Leaders jungle dance as Kenyans suffer

The world must laugh at us. Our leaders are suffocating in a wild jungle dance, nervously competing to register voters. It is a matter of life and death. For the past two weeks, Kenya’s political kingpins have been feverishly running amok in their tribal backyards, whipping up aboriginal sentiments, petitioning populations to register.

The Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) kick-started the process in a fashion reminiscent of where the Christian Good Book says, “In those days, a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. And all went out to be registered, each to his own town (Luke 2:1).”

“And President Uhuru also went up from State House Nairobi to Central Kenya to be registered. For, he was of the house and lineage of Mount Kenya. And Raila Odinga went out to Kisumu and to Siaya. And Kalonzo Musyoka . . . . (Luke 2 : 4 – 5).”  The country has been cast into an urgent frenzy, hunting for an ethnic tyranny of numbers.

Without the voter’s card, you cannot be allowed to drink. You may not even ride on a hazardous motorbike, christened boda boda. Nor can you take the Christian Holy Communion. A man is not allowed to partake of suspended congress with a woman – not even if she is his lawfully wedded wife. You must be excused to imagine that you are married to a ballot box.

Amidst the frenzy is a two-month old doctors’ strike, with no end in sight. Public universities’ lecturers went on strike a week ago. Nobody seems to be interested in where this will end up. But the pick of the basket is the drought and famine ravaging diverse parts of the country. Millions are at the risk of dying of famine. Compared to the need to register voters, however, these are not important concerns. You can enjoy your congress and crown it with the Feast of the Eucharist, if you want.

Is it the case of the fabled country that had parodies for managers with sleepwalking followers? The country’s public hospitals have shut down for two months. Nobody knows how many people have died as a result. Nobody gives you any figures. Yet the people and their leaders tremble and itch to find out which tribe has registered more voters than the rest.

To paraphrase British writer and statesman, Sir Harold G. Nicholson (1886 – 1968), our political class is “a bunch of mere hucksters in the market of governance, battering the happiness of millions with a scented smile.” For their part, the citizens are sheep staring in the eye of a Zombie Apocalypse, but still expecting to survive. We are the dead.

We are morally, intellectually and emotionally dead. The world is increasingly getting safe for democracy. Yet, as Thomas Hardy (1840 – 1928) would say,  Kenyans still wallow in “re-robbing the earth’s wormy dynasties in their old gilt, to dazzle anew the globe.”

Hence, President Kenyatta finds the time to sing in mother tongue on a regional radio station, but none to go to Turkana to witness the plight of the famished. When he eventually makes it to Marsabit, it is not to fellowship with the miserable, but to seek votes – from the starving and the dying. He gravitates in the safe havens of the town centres, insulated from the harsh realities of the scorching hunger. Oh, how Kenya must miss Moi!

But if the ruling top brass has upturned priorities, so too is the political opposition. Someday they will be sitting somewhere, wondering how they lost golden opportunities. Kenya’s opposition lacks the killer instinct. When in hard times a country’s unmoved official leadership selfishly sinks into the innermost sanctums of its ancestral strongholds to galvanize an already subservient electorate, an informed opposition seizes the chance to strike.

Raila Odinga and his team lost the chance to descend on Marsabit, Turkana, Pokot and Baringo.  They failed to take relief food to the starving and to glow in the media as Uhuru and Ruto mobilized their relatives to vote for them. I expected them to mobilize food donations from the Cord governors and from other well-wishers, to beat Jubilee at its own game.

Fancy this succession of images. First there is an agitated president and his deputy. They holler animatedly to clannish crowds. They implore them to come out in huge numbers, “to protect uthamaki.”  They call everybody names and issue threats and innuendo.

Then comes a succession of images of opposition leaders, mingling with the wretched of the earth. When they are not in the famine zones, they are visiting hospitals across the country, addressing the plight of the sick. They meet with the striking medics and university dons. They plead with them to return to work. They promise to address the grievances once they ascend to power. With this, they would not even need to mobilize their own tribal mobs. However, wisdom is a lonely orphan.

Parliament began its final session like a moribund institution. It was business as usual. Amidst the crises in the food, education, health and leadership sectors, Parliament did not seek a motion of adjournment, to discuss on the emergencies in the country.

Governments are constituted to guarantee the security and happiness of the citizens. At independence, Kenya’s founders pledged to secure the country against poverty, ignorance and disease. When the country’s health, higher education and food sectors are in a mess, government has clearly failed.

Why do they want you to vote for them when they have already failed the test of leadership? In the words of the 28th US President, Woodrow Wilson (1856 – 1924), “Peoples and provinces should not be bandied about like pawns in a game.” Yet, everywhere in Kenya, the leaders trade them about with impunity. And their victims think that the presidency is a tribal trophy, an end in itself.

