Mount Kenya Photo

It is a Beautiful World We Live

It is a beautiful world we live in, although we rarely enjoy the beauty. We are too preoccupied with unending angry thoughts to cherish the beauty. You look at the high and mighty. You see portraits of unbridled anger. The world is not bending to their will. The only thing they can do, therefore, is to throw up angry tantrums. Perhaps they are unfamiliar with the words of the American Max Ehrmann who famously said, “And whatever your labours and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life, keep peace in your soul. With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world.”

A beautiful world it is indeed. Yet, don’t we mess it up with daily installments of individual and collective greed? If you have seen the latest reports by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) the world could lose 67 percent of its wildlife, just over the next three years. Just consider that – over the next 36 months, we could lose two-thirds of global wildlife. And all this is because of degradation and unsustainable use of natural resources. Does human activity tend to gravitate toward greed and destruction? Do we even know that this spells doom to all life? Do you care?

Eventually the human being is driven by strong appetite for self-gratification. You want to feed your thirst, hunger and lust. Unchecked by decent social conduct and self-control, it all boils down to bestiality. Self-restraint is what humanizes you. The wise man, Mahatma Gandhi, has often been cited as reminding us about the conflict between our greed and resources. Nature has endowed us with enough resources to satisfy everyone’s needs. But we do not have ample resources to feed everyone’s greed.

Could this be why political leaders – especially – talk as if they will burst a vein? And quite often they burst a vein. And you know the consequences. They have lost sight of the purpose of leadership and reflection on why governments are constituted among men and women. We read in the American Declaration of Independence, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

This testimony places life, liberty and pursuit of happiness at the heart of the American dream. It goes on, “To secure these rights, governments are constituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any form of government becomes destructive to these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organising its powers in such form as to them shall seem most likely to affect their safety and happiness.”

If governments are constituted among men and women to secure life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, do we seem to think in Kenya that this boils down to the scandalous whims of the ruling class? Because of the need to feed the greed of this class, government is constituted to loot? If you have this week followed the mind-boggling narratives of the billions of plundered shillings, then you must understand that there seems to be only one agenda in our government – looting the public coffers. The philosophy, architecture, appointment and functioning all seem to seek only one goal – to steal.

Traditionally, thieves exist everywhere – even in government. Among civilised populations, however, stealing is not the reason governments exist. Theft is the exception to the established order. Thieves will, therefore, be handled with decisive finality. They are not just instantly weeded out of office. They are tried and jailed. In Kenya they are defended with angry words from all seats of power.

You have seen the shocking revelations about the National Youth Service theft. When the story first broke out, it was denied everywhere in Government. The Leaders of the Majority in both the National Assembly and the Senate denied it. The Deputy President was in his element saying it was all about giving the Government a bad name, to bring it down. Even State House denied it.

When the truth could not be stopped, the Leader of the Majority in the National Assembly called a one-man press conference. He disowned a recently fallen Cabinet Secretary. He now described her in appalling idiom. She belonged to Kamiti Maximum Security Prison, he said. Never mind that he had previously defended her most noisily. The Majority Leader in the Senate went silent. You hardly hear him on any matter anymore. His deputy followed suit. Maybe they learnt something useful?

Today we are hearing of another scandal, the theft of more billions from the Ministry of Health. As usual there are denials that suggest it is the right of those in Government to steal. Their best defence comes from their tribesmen, who are weapons of verbal and political assault.   The day that the tribe wakes up is the day that this theft will end. For now we must continue to contend with angry tribal leaders throwing up tantrums because someone has stumbled into their disgraceful activities.

One important thing is not being said in the Ministry of Health saga, however. Health is a devolved function. The National Government, therefore, had no business getting into this dubious procurement in the very first place. Even if the need were so strongly felt, the done thing would be to pass on the funds to the Counties as conditional grants, under Article 202 (2) of the Constitution. Why was this not done? Who stood to benefit from this procurement? What happened to the original urgency that informed the procurement? Why are the goods lying in a depot six months later? Why did a Shs. 350,000 container cost ten million? This greed will destroy us.

Political Rally in Kenya Photo

Political Adrenaline Rush is On

Worrying clouds are gathering over Kenya. They will need to be nipped in the bud. Make no mistake; the country’s political adrenaline is in free flow, our negative energy levels on the rise.

We need to heed the panic bells. From Murang’a to Kisii and Gucha; and from Nairobi to Kirinyaga, the emerging mood is worrying. We will need to manage ourselves and to manage our fears, everywhere in the country. The political class must be told to speak and act responsibly. This class is beginning to engage its usual reckless gear ahead of elections. The only thing that seems to matter to some people in this class is greed and selfishness. And when the greedy and selfish excite us, we act with wild passion.

