Beggars In Nairobi

By Immanuel Lokwei,

Very few people, myself excluded, do set aside a portion of their monthly budget for beggars. I believe I don’t need any statistical backing to emphasize that given the high numbers of “masufferers” out everywhere, to whom the travails of budget planning only exist in their realm of imaginations, the percentage of these exceptional individuals dips below a negligible percentage – no doubt.

But what’s the point anyway when it’s quite clear that nobody is expected to commit to such acts of charity? Though the exceptions can be commended for their charitable habits, the majority cannot be criticized either. One can argue that acts of charity mostly lack categorical import since they lie in a different class of actions. Unlike my responsibility to pay rent (etc.), it is hard to conjure a universal obligation that bespeaks of my duty to a beggar or a horde of beggars.

In fact if there is a duty, it must be a duty to avoid beggars. I have been doing just that though not quite consistently. From instance, along Tom Mboya Street where you can easily run into a beggar(s) almost every 20M, I have occasionally succumbed to that self-serving temptation which you yourself might have at times indulged in. I have heard that clatter of coins I tossed into these beggars’ tins/palms. These sounds don’t echo my compassion for these beggars for I’ve none for them. Beggars and pity are quite mismatched.

You are welcome to judge my attitude toward these beggars. You know that I am free to act toward these beggars as I wish and contrive at least provided I do not harm them physically. Actions matter more than the so-called “intentions” or contempt. After all these beggars are not in the streets to search for “intentions” or subjective antecedents but actual and tangible returns – i.e. money. And as a consequentialist, I know I am nobler than many people and public entities (government and religious bodies) whose policies and praxis in regard to these beggars’ welfare betrays their professed “noble regards.” Or you tell me even a less-serious social policy that has been enacted to elevate these beggars’ living conditions or to cut even by a fifth their numbers? Preferably, a few coins even with a bit of spite are many times better than “respect” without palpable concern.

By definition a beggar is anyone who begs. Okay, that’s damn simple. If anyone implores for life’s basic necessities and she is not motivated into this lifestyle by a particular spiritual goal, then she is clearly the epitome of a beggar. Fine, it impossible to reduce the various types of beggars to one short and simple definition! I can easily name four types of this human-“menagerie”: stationary/mobile beggars, artistic/butterfly beggars, secular beggars, and invisible beggars. Despite this diversity, two things can be said about all of them: they belong to no Beggars’ Union (like Kenyan teachers do to Kenya National Union of Teachers though both begging and teaching are full-time occupations), and they are a practical lot – they would rather have cash than say emotional support.

You may be deploring my patronizing attitude towards these beggars. Nonetheless I sometimes hurl coins at these beggars despite my attitude and out of sheer want to defy and traverse contrary fields of deliberations. The elemental things I crave are to feel that whatever forms of rationalism or irrationalism do not bind me and to enjoy the arbitrariness that comes with unpremeditated “charity.” Charity really? Would your or my 20-shilling coin really amount to HELP or even equal that disproportionate conscience catharsis that we deviously stimulate in our minds after our “charitable” gestures?

First, the meager “charitable” acts are quite unsustainable and they reinforce a false sense of HELP to beggars while really denying them the autonomy they most deserve. Second, to have someone depend on my flaky mercies of “charity” is to debase them. Third, what can be done?

Shall we then withdraw individuals’ “charities?” How about forming a Beggars’ Union? Maybe the answer can be found by finding a mean between what Nietzsche calls decadent morality of pity and forcing government to create policies that effectively address the plight of beggars. Here’s Nietzsche’s jab: “In our whole unhealthy modernity there is nothing more unhealthy than Christian pity. To be physicians here, to be inexorable here, to wield the scalpel here —that is our part, that is our love of man, that is how we are philosophers, we Hyperboreans.” You get the quote? I don’t but it sounds quite fascinating. Math is not my vocation, so I am predisposed to compel the government to create a ministry that caters for beggars’ welfare. It’s prudent to advocate for beggars now for nobody knows what the future holds – hopefully not the undignified acts of begging.

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