Christmas Holiday Brings Out the Queer Side of Kenyan Shoppers

If you can’t beat them, join them. That’s why fares will hike. Prices will spike. Loyalty points will double. Penalties will surge. Salary advances will thrive.

Christmas season is here. And purchasing logic isn’t. This festive season brings out the essence of the Kenyan buyer.

Christmas period, just as with child delivery, is an emergency for him. I was once a member of the management committee of a Sacco. It never ceased to surprise me that a member would apply for an emergency loan and without batting an eyelid say it’s because, “Bibi amejifungua” (My wife has just given birth). Pray tell, how does a nine-month notice construe an emergency?

There’s always time…and they’ll extend anyway

Equally, Christmas spending visibly brings to life this obsession with taking action at the eleventh hour. Only, unlike other deadlines, like filing tax returns or signing up for an IPO (Initial Public Offer) , we cannot ask for an extension to recover. (Sigh!) And speaking of filing tax returns, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that despite a six-month notice, 60% of Kenyans filed their returns two days to the deadline! And guess what their reason for asking (demanding?) for an extension was? Yup! There wasn’t enough time. Oh, plus the system was slow and in some cases hung. Yet, it should accommodate these last minute 1.2 million payers, yes?

Which reveals another thing about the Kenyan buyer. Judging by our illogical spending this season, we act as if we did not have a twelve month notice. We will spend with reckless abandon because, I assume, we are socialised like that. That we must spend during the Christmas season easily twice as much as we would during a ‘normal’ month. We believe that our single month’s income will miraculously stretch itself to accommodate the ‘emergency’ that is Christmas season. Forget that our income usually runs out by the 15th-20th of a ‘normal’ month; somehow December will be different we tell ourselves. Fifty three Jamhuri Days later, it’s still the same.

The tragi-comedy of Kenyans

And what that is, is a tragi-comedy. We will come out on national television to lament that fares have doubled and yet we must travel up country or the Coast. And come early January, we’ll have a new lamentation, typically made inside a bookshop. “You know, we had to spend over Christmas season and travel, but prices and fares were high. And now, we have fees to pay, books to buy and children to take back to school yet there’s no money.”

Maturity of pregnancy is an emergency

And right there, is another emergency; that children have to go back to school is something that is unexpectedly dropped on our lap! Of course, the latest emergency is that Form One’s are starting school in January and not February/March as has been the custom. Forget that Cabinet Secretary Matiang’i announced this four months ago. Mercifully, there’s a handful of Kenyans who are exceptions to the norm. But we don’t like them much, do we? Something must be wrong with them. Like, “they must have money”. Take Pam, the ‘day back’ my wife occasionally engages. Pam has planned her travel upcountry for November shortly after schools close. She says fares are intact then and congestion is unheard of. And the best part is that in December, she is overwhelmed with work, standing in for all the other house helps who must travel then.

Meantime, sellers happily ride this annual ritual. After all, if you can’t beat them join them. Fares will hike. Prices will spike. Loyalty points will double. Penalties will surge. Salary advances will thrive.

And judging from history, alas!; it looks like the miracle of our normal income stretching itself to fit the emergencies we must contend with this festive season, won’t pan out this year either. Just as it never has. But maybe it will next year. Let’s muse over that as we imbibe the other emergency-January blues…


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