An Honest Day’s Work – Is that demeaning?

So Kenya’s self-appointed “peeler of masks” Miguna Miguna has “peeled” yet another “mask” by revealing that Gem MP, Jakoyo Midiwo was a taxi driver and a mortuary attendant when he was living in the US in the late 1990s. The author of Peeling Back the Mask; A Quest for Justice in Kenya went on to say that Mr. Midiwo, a current member of parliament “later returned to Kenya without anything to show for having lived in the US for more than a decade”; this in spite the fact that he, Mr. Midiwo is a legislature for the good people of Gem. And in typical Miguna Miguna fashion, the former aide to Prime Minister Raila Odinga concluded that “without his blood relationship to the Odingas, he (Midiwo) would be a total failure…

http://www.kenyan-post.com/2013/12/jakoyo-midiwo-was-taxi-driver-and.html

Like Jakoyo Midiwo, I came to the United States standing on the shoulders of friends and family; all who came together to raise funds for my plane ticket and initial living expenses. Like Mr. Midiwo, I did jobs/assignments Mr. Miguna would find less-than-appealing to support and put myself through college. In short, my life in America, seemingly like that of Mr. Midiwo and as chronicled in my book Wuodha: My journey from Kenya to these United States was bumpy with some very dark moments. It was also made possible by others without who I may have been “a total failure”. I will also point out that arguably the most important and famous man of my generation and current President of the United States Barack Hussein Obama came to be because his father Barack Obama Sr came to the United States courtesy of the generosity of others before him; namely the late Tom Mboya.

Memo to Mr. Miguna Miguna:

Maybe it is a function of the different cultures – America and Kenya – we have lived in but I can categorically say that there is nothing wrong driving a taxi or working as a mortuary attendant. Millions in my adopted home America have built solid lives and careers driving taxis and working in mortuaries. Similarly, maybe Mr. Miguna is a self-made man and did not need relatives (and friends) to help him along his illustrious life and career. However, some of us needed the kindness of wealthy and generous relatives AND friends to get over the hump. I know I did!

On working as a taxi driver, I wonder whether the Canadian-trained barrister knows that a taxi license (or medallion) in New York is actually a major investment whose value appreciates over time thus earning the owner equity much like a stock or house. As an example, on October 2011, a medallion auction prices topped $1million or kshs. 82million a piece! Taxi drivers, mostly from Africa and Asia have put their children through Ivy League schools using the appreciated value of their taxi medallion.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_York_taxi#Medallions

Regarding working as a mortuary attendant, the Atlantic Magazine writes that “dying in America is expensive” in its analysis of the funeral/mortuary industry; one that is worth $15billion annually; just under half of Kenya’s gross domestic product (GDP) in 2012 ($37.5billion). In other words, the INDUSTRY whose workers Mr. Miguna is denigrating is ~40% the size of the entire value of goods and services produced in Kenya in 2012!

http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2011/01/the-10-companies-that-control-the-death-industry/69768/

http://www.tradingeconomics.com/kenya/gdp

The foregoing summation of the taxi and mortuary industries is to counter what I believe is Miguna Miguna’s disparagement of the fact that an apparent political rival Jakoyo Midiwo not only worked as a taxi driver and a mortuary attendant while in the US, but is where he is because of his relationship to the Odinga family.

There are people who work as taxi drivers and mortuary attendants while studying for their ultimate career. There are doctors, scientists and computer programmers who moonlight as cab drivers and 7/11 clerks all across America even as they keep their focus on what their long term goal is – including becoming a lawyer. There are also others who use said (menial) jobs as a stepping stone towards owning their own taxi or funeral home.

Mr. David Karangu, owner of one of the largest black-owned car dealership in Atlanta, GA started off working as a car salesman while attending Morgan State University. For the record, car salespeople occupy the least-trusted and least-respected positions in the US economy http://943thepoint.com/what-are-the-most-trusted-and-least-trusted-professions/. For “deigning” to work in the least-trusted least-respected job in America, Mr. Karangu was recognized by the Black Enterprise Magazine’s Top 100 black-owned business and by Cable News Network (CNN) as one of the most prominent black business owners in the US car market. How dare he make an honest living in such a “dishonest and disrespected position” AND rise to such heights?

http://alusainc.wordpress.com/2008/02/05/david-karangu-augusta-georgia/

Back to Mr. Miguna2’s rant against Mr. Midiwo:

It speaks of one’s insecurity if they have to speak ill of others or talk about what they own or where they live; presumably to show that they “have more or are ‘better’ ”. This is simple psychology but before I receive questions regarding my qualifications from the acid-tongued lawyer, let me state categorically that I am NOT a trained psychologist. I just took a 3 introductory classes as a sophomore in college. This would not be the first time I have read about Kenyans denigrating other Kenyans because of what they do or how their lives have progressed/are progressing. It is not unusual to read comments/blogs by Kenyans telling fellow Kenyans in the diaspora to “go back and wipe the asses of the elderly” or to “come back home instead of flipping burgers at McDonald” as a counter to any criticism of the way things are back home.

In Wuodha, I write about thinking that “I (had) finally made it” as a valet was bringing me what I thought was the car of dreams; the very thing that gave me the inflated sense of self! Fortunately (of unfortunately), this bloated sense of self-importance was completely deflated when I saw the cars belonging to the other patrons of the restaurant my son and I had just patronized; cars that made my car look like a mkokoteni! I also write about making small talk with nondescript-looking customers at a favorite coffee shop in downtown Palo Alto; customers who unbeknownst to me at the time, had options worth millions of dollars from the hottest social media company in the valley! Finally, I point out that the beauty of Silicon Valley is that one can never tell how much money someone has because they rarely talk about it or flash it around.

An interesting corollary: Leading up to the initial public offering (IPO) of Facebook shares, an event that promised millions to the company’s twenty-something programmers and software engineers, rumor has it that the CEO Mark Zuckerberg let it be known that he would find it “uncool” if one of his underlings were to pull up in a Lamborghini shortly after the public offering! http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/18/technology/a-start-up-is-gold-for-facebooks-new-millionaires.html?pagewanted=all. I am not sure whether the newly-minted millionaires heeded their boss’s advice but I know that the cars I see in company’s parking lot do not speak to the wealth generated by the IPO.

Mr. Miguna on the other hand feels the need to point out that he lives in Runda where “failures” do not live! http://www.jamiiforums.com/kenyan-politics/562074-miguna-miguna-why-i-hit-raila-below-the-belt.html

During my life in these United States, I have tried to take pride in whatever job I have been fortunate to have: I have worked as a machine operator opening and closing the door of an injection/molding press, five sometimes six days a week, eight (8) hours a day from 11:30PM to 7AM. I have also cleaned up after customers at a Jack-In-The-Box – a fast food restaurant similar to McDonald’s, including washing dirty and soiled toilets. I have worked the famous Holiday Pie Crush at Bakers Square and Pie Shop. All this I did to support myself and pay my way through college even as I remitted millions of shillings, yes millions of shillings back to the very people on whose shoulders I stood on my way to America. Isn’t it ironic that the very taxi drivers and mortuary attendants Mr. Miguna is disparaging contribute as much foreign exchange to Kenya’s economy as do tea, horticulture and tourism?

http://www.theafricareport.com/Reuters-Feed/Kenyan-remittances-on-course-for-record-in-2013.html

Mr. Miguna, there is nothing to be ashamed of doing “menial” work to earn an honest living. That you ridicule people who “drive taxis” or “work as a mortuary attendant” says more about you than it does about them.

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