to sleep, wake up at 4 am, and hope that there was lower usage at the time. 5 am, hiccup, hiccup, disconnect, hiccup, connect, hiccup, disconnect, hiccup, hiccup, hiccup, you are connected! No – it seems as if you are connected. You are actually not surfing. 6 am. I have not had five minutes of continuous connection. Call customer care. No, the network is working fine. Fine. The problem suggested, it must be you. Can I help you to use our modem better? Do you want to buy the faster one. What is your location No, sir we have had no connection problems over the past few months? No sir, I can’t lie, I work for safaricom. Lying is for humans. How can the air lie? Our 4g network is utterly Ultramodern, it is Megawatti, Mwenyenchi, It is massed choir on the mountain. It is, sir, standing with you and all of Kenya, on top of the mountain with a flag and the Great Rift Valley, and the wildebeest migration. It is, at present, touring a slum with Bob Collymore, it is Hip Hip Huwei. No sir, the hiccups are probably your bad vibes affecting the system, if you submit, assume YOUR error in doubting us, and stop shouting, the rivers of data will flow. Please sir, I am not Customer Service! Nooo. That would assume the customer has an issue to service. That the customer has some idea what he is
doing, what he needs, and needs assistance to get value for his money. That I, Binyavanga, am fully equal to safaricom because I bought something that promised something and the promises have repeatedly been broken. That not once, ever, has a text come to my phone saying (we are unable for the next few hours, to SUPPLY WHAT YOU BOUGHT). WE WERE UNABLE to provide the bandwidth you bought from us for three months. No Sir. No, no sir, that is NOT stealing. We know, sir, you see, that we govern a territory very very large. It is around you like air. Every time you turn, you breathe us in, and we take a little of you. We sir, are inevitable. We are situated there near where all the water you all drink, the milk you buy, the aroma of the children you love, the half loaf you chew absentmindedly. Our product actually manages to move through your body, into your nostrils, through your walls and it is fully operational in that little pool of water underneath your bum while you poo. We are not a mere product you can talk to. So, sir, I work for Customer Care, not Customer Service…nothing of ours needs servicing. I just am. Because I just am, like God, and cannot be shaken by your irregular and peculiar needs we hire people for Customer Care who sometimes fix problems, but mostly soothe the flawed human beings who need ritual clicks of empathy to cool down and submit to our power. So, Mr Binyavanga, somebody, someday, one of ours will call you back, maybe even later today, if you are lucky. I hope you are not in the toilet when they call, if you miss the call you will have to wait until Monday, or even forget it). We suspect that u know, and we most certainly know, you have nowhere else to go, and we have nothing but time and truckloads of money, and a choir of two. If you scream, very loudly on twitter, and will not be soothed, we will just rush and build a thousand toilets in the slum, or a sponsor a sweating tusker beer with nice hips and dreadlocks that will stand nervously and realityteeveeley on stage and sms all Kenyans silly tender nothings as he sings, I’m every Human, Niko na saaaafcom…. At six PM, I burnt my modem.
I decided to at least enjoy my Friday, tweeting savagely. Safaricom was mostly unmoved. Ha. Then, in the afternoon at 3, when the stuff started spreading, somebody called George called wanting to ‘solve my problem’. I told him I had no problem, what I had was a cheap lighter and a video camera. George purred and rubbed my legs like a cat over the phone, and clicked my toes and smoothed my brow, and said, tell me your pain, how can I take it away. I wanted to hang up, he purred. Then he said, ‘please don’t burn the modem, we can talk, we can do something…’. That threw me off. I had been hypnotized for a minute, and in truth was really really tired and stressed, deadline missed, money lost. I was about to capitulate, take a nap, buy a beer. But that new tone sounded familiar, it was the ‘sponsorship voice’. The r u open for a ‘muhongo’ tone I know so well. `What do you mean? I asked sharply. We are good people, he purred, and we are flexible. We are….heeeem….open…… to….heeeem…. talking…. NGAI. Yaani, yaani, maybe, I imagine..they will say, we will give you two days in Nanyuki where you will attend the renaming of Mount Kenya to Mount Safcom, and you will stand with the choir and brandbuild yourself as you sing Niko Na Safaricom, and then we will give you a per diem and 30k. Maybe they will say. In fact, we have it on good authority that Bob Collymore himselluf will follow u on twitter and commit to retweeting you fourteen times over twenty-five days. They will invite you to the Sfaricom Young leadership Initiative Challenge. They will open a platinum sms service for you, where you with receive four free songs, and 3,000 bongapoints. I am sure he will say something like…Just don’t speak the truth. Lets network and brandbuild together. For Kenya. I am sure he will shed a tear as he says this, Keeenya. But. I think to myself. But…I can’t even fucking network you fuckers. I hang up. I burnt my modem.
We have finally reached that place where the very atmosphere around us has been tagged and measured for somebody’s profit. The angriest need twitter to ferment revolution. Twitter itself is bigger than the Middle East. Google sits on a table with China. And MPESA manages our money. These guys do not look like SHELL OIL, or the crude warehouse owner who has starving hawker slaves buried under his property and released on our streets selling shrilling trinkets of China. This is real power. So SAFCOM can finance an activist who draws graffiti vultures of corrupt Kenyan politicians – which is to say, you can fuck with Kibaki, and raila, but don’t dare fuck with the real powers. So. So. SO. SO. What’s wrong with that? Isn’t MPESA good? And MDoctor, and Mdemocracy and Melection and so on. Me I wish some Somali billionaires would meet some River Roadi Billionaires buy an optic fibre and open up MWETU, and MSISI at a third of the price as those mafias. Sigh. Unlikely I know. Just Networks that genuinely offer variety, competition and value. I wish, wish, there was a blackmarket for data. Real compe. Mitumba data. Right now the mafias have us by the boobs and by the balls. And their demand, made with no need for aggression, is submit utterly to their process, submit with good cheer, and Kenyan lick arse friendliness, pay our given price, for whatever given, and pay all the costs for our price, and shut up. Make a song, give us 60 percent to distribute it for you. We owe you no explanation. We will owe you one when u have leverage. Right now u don’t. You will do what we say. You will follow Bob Collymore on twitter, waiting waiting for the day he will reply to your regular jolly happy you are wonderful Bob tweets, waiting for him to say, hey funky artist, do you want to come into our headquarters and talk about sponsorship? But ..but Kenyans we are with our mock shock. Ngai. Did you hear Binya burnt his modem? Waaa! And video-ed it. When in corporate mass brainwashing, did a simple act like that become ‘controversial’? Are people mad? Si I bought it, and burnt it, and then can buy another? When I want to? But But – you may once need them as a
sponsor. Ohhh..so that’s why so many sponsored things are so watered down, safe and personality free. Mimicry? Eeeeeh. Who wants the truth. No price for that in this market monopoly. Who said twitter in Kenya is about expressing yourself? It’s about hanging around and hoping a door will open. To really speak freely means risking your career, even when your career is thinking freely, and asking critical questions, and peering through the blocked walls of manufactured bullshit we are told is the whole truth. Sent from my Mnew Huwei Safcom Modem, still waiting for a better option.
9/3/2012 11:48:00 PM
9/3/2012 11:48:00 PM