Kenya totters toward state failure Burundi style

I have been asked again, “Where is Kenya going?” And I suspect that I now know the answer. We are going the Burundi way. Burundi, a landlocked tiny country in East Africa’s Great Lakes Region, totters precariously on the brink of total state collapse. Could this be where Kenya is headed, despite denials to the contrary? When you handle a country’s political system the way Kenya is being managed state failure is a sure outcome.

State failure manifests in collapse of institutions and systems. Institutions cannot control their staff and systems. Hence, external militias whose command is outside the regular command structures may infiltrate the police service. The chairman of the electoral authority may have no control over the election process and outcomes. In extreme cases, zones of alternative governance and command may even emerge. The economy collapses. Institutions like revenue authorities, national treasuries and central banks become irrelevant.  Not all these features obtain in Burundi. Yet she might very well be on the way. Kenya could follow.

Burundi, having been a colony of Germany and Belgium, regained independence in 1962. Unlike other African countries emerging from colonialism, she became a monarchy for the next four years. She only became a republic in 1966, after a series of assassinations and coups. The ruling class in Kenya displays a  dangerous monarchical appetite of the kind that plagued Burundi in the first four years of independence.

After 1966, Burundi has hobbled on, through spells of ethnic cleansing, civil wars and genocides. She is counted among the least developed countries in the world. Her people are some of the most impoverished globally. From time to time, she experiments with fictitious elections that only exacerbate a bad situation. In the latest such exercise in futility, the incumbent, Pierre Nkurunziza, gave himself a controversial third term in office in 2015, after brutally crushing dissenting voices and defeating democracy. Kenya under President Uhuru Kenyatta has the symptoms of ethnic profiling and the attendant consequences, as in Burundi.

Nkurunziza himself lives in mortal fear. He dares not travel out of the country. He fears that he could be overthrown. Is Kenya’s president headed here? Unlike Kenya, Burundi is a direct territorial continuation of the territory that it was in pre-colonial times. The tribes continue to be the Hutu (86 percent) , Tutsi (14 percent) and Batwa (1 percent). The ethnic tensions that informed relations between the Tutsi and Hutu in pre-colonial – and even in colonial – times remain.  There is a community that believes it should rule. Conversely, it believes that the others should be ruled. Life in this poor country is nasty, short and brutish.

Now this is where Kenya is headed. The entry point is the controversial presidential election that President Uhuru Kenyatta, his Deputy William Ruto, and their party Jubilee have planned. They will execute their plan next week, 26 October, through a hapless “Independent” Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC). The commission is virtually their captive. When the Supreme Court of Kenya invalidated President Kenyatta’s election on September 1, the president and his handlers went into shock. They emerged from the shock wondering aloud “who the judges thought they were, to nullify a presidential election.” The president said that he had accepted the invalidation of his election “out of humility.” But, he cautioned, he was not a coward. He promised to fix the Supreme Court at a later time.

Since then, analogies have recurrently been made between Kenya and Burundi – as well as between Kenya and Rwanda, adjacent to Burundi. Jubilee politicians have advised Kenyans to look at Burundi, if they want to know that they are enjoying freedom under Uhuru Kenyatta. A top party official, David Murathe, has suggested that Kenya needs what he calls “a benevolent dictator,” like the presidents of Rwanda and Burundi. He has told us that from next month, Uhuru is going to be “brutal, lethal and ruthless.”

Accordingly, this Thursday, President Kenyatta is set to give himself “a new term in office,” Nkurunziza style. He is set to go on to “celebrate” his “victory” in this non-election. The Opposition has rejected the farce because of numerous irregularities this far. It is instructive that the chairman of IEBC, Wanyonyi Wafula Chebukati, has himself publicly told the country that IEBC cannot deliver a credible fresh presidential election. Earlier, Commissioner Dr. Roslyne Akombe resigned. Akombe said in a formal statement that she did not wish to be party to “a mockery of democracy.” Some of her colleagues had been retained to deliver a predetermined outcome, she told BBC Radio.