We have seen angry young people charging at each other in Murang’a. They are ostensibly fighting for the interests of top contenders for the governor’s seat in next year’s elections. The governor, Mwangi wa Iria, is afraid of foremost opponent, Kigumo MP Jameleck Kamau. Wa Iria has the last word on who uses which public playground for what purpose in Murang’a County. Now Wa Iria has denied Kamau the use of public playgrounds for his political rallies. Someone should tell Wa Iria that this is naked abuse of office. But it only gets worse. Kamau has vowed to hold his meetings, with or without permission from Wa Iria. Murang’a, prepare for trouble.

In Nairobi, too, fear is setting in. Some Jubilee gubernatorial hopefuls have gone into panic, too. Former Gatanga MP Peter Kenneth has arrived on the scene. He wants to be the governor. Panicky opponents have ganged up, saying they will stop him by all means. What means? They spoke with sinister innuendo. We don’t know where this will end up. Hopefully it will not go beyond verbal display of fear. Experience reminds us to think otherwise, however.

In the triangular zone where the Kisii, Kipsigis and Maasai communities meet, violence is flaring up, on and off. It reminds you of similar happenings ahead of the violent elections of 1992, 1997 and 2007. Elsewhere in Machakos, false and embarrassing alarms went off. The deputy governor’s daughter is supposed to have been abducted by her father’s political enemies. Fortunately the young lady has surfaced. It turns out that she was only enjoying good time with her friends, out of family sight. However, war cries had already begun.  And they came dangerously from very high up.

The pick of the basket is two-fold. On the one hand is CORD’s crying wolf about the Independent Elections and Boundaries Commission (IEBC). On the other hand are the angry outbursts from the Presidency whenever the Opposition raises legitimate questions about corruption in the Jubilee Government. Confounding still is that these outbursts deliberately seek to suck in ethnic sympathies. For example, President Kenyatta angrily remarks, “He is saying this water is going to (a certain tribe).”

The IEBC, for its part, is a powder keg. The electoral authority has been in the loop for three and a half years now. The country eventually heaved a sigh of relief when the political class agreed on how to reform the IEBC ahead of next year’s poll.  The commissioners were “persuaded” to resign and make way for a new team. The process of replacing them is underway, in the hands of respected men and women. Hopefully we will allow this team to give us the new commissioners. But even as we watch and wait, CORD has been intermittently making worrying and unsubstantiated allegations against IEBC. The Opposition has even threatened to disrupt the elections. They have said, “We shall declare that it is impossible to create an enabling environment for the conduct of the free and fair elections. The country will then be called to action.” Read that again, “The country will then be called to action.” What action?

But that is not all. CORD has stated further, “There will be no elections unless the entire legal regime, including the use of technology in an integrated electronic system, is fully implemented and the conduct of free and fair elections is guaranteed.” The coalition accuses the IEBC Secretariat of “working in cahoots with the Jubilee administration” to steal next year’s elections. They don’t specify whether this will be at all levels, but we must presume they are focused on the presidential poll.

These are very serious allegations. They amount to shouting fire in a crowded theatre. It would be useful for CORD to provide the evidence and proof. If they cannot, they need to be reminded that they are placing the country on the path to disaster. Questions about the integrity of elections have become very sensitive in Kenya. They have demonstrated that they can destroy the country. Responsible leaders need to weigh their words. You cannot take lightly words like, “There will be no elections,” or better still, “The country will be called to action.”

Meanwhile President Kenyatta’s public comportment continues to disappoint. His verbal eruptions whenever his government is criticized leave you wondering whether he knew what he was asking for when he called upon Kenyans to make him their President. Did the President imagine that we were sending him to a five-year holiday camp to make merry with his friends? Someone, please tell the President that Kenyans have a right to ask him where their money has gone.  They have a right to speak about these things as robustly as possible.

Please, tell President Kenyatta that he cannot stop us from asking him questions about his performance. His role, in such cases, is to give us sober and logical answers that we can buy. These angry outbursts will not wash. And an increasingly condescending Deputy President only worsens the outbursts. The DP seems to be intent on looking loathsome and disrespectful not just to fellow leaders, but to whole communities. When you put together arrogance, suspicion, public outbursts of anger, rumours, threats, abuse of office, innuendo, panic and fear, your goose is cooked. Let us call our leaders back to order.

President Elect Trump Photo

The Americans Have Done It

The Americans have done it. They have given the world Donald Trump. Such is what a combination of fear, hate and narrow nationalism does.  It thrusts on to the global stage mavericks that will leave the world order transformed beyond recognition – for better or worse. Trump’s campaign marked him out as an unpredictable war-mongering maverick. The one thing that I don’t doubt is that the world will never be the same again – for better or worse.