Obama’s departure and lessons for Mother Africa

Barack Obama is easily the happiest and most fulfilled person in the world today. The Obama family begins a new life this weekend, after a successful eight-year tour of duty in the White House. Over this time, Obama has diligently held the American tiger by the tail. He has successfully walked it through a global minefield and handed it over to the volatile Donald Trump.

Barack and Michelle can now sit on the balcony in the evening and watch the sun set over a cup of tea, without the burden of worrying on behalf of their country and the world at large. Such is the triumphal beauty of accomplishment. You can resonate with sage who said, “I have fought a good fight. I have finished the course. I have kept the faith.” What happens thereafter is really someone else’s responsibility.

Tragically, we don’t have this wisdom in Africa. Here, our wise rulers want to be kings forever. Alone in the world, they declare themselves life presidents. They don’t know the meaning of freedom, the beauty of a fulfilled life and the joy of living. Theirs is, therefore, a tortuous life of futile struggle and royal grief. They veritably strive for the wind. Africa pounds water in palace mortars, expecting to see a soft pulp. Time rolls by. The world moves on, scaling stratospheric heights of innovation and achievement in science and technology. Africans starve. They die of drought and famine while leaders roam the countryside, seeking power – even here in Kenya.

Palace dwellers, and common yahoos alike, engage in primitive accumulation until the day they drop dead. The Obamas run an eight-year dignified race. They do four years at a time and take a rest. For they know, as the poet George Gordon famously said, “So, we’ll go no more a roving, so late into the night. Though the heart be still as loving, and the moon be still as bright. For, the sword outwears its sheath, and the soul wears out the breast. And the heart must pause to breathe, and love itself have a rest.”

In civilized environments, even love for power takes a rest. This is despite the fact that the man in power may still be as popular as Obama has been. His approval ratings last week stood at 57 percent. However, the law says it’s time to go. And so he goes – in pursuit of happiness. Meanwhile, the African president remains a perennial hunter-gatherer.

His fate is one of permanent anger and unhappiness. Without exception, the African President is an erratic and unpredictable individual. Public outbursts of anger and ventilation of frustration are the only predictable things about him. You cannot help wondering why he must hang on to power, if its exercise makes him so unhappy. Striving for the wind.

You are reminded of the old sage whom Achebe wrote about in Things Fall Apart, “He always said that whenever he looked at a dead man’s mouth he saw the folly of not eating what one had in one’s lifetime.” In my lifetime, I have looked at numerous dead rich mouths. I have wondered with Unoka, “Why didn’t this man stop, at some point, to eat what he had? What was the futile amassing in aid of?  The tantrums, the high blood pressure, the frustration induced alcoholism?”

And so Africa is a foil to civilization, the headquarters of reversals and negations. At the time of filing this column things are coming to a head in The Gambia. Adama Barrow, who won the presidential election last month, was sworn into office in exile in Dakar, Senegal. Former president, Yahya Jammeh, has refused to surrender power. The man took over in a military coup 22 years ago. He once vowed that his dictatorial rule would last a billion years. Having lost the election, he declared a state of emergency. He dug in.

Mercifully, ECOWAS countries have received the UN Security Council’s nod to flush the dictator from the throne. He is now a common crook. At the time of this file, Senegalese troops have already crossed into the tiny Gambia. Nigerian military aircraft has closed the airspace, according to the BBC. More troops from other ECOWAS countries are massing around the borders. Hopefully they can flush out the disgraceful dictator without human collateral. We can only pray.

We are meanwhile reminded that last year Jammeh announced that The Gambia was withdrawing from the International Criminal Court. The Kenya Government swiftly picked up the cue. In the 53rd Jamhuri anniversary address, President Kenyatta announced that Kenya would also pursue this line, citing The Gambia as one of the models.

For the record, in 2014 Jammeh promised to hack off the heads of all homosexuals in The Gambia. He said he would treat them the way malaria carrying mosquitos should be treated. He has killed journalists like flies and outlawed civil society. He has expelled diplomats who have questioned his claims that he can cure AIDS. He is a self-proclaimed exorcist. He can tell that you are a witch, by just looking at you – in which case God have mercy on you.

It is an indictment against Africa that such a psychopath can reign for 22 years. Yahya Jammeh should rot in jail. The psychopath might commit suicide. If, however, he is captured alive, he must account for the thousands of murders that he committed. He has lived too well at the expense of other people.

