The Season of Anomy is Here, Yet Again

The season of anomy is here, yet again. It is time to throw away what is left of standards within us, both as individuals and as a people. Election campaigns in Africa herald carousal and degeneracy. It is a time to eat, drink and make wild merry. It is a season of treachery and suspension of the law and common decency, alike.

Campaign brokers move frantically from this candidate to that one. Their tongues are coated in sugar and in the power of doublespeak. “Mheshimiwa everybody is talking about you. This thing is yours. You have already taken it. But don’t be close-fisted. Speak well to these people.”

They firm up appointments for the politicians, to “meet and greet voters.” Men, women and children alike abandon everything, to focus on freebies. In echo of Elechi Amadi’s eponymous Isiburu, patriarchs leave their farms untended. Newly wed young men leave their fresh brides unexplored. All go out to scramble for freebies.

Religious leaders are not to be outdone. They organize special prayer sessions. Each session is crowned by a special collection of alms. For, God too must eat, in this electoral season. Like the great-unwashed masses, the men of God and their God eat from all candidates. The holy book of God and the sacred edicts within must also take a rest.

Five months hence, many a candidate will be sitting somewhere, looking back at the ended season of anomy. They will be wondering what hit them. For it is only when the elections are done, the votes counted and winners announced that the scales finally fall off the eyes. There will be the victor’s celebration here and there. But there will mostly be a quiet licking of wounds everywhere else. Nothing new here, it has been this way since the politics of money replaced the politics of issues.

Going hand in glove with the politics of money are the politics of the herd. In all constituencies, from the presidency to the county assembly, we are focused on our herd. At one level, our herd is our tribe. But even within the tribe, we have our clan – or our region. While tribes are divided against one another, further division obtains within the tribe. And it cascades all the way to the family.

Will Kenyans vote wisely? The question is almost redundant. There is no place for conventional wisdom in the Kenyan electorate. The only wisdom that matters is the wisdom of the stomach. Thoughts are processed in the stomach. Disguised as words, they exit through the relevant orifice, disguised as the oral cavity. We can identify them by their awful smell.

We vote with our feet at times such as these. Ivory Coast’s late literary icon, Ahmadou Kourouma, takes a dim view of the African electorate. He sees us in the image of “wild beasts waiting to vote.” We go whichever way we are herded through the power of money, fear, voodoo, dark propaganda and the breed.

In the season of anomy, “Even the youth grow faint and weary,” as the Prophet Isaiah said, “They stumble and fall.”  A cursory perusal of the social media reveals that Kenya’s youth have stumbled. They have fallen in the pool of the eating and voting beasts. They now look for freebies, just as hard as anyone – sometimes harder than most.

In Kouroumian perspective, youthful zest is instrumentalized for mobilization of the rest of the voting beasts.  The difference between the young man and a billboard on the roadside and a spear in the hand is in style rather than substance. There is no difference between him and gunpowder.

In the context, even the level-minded aspirant slips and falls. S/he succumbs to the gods of money and wicked angels of ethnicity. From a sober independent middle ground, s/he goes back to the tribe, to dance to the tune of the tribal chieftain. Woe unto the stubborn one who attempts to hang on to his own beliefs.

A good man in Nairobi goes back to the tribe, as does a good woman in Kirinyaga and another good man in Kisumu. Loaded with the twin assets of tribe and a financial war chest, they now stand a good chance of Pyrrhic victory. The quality of leadership is the worse for it. For, even this lonely sober woman is now lost, echoing the cacophony of the tribal choir. Corruption of the best is the worst. The conquered good man must prove that he is fully converted. He dances harder than those whom he found in the malevolent camp.

Today the country is divided right in the middle, in two mutually hostile political camps. The ethnic formations in each camp are complete and clear. The money factor within each camp, too. If you don’t have the money “to support the party” you are in trouble – even when you are in the correct tribal camp. For the gods in the party must also eat, in this season of anomy. The female candidates, moreover, are expected to bring other assets – mostly of horizontal character. If not, their candidacy will drink the water of affliction.

It is a dirty orgy, this African political campaign and election. We process garbage in the electoral machine. The final product is, therefore, garbage. Garbage in garbage out, they say. The leaders we get at every level are accordingly inclined to be ethnic supremacists and kleptomaniacs. But why would we expect anything different?

If they bought their way to power, they will steal to remain in power. If the ethnic card helped them, they must continue to nurture negative ethnicity. To keep the hope of enlightened leadership alive, therefore, we need to spare a good thought for the independent candidates and those running on small parties. These lonely independents represent the little good that is left in us. They are our conscience. Unfortunately, they are so weak, just like our conscience.

