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February 17, 2019

Reflections: Madonna, Nairobi’s restoration and Mad Max

Mutindwa Demolition
Mutindwa Demolition

One might not see the connection between Madonna, attempts to restore Nairobi to its former glory, and the movie Mad Max, but I do. So come with me down this path of seemingly unrelated thoughts. 

We start with Madonna, who turned 60 on August 16. She was, for the youngers who don’t know, a mega pop star in the 1980s and early 90s. Today, she’s a cultural icon. 

Where to start with Madonna? She was a girl from Michigan who burst into the 80s music scene like no female artiste had ever done before. Her music was controversial; with albums such as Like a Virgin ( 1984 ), how could it not be? She too was controversial with her use of explicit sexual imagery, religious symbolism, and irreverent behaviour in her music videos and live performances. Over the years, Madonna frequently reinvented her music and her image. Having sold 300 million records worldwide, Madonna is the best-selling female artiste of all time. She changed the musical landscape, pushed boundaries, and music pundits will tell you that Madonna is the most influential female recording artiste, again, of all time. The Times once wrote that Madonna had “started a revolution amongst women in music…”  

Of course back then, I didn’t know anything about boundaries and revolutions in the music industry. All we heard was the music. Even if you weren’t a Madonna fan, at least one of her songs constantly played back in your head. Nobody was indifferent to Into the Groove ( 1985 ). When that song came on, you just ‘got into the groove’ without much care in the world. 

There wasn’t that much to fret about in Nairobi in the 80s and early 90s. First and foremost, there was water. Secondly, movement around the city was relatively easy as the traffic wasn’t too bad, and we had these things called ‘scheduled buses’.  If you had a car, it was actually fun to drive. 

This trip down memory lane has to do with the restoration of Nairobi currently taking place. No need to go into details, we’ve all seen images of the ongoing riparian land reclamation, and the multi-storey eviscerating excavator we’re calling the green mamba. Thing is, with the demolitions, and efforts to decongest the city, there’s been hopeful talk about ‘restoring the city to its past glory’. Not going to happen. Nairobi is not going to get back its early 90s, 80s, or even 70s glory. There will be no restoring of ‘City in the Sun’ status. We’re too far gone. 

It’s like this with Nairobi; you have a good woman in your life but you treat her like crap. So she leaves you. After some soul-searching and prayers, you change your ways, become a better man, and try to get her back. But, she’s not having it and she’s not coming back. That’s Nairobi; we’ve treated her badly for too long for her to come back. 

I think Nairobi will end up looking like the scenes from the movie Mad Max — a dystopian world experiencing societal collapse due to critical resource shortages. A world degenerating into further barbarity by the day, where malevolent biker gangs, and criminals in clapped-out, spike covered automobiles roam lawless wastelands. I mean, the other day I almost ran over a boda boda at a roundabout. He was riding in the wrong direction. 

Imagine that, we’re now doing roundabouts anti-clockwise. Now that’s lawless. 

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