BARUA YA BARAZA: Thought-Terminating Clichés From the Curator’s Desk

I’ve lost count of the number of headlines asking Kenyans to “brace” themselves for this or the other – higher taxes, more flooding, a higher cost of living. This week, it’s yet another Finance Bill, this one even more punitive and absurd than the last one; with higher taxes on bread, even more on bank and M-pesa transactions, and a motor vehicle tax that defies sense.

I’m intrigued by how frequently the phrase “brace yourselves” makes it into news headlines, and the work it does in our psyche. One braces oneself for something that is inevitable, like when a pilot runs out of options in the cockpit and can now only ask passengers to brace for impact.

But using this language of inevitability on a proposed Finance Bill intended to be debated in Parliament hints at what we know (or fear) about the nature of our MPs – that this incredibly flawed document is probably going to sail through Parliament. It’s almost like we are saying that whatever makes it to Parliament from the government side is a forgone conclusion (in the language of everyday Kenya, hii imeenda). But the whole reason Parliament exists is so that nothing that pertains to the will and the welfare of the citizens should ever be a foregone conclusion, otherwise we would be living in a dictatorship.

That simple phrase, “brace yourselves”, repeated over and over again makes it seem that whatever comes next is impossible to resist – that your only option is to grit your teeth and hope you’ll survive it. It’s language that makes you demobilise yourself from civic and political life. “Brace yourself” is a thought-terminating cliché, and by that I mean a simplistic, seemingly logical phrase that actually functions as a verbal stealth missile, shutting down critical thinking and debate. It makes you desensitized to warnings or resigned to your circumstances, which is exactly what those in power want.

In the meantime, here’s:

What I’m Reading: How giant publisher HarperCollins saved thousands of trees by making tiny tweaks in fonts and layout, while ensuring that the pages are still readable, so far saving the equivalent of 245.6 million pages.

What I’m Watching: I’m still persevering through the third season of Single Kiasi, a show I loved so, so much in Season 1. Not sure what happened to the writing quality, but here we are, holding on, hoping this is when it turns around. 

What I’m Listening to: Critics at Large, from The New Yorker, a weekly culture podcast discussing current obsessions, classic texts we should revisit with fresh eyes, and trends that are emerging across books, television, film, and more. The latest episode explores why we are all so obsessed with true crime as a genre.


My best,

Christine Mungai

Curator | Baraza Media Lab

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