If You Want to Hide The Truth, Hide it From Yourself

The top brass around power is either a cocktail of perfect dissemblers, or they are simply dead. Whatever the case, they are to be pitied. “We are the dead,” Winston Smith says at the moment of rapture in George Orwell’s Nineteen-Eighty-Four. An invisible metallic voice frightfully echoes him in affirmation, “You are the dead.”

Kenya’s crème de la crème frightens you with the thought that they are dead. Do we seem to have lost all capacity to interrogate things, to see issues in perspective? Or, perhaps, we just never had the ability in the first place? We have always subscribed to the school that says, “Ignorance is strength.” Where we are not genuinely ignorant, we must either feign ignorance, or force it – especially in pursuit of narrow political correctness.

We have watched two appalling claptrap events this week. It does not seem politically correct, of course, to talk about the awkward and anxious moment in Mathira, when the nation’s psyche was on the burial of Governor Nderitu Gachagwa. President Kibaki had had an awkward moment with his speech. He got people of conscience worried.
And I kept wondering where his speechwriter was, or what he had done with the speech. This was no way to treat Mzee Kibaki. He was let down badly. Yet the notables around him went on clapping amidst the awkwardness. The less said the better. Suffice it to say that this serves to demonstrate that we are a claptrap nation. We will clap because we think everybody is clapping.

But Nyeri was nothing, compared to Naivasha and Turkana. President Uhuru Kenyatta was in his element, flying off the handle. At a time when everybody thought that the injurious matter of the doctors’ strike was coming to an amicable end, the President went into a frightful and unprovoked outburst with threats and innuendo. Without weighing the meaning of the new trajectory in the impasse, the crème de la crème assembled in Naivasha went into a frenzy of laudation.

Elsewhere in Turkana, an angry President told the people to keep their votes if they thought they could “blackmail him” with the votes. Their sin was to question the agenda of his government in Turkana. The dignitaries with the President thought that this merited a huge round of applause. Others have gone on to justify this in public space. Such are the people referred to in social science as “useful idiots,” justifying the unjustifiable.

We see such things all the time. The doctors’ strike has been handled very poorly from the very outset. An arrogant government and a rigid union have stuck on to their puerile egos. Such is the reward of having untested and unproven youth in government and in the unions. They lack the temperament to deal with heavy issues.

When they say “the government,” it is not difficult to imagine what they mean. It cannot be the paper tigers that have been meeting with the health union officials. These “tigers” have no mandate to conclude anything with anybody. They have only wasted everybody’s time, knowing very well that they could not close any deal with the doctors, without express permission from the very top. Kenyans have been treated to a futile charade from the Executive. You expect that everyone knows this. Yet we pretend not to.

Either we are plain dishonest, or we have cold porridge where brains should sit in our heads. We have surrendered our intellect to the priests of power and gods of instant gratification. Because of the immediate benefits that we hanker for from those who exercise power, we close our eyes to reality. We shy away from speaking the truth to power.  We wait, instead, to clap when the President goes off the handle with ultimatums that are doomed to fail.
The intellectual population around power has allowed itself to be part of a massive great unwashed. It has sunk into a mob of plebs who genuinely believe that the government has been negotiating with the doctors. What then is the worth of the education we have had? The great scholar will be writing in the press and speaking on TV and radio, praising the President for “telling off the doctors.”

This intellectual is merely a mouth that utters and a hand that writes whatever is demanded of it. If he has any concern, it is limited to finding out what is desired of the mouth to say and the hand to write. This is why the strike has gone on for three months now. University dons, for their part, are in the second month of a strike. This seems normal in our country. Those who should advise the President are meanwhile waiting to read his lips and echo them, to clap wildly and to laugh uproariously.

In the end, we are victims of the culture of official claptrap and dead psyche. Even when it is so obvious that the situation does not merit a celebration of any kind whatsoever, we outdo ourselves. Rational thinking is too dangerous for us. We have, therefore, refused to think. Orwell says of us, “The mind should develop a blind spot whenever a dangerous thought presents itself. The process should be automatic, instinctive. Crimestop, they called it.” The intellectuals around power have therefore consciously surrendered the power of intellectual effort to an instinctive mental block.

Intellectuals have won the victory over themselves and are comfortable in a zombie role, flowing with the crowd. Martin Luther King would say in the essay Rediscovering Lost Values, “Most people can’t stand up for their convictions, because the majority of the people might not be doing it.  Everybody is not doing it, so it must be wrong. And since everybody is doing it, it must be right . . . We have adopted a sort of relativistic ethic.” Orwell caps it, “Sanity was statistical. It was merely a question of thinking as they (everybody else) thought.” If you want to hide the truth, hide it from yourself.

