Kuna hella (18 billion dollars worth) of Matata

6/24/08

The average American speaks a few words of Swahili. You might not know it, but you probably do. A smelly talking warthog and clever merecat taught you a very long time ago that “Hakuna Matata” means “no worries” (for the rest of your days. its a problem free…etc).

Yesterday I tried to help Charntel pick cow pea leaves from our shamba (garden) for dinner. I wasn’t very good at it, it took me a while to find the right leaves and a couple of times I even accidentally put a weed in our basket by mistake. The second time I did that I apologized profusely; feeling extremely incompetent at any picking that isn’t from a supermarket self full of generally decent produce.

She told me “hakuna matata” which of course prompted me to break into song. She looked at me quizzically, laughing at my enthusiastic outburst. I explained that it was a Disney movie all about talking animals and that it was perhaps one of the first (if not only) things that many children learn about Africa.

“Do all of these Disney movies have only talking animals?” she asked.

I tried to think back, running through Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, Sleeping Beauty, Mulan…Nope they all had main characters that were people.

“Do they think we are animals then??” Charntel was pissed.

I tried to explain that it wasn’t like that at all but she was still a little ticked off by the time we went back inside. To change the subject, I asked if it was true, if Kenya’s motto really was “no worries.” She strongly agreed that it was, telling me that there are no worries if you don’t cause problems.

My host mom overheard the conversation and corrected her, “Hapana, kuna matata sometimes” (No, there are worries sometimes). “The rural areas where people die of hunger, that’s kuna matata, last December, whoa, that was kuna matata mingi.”(a lot of worries)

Last December was the post-election violence. I hadn’t ever asked her directly about it, finding it to be a subject that most Kenyans would like to forget. But I felt like I knew her well enough now to broach the subject, asking her what the violence was like. She answered without hesitation.

“For over a month we couldn’t leave the house. We could hear bullets hitting the roof, all the time. Baba would go out every time it cooled down and try to buy food. Sometimes he couldn’t get any. At one point all the routes into Kakamega were shut down. We made do with what we had in the shamba but yea, that was a lot of matata.”

Actually, to be exact, it is over $18 billion dollars per year worth of matata. That’s how much armed conflict costs Africa every year. That money could solve the HIV/AIDS crisis, provide treatment and prevention for TB and malaria or provide education and water for every African.

The numbers come from an article I read as part of my program called “Africa’s Missing Billions.” It attempts to calculate the cost spent per year on weapons, ammunition, rebuilding infrastructure and the drop in GDP due to conflict.

One of the most shocking parts of the article was that statistic that 95 % of rifles and ammunition used in Africa are imported. The article argues for a strong and effective Arms Treaty. It seems like kind of a “duh”. If people don’t have weapons, they’re going to have to get a little bit more creative in how they solve their differences.