It need not be for the worse, however. We were sophomores at the University of Nairobi when a mild maverick, Ronald Reagan, ascended to power in the United States. Reagan was no Donald Trump. Yet he was a warmonger all the same. He played up American fears and promised to make his country great again. And he took the U.S. to war – everywhere. He arrived in the White House from the movies, via the State of California where he served as Governor.

American prestige had taken a beating on the global market of national self-esteem. The economy was in free fall. Memory of military humiliation in Vietnam was still fresh. The U.S. had lost nearly 60,000 soldiers in a futile and wasteful war. Oil prices were wrecking havoc, complete with shortages that saw motorists queue for hours for the commodity.

The Soviet Union was taunting the U.S. in Cold War propaganda. Then there was the return of the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini from eleven years of exile in France and before it the fall of the puppet Shah Dynasty in Iran, the drying up of oil supplies from Iran. America was disillusioned about her image. The country was impatient with President Jimmy Carter, who had narrowly won the 1976 election against Republican Gerald Ford. Ford had himself taken over from Richard Nixon, disgraced by the Watergate Scandal.

Even now the political air was still frowzy with the aftermath of Watergate. Yet then, like now, there were those who thought that the biggest assignment was “to make America again.” While the challenges before them had begun way before Carter’s election in 1976, the rightists saw it fit to blame everything on Carter, a moderate reformer, a political centrist and a man of mild personal habits. They carried the day.

But to what extent can we compare 1980 to today? Then, like today we, the budding scholars, preferred the Democratic candidate. President Carter himself campaigned against Reagan as a dangerous right wing extremist. He was a threat to world peace. He would place America’s global interests at risk. The big irony is that in the end, the Reagan presidency transformed the world. After his reelection in 1984, in which he swept the Electoral College vote – garnering 523 out of 538 votes – Reagan teamed up with British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher to lead NATO in bringing the Soviet Union and their friends in the Warsaw Pact to their economic knees.

Historians will want to record that Reagan subjected the USSR to an unprecedented arms race. He threw the USSR into an economic spin. He shattered the Iron Curtain of communist states that buffeted the USSR from Western Europe. Under the leadership of the reformist Mikhail Gorbechev, the USSR succumbed to the inevitable. The Communist Party – the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet – was dissolved in 1991. Gorbechev embarked on a policy of openness in governance (Glasnost) and restructuring politics and the economy (Perestroika).

The wind of change that began blowing in the USSR, with the visible hand of Reagan and Thatcher, would sweep right across the world. It led to the collapse of dictatorships and reintroduction of multiparty democracy, everywhere. Here in Africa Kamuzu Banda of Malawi went home. Kaunda of Zambia lost his “One Zambia, One Nation, One Leader” slogan. President Moi of Kenya accepted political competition. South West Africa became independent as Namibia. South Africa’s Apartheid regime collapsed. Military rule ended in Nigeria, Ghana and in diverse nations in Africa. In a word, Reagan changed the World Order. Those who knew how to read the signs, like President Nyerere of Tanzania, found higher ground from the Reagan Tsunami before it could sweep them away. They embraced and managed change before it could embrace and change them.

Every so often, an unpredictable maverick ascends to power somewhere in the world. For better or worse, these mavericks change the world order. Whether they are Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini, General Franco, Winston Churchill, Otto Von Bismarck, or Napoleon Bonaparte, Joseph Stalin, or the brazen Alexander of Macedonia, they leave the world barely recognizable as what it has been. The process of varying the order can be most traumatic. The dictators who came to power in Germany, Spain and Italy in the 1930s pushed the world to a wasteful war.

In 1933, Hitler was popularly elected to the office of German Chancellor. He ascended to power breathing racist propaganda, like Donald Trump. He proposed mass deportations of foreigners. If Trump is blaming Muslims, Africans and Mexicans for America’s woes, Hitler blamed Jews and all people he considered outsiders to his fabled Aryan race. He would get rid of them and make Germany great again. Trump has promised to deport foreigners, build walls and make America great again.

Elsewhere in Italy, Mussolini played up the fears and frustrations of his countrymen to bring the country into the firm grip of the Fascists (1930 – 1943). In Japan, in the same age, Emperor Hirohito embraced a policy of foreign aggression to make Japan great again. His country was reeling from economic crises when he ascended to power in 1926. The blending of interests between Hitler, Mussolini and Hirohito would fuse them into a deadly Axis in World War II. In Spain, the dreaded General Francisco Franco ascended to power in 1936, enjoying support from Communists and Anarchists. Spain is still paying the price. And now America has done its thing. Is the feast of Armageddon about to begin?