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Stop sanitising poverty

When Mwalimu Peter Tabichi won Sh100 million last month as the world’s best teacher, media reports pointed out that he comes from a “humble background”.

At the school where he teaches, most of the students are from a “humble background”, reports said.

We all know the famous story of DP William Ruto’s rise from a “humble background” to political prominence, attributed to the Grace of God.

For some strange reason, many journalists have abandoned unambiguous language in favour of euphemisms popularised by people in power – governments, NGOs – to hide the ugliness and injustice of poverty.

Slums – where the largest population of Nairobi lives – are called “informal settlements”. They are merely informal, that is all. The actual dehumanising conditions in those places are nothing to worry about. It is normal.

Former President Daniel arap Moi popularised the expression “less fortunate members of society”. He created a national holiday named after him – Moi Day – dedicated to serving the “less fortunate members of society”.

Think about it for a moment. The poor are less fortunate. It is no one’s fault. They were somehow disadvantaged when the goodies were being passed round. So we should pity them and offer help. They have no rights. They are not entitled to anything. Significantly, the state does not owe them anything. Woiyee, they are less fortunate…

Such language is not just imprecise; it is outright unjust. It normalises poverty. Conditions of abject want are not to be deplored, rather they are presented as the lot of most people anyway. We can hope that one day – by the Grace of God – they will come out of poverty. For now, let’s offer them any crumbs we may spare.

Stop it! Call poverty by name. Expose it as the injustice that it is. Every society has enough resources for everyone. Poverty is created by unequal access to those resources, so that a few people have a lot more than they would ever need while others have to scrape around to live.

Journalists are on the side of the people, not on the side of power. Most likely, you are among the poor – or you would not be muck raking, speaking truth to power. You are championing a just society.

So, tell it as it is. Report that the children in the school are from poor families, not “humble backgrounds”. Do not attempt to cover up their unjust situation.

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