While people like Barack Obama retire into quiet dignified living, the likes of Jammeh should retire into jail. It is the only way Africa’s primitive accumulators of wealth and sundry hunter-gatherers in Africa’s royal palaces will learn that even love itself must have a rest – for the sword outwears its sheath. And the soul wears out the breast; and the heart must pause to breathe  . . . ad infinitum.

Where There is Justice, Peace Prevails

The season of frantic peace prayers is here again. As usual, it comes fully loaded with hypocrisy and denial. There are whispers of fear and loud pleas for peace, as the clock ticks towards the new year.

People are worried about the likelihood of violence in the electoral season that the new year heralds. Accordingly, there are loud prayers in church houses and fervid pleas to ancestral deities from curious places in the bush, all in search for peace in the election year ahead. Nobody is asking why there could be a breakdown in the established peace order. Praying seems to be our magic antidote to political violence.

Prayer is itself a good thing, as I have kept saying in this column. Yet praying, as I understand it, is a sacrosanct conversation between a private soul and its God. Crowds may, therefore, make all manner of loud sounds and call them prayers, yet nothing useful will come out of them. Such crowds may even call themselves a church, or something close to that (say a crusade), but their so-called prayers will come to naught. For, I will remind you that there are prayers that God does not listen to. Such incantations are classed as useless prayers. And Kenya’s peace pleas to God tend to belong to this category of holy mumbo jumbo.

The country’s divine pleas for peace are of the extraction of the ostrich’s head in the sand. Perhaps the closing of the eyes that we do as we pray is an invitation to shut our eyes and minds to the truth and to the substance that ought to inform our prayers? Accordingly, when praying for peace we do not ask why peace breaks down? We shut out our minds to that.

Students of war and peace studies know that a critical predicate to peace is justice. It may be distributive justice, or restorative justice. How have opportunities been distributed in the society? Conversely, how have those who have suffered social injustice been compensated? Societies that don’t embrace and entrench justice will never know true peace. They may from time to time enjoy some uneasy calm, but not peace. They may therefore make divine noises and call them peace prayers, yet nothing good will flow out of these noises.

As the country makes its way into this election year, Kenyans will want to look at the truth in the eye and accept it for what it is. They will want to recognize the ominous monster that threatens their social order and call it by its right name. They will want to accept that civil strife has always been a factor of injustice or of perceptions of injustice – or even both. If we pray then, perhaps we should pray for justice?

The mere sense of injustice, however, should not necessarily lead to violence. The world is full of people who feel aggrieved over one thing or the other. They have usually sought non-violent means of addressing their grievances. This works only where people have faith distributive and restorative forums, as well as in the instruments of conflict resolution. If the confidence is not there, violence is the natural outcome. No amount of hypocritical prayers can turn the tide against this truth.

Violence is not just a factor of feelings of injustice, but also a people’s surrender to frustration and loss of faith in established institutions and those who run them. That Kenyans are worried about possible collapse of peace in the year at hand suggests a deficiency of faith in institutions that manage elections in the country, as well as institutions that would address any dissatisfaction with the electoral process and outputs.

For a start, the continued stay in office of discredited commissioners is bad for the country. It has been nearly three months since these people were said to have “resigned.” It is of course common knowledge that they were forced to “resign,” after street protests against them by CORD.  There is need for them to go home as soon as yesterday. Their continued stay in office is not useful for building confidence in the electoral process.

When the two houses of Parliament were recently recalled out of season to conduct urgent business, it was expected it would be to vet and confirm new commissioners to take over from the old team. Instead it was about passing laws that have been suggested by individuals who should have moved on by now. This does little to build confidence in the electoral process. It undermines the desire for peaceful elections.

Mercifully the Supreme Court is eventually in place. In the event that the Presidential election ends up in trouble, there is hope that those who are unhappy could avoid the option of violence and go to the Supreme Court, instead. The court itself has the onerous task of positioning itself in the public eye as a dependable arbitrator, in the event of a dispute.

The integrity of the Supreme Court and the Judiciary generally sits poorly for now, with some politicians threatening to discuss High Court Judges in Parliament next month. The tragedy is that these are government leaning politicians who ought to be strengthening public trust in State institutions.

You cannot undermine justice and institutions of public redress and still expect that there will be peace. Going forward, Kenyans will want to seek justice and openness in the impending electoral process at every stage.  There is need for contending parties to be satisfied with the voter registration process, the hiring of election officials, procurement, use of public media and security arrangements around contestants and their supporters. Other concerns include management of the actual voting day events and activities. It matters when the stations open and close, the conduct of the officials and security instruments, the vote counting, tallying, transmission and announcement. And there are many more detailed and nuanced areas for just intervention. If these are satisfactorily addressed, there will be no need to fret about peace. If not, then even prayers will not help.

Photo Credits: www.sayyidali.com