The NASA Moment

This NASA moment bears both the bright character of an epiphany and the dull outlook of yet another false promise – a political de ja vu. What will it be, in the long run? The principals of Ford Kenya, ODM, Wiper and ANC parties have signed a unity pact. Concurrently, they have given Kenya a political promissory note. They are upbeat with super tidings of a super nation in super days ahead. The super alliance is, accordingly, a super promise of a super nation – a veritable epiphany.
The seven-bundled NASA moment should be cause for the nation to hold its breath with pregnant expectancy. Yet this week’s super promise of a super deal between a possible NASA government and the people comes against a frustrating grain of history. Kenya has had numerous false dawns. Should we expect a morning of fulfillment under Raila Odinga, Musalia Mudavadi, Kalonzo Musyoka and Moses Wetang’ula? Is a super deal possible?
At the dawn of independence in 1963, Kenya had its first whiff of super hope. Fifty-three years later, we still suffer from crippling poverty, suffocating ignorance and basic disease. What went wrong? In 1963, forty years of colonial rule were coming to an end, and with them an overall 68-year period of official British presence. The age of exclusion was ending. Kenyans would determine their own destiny in an inclusive God blessed land, where justice would be our only shield and defender.
The super promise of 1963 talked of the glory of Kenya and the fruit of our labour. This would fill up every heart with thanksgiving. It was an epic moment. Our founders spoke in the mantra of uhuru na kazi. Our credo was freedom and labour. President Mwai Kibaki would later rephrase this as “a working nation.” Historical narratives and photographic records of the age paint a nation overflowing with love and goodwill, across the peoples and their leaders.
Tragically, things began falling apart within months. We got into the house. And the rain started beating us. Within 24 months, we had changed the independence constitution enough times to pave way for corruption and presidential autocracy. We had moved swiftly from a majoritarian parliamentary system of government led by a Prime Minister to an imperial presidency.
The first President, Mzee Jomo Kenyatta, was not even elected – not even once throughout his 15-year reign. He first became President through political sleight of hand. Tom Mboya did the trick. They simply changed the constitution. Kenyatta became President via the first amendment. They killed devolution, abolished regional assemblies, killed the Senate and moved on to paralyze the Opposition.
At Mzee’s death in 1978, they had killed the independence party, Kanu. They jailed anyone who dared to say Kanu was dead. In between, corruption, political assassinations, negative ethnicity and arbitrary detention amidst segmental autocracy had become the norm. In the words of JM Kariuki – who was killed by government functionaries – we were “a nation of ten millionaires and ten million beggars.” It was an open secret that the demise of the Kenyatta government was keenly awaited.
Enter President Moi in 1978, and the country glowed with hope and expectancy. This was despite the new President pledging to walk in the footsteps of his predecessor. We thought, some of us, that this promise was only a figure of speech. And indeed, give it to President Moi, the first four years of the Nyayo Era were promising.
The macro economic growth was breathtaking – Nyayo Tea Zones, Nyayo Wards, Nyayo Buses, Nyayo Milk, a brand new international airport in Nairobi, two new national stadiums; roads re-carpeted from Mombasa to Malaba and Busia. There were jobs, jobs and more jobs. Towns like Meru, Embu, Kisii . . . had tarmac for the first time. We planted trees  . . .  Education grew by leaps and bounds  . . .  War against corruption . . . Then disaster struck.
Maybe it was the excessive praises we bathed the President in, all the time? Nyayo just refused to accommodate alternative voices. It was all back to the worst of the Kenyatta script. Only the cast was revised. From de facto one-party dictatorship we now legislated one-party absolutism. Never mind that the party was really dead. It came back from its grave as a horrendous monster from the dead.
Kenyans longed for a new dawn, yet again. And they would get several false ones. The single party days went away in November 1991. Still, Kenya did not become a super state. Then we thought all would be possible without Moi. Moi left in 2002, but we did not become a super country. President Kibaki did not give us a super deal, or make us a super people. No. Kibaki gave national cohesion a blow that has left it staggering to date. It was the same old raw deal.
Whatever its flaws, however, the Nusu Mkate regime came closest to giving Kenyans a real deal. A new constitution and infrastructural efforts are there for all to see. Yet, an exclusionary political economy watered down the gains. Besides, Kibaki gave us UhuRuto. An age heralded as digitally transformational has turned into one long night of darkness and horrible dreams. The UhuRuto state is a felonious hydra – an insensitive ethnic-based gremlin that abets theft by public servants. It is quite comfortable working with the suspects.
NASA has a tall order. The leaders must convince us that they herald an epiphany that we can believe in. The Super Alliance must quickly get over monotonous flag bearer issues. They must begin painting super pictures of a super country that we can believe in. Apart from obvious things about past raw deals, they must give us convincing visions of a super deal.
How do Kenyans become one super people again? What will they do to make the citizens feel like a super nation with super dreams? How will our super dreams become super achievements? Here in Emanyulia we have always been super people, nursing super hopes. We want nothing short of a super promise for a super deal. Over to you at NASA, we are waiting and watching.