The repeat Presidential Election has divided the country along ethnic lines. The division, moreover, is extremely hostile. Kenyans are saying terrible things to one another in the social media. They bay for each other’s tribal blood. In a taste of what look like things to come, the State seems to have targeted Luo Nyanza for police brutality. The police have violently disrupted their demonstrations.  They have fired teargas into protesting throngs, unprovoked. Even tots have been clubbed to death. Street protesters have been shot dead. Never mind that similar protests have taken place elsewhere too.

Uhuru Kenyatta is likely to be declared president elect (with more than 90 percent of the vote this time). This will be without the participation of a majority of Kenyan tribes in the “election.” This may not seem to trouble him. Yet, the big question is not about the electoral process anymore. This ended the moment Raila Odinga of NASA withdrew from the election. The question is how we will continue to live together – as Jubilee tribes vs. non-Jubilee communities. How do we walk into the future together?

Cheekily, Jubilee and IEBC retained Raila’s name on the ballot paper, even after his withdrawal from the race. This is meant to lend legitimacy to the ongoing electoral fiction. More comically, IEBC CEO, Ezra Chiloba, has taken three weeks’ leave, “to allow the election to proceed smoothly.”

Of course Chiloba, Chebukati, President Kenyatta and the Jubilee politburo know that there is no election, in the strict sense of holding elections. They are now only taking the country through a window dressing exercise, in the guise of an election. What will happen on Thursday next week, therefore,  is a dramatic exercise in electoral fiction and mockery.

As in Burundi, next week’s electoral window dressing game is meant to “legitimize” Uhuru Kenyatta. The bad news for everybody is that there are very tough consequences ahead. The Opposition will not accept an illegitimate president. The product of an illegitimate exercise and process is also illegitimate. A long drawn out resistance is in the offing. It will, no doubt, slow down normal activities.

“Systems people” who are looking forward to “return to normalcy” are in for a rude shock. I appreciate their eagerness to see “things return to normal.” Yet they never ask, “normal for who?” The Mexican revolutionary Emeliano Zapata (1879 – 1919) famously said, “If there is no justice for the people, let there be no peace for the government.” There will be no true peace for the “systems people” who are dreaming of “return to normalcy.”

Kenya has reached a point of no return. The only way to restore normalcy is to let justice ring. Efforts to impose a “personal state” and a political hegemony, Burundi style, will only drag the country through the wilderness for a long, long time to come. The true business community and the foreign community with business interest in the country would do well to get talking to Uhuru Kenyatta. They need to tell him the truth. There will be no “normalcy” after 26 October. Not so soon, anyway.

Them vs Us- Conversations of War

Just 8 years ago, Syria had an army, a police force, and an economy 4 times bigger than Kenya’s. And then this happened:
“Pro-democracy protests erupted in March 2011 in the southern city of Deraa after the arrest and torture of some teenagers who painted revolutionary slogans on a school wall. After security forces opened fire on demonstrators, killing several, more took to the streets.

The unrest triggered nationwide protests demanding President Assad’s resignation. The government’s use of force to crush the dissent merely hardened the protesters’ resolve. By July 2011, hundreds of thousands were taking to the streets across the country.

Opposition supporters eventually began to take up arms, first to defend themselves and later to expel security forces from their local areas.”


Today, it doesn’t matter who was right or wrong – for the families of the 250,000 Syrians that have lost their lives, and the 11 million who are living as refugees.

It doesn’t matter whether their leaders will get “full bread” or “nusu mkate” when the conflict is over. If your child is dead, your home is destroyed, or your livelihood is shattered, all the talk about the size of bread is meaningless.

In the midst of all the chest-thumping that is happening in our midst, it’s easy not to notice our unfolding tragedy. From conversations that take place around me, I get the feeling that our nation is suspended over a precipice, and that it is dangling by a slender thread that shows every sign of snapping.

Every day I listen to conversations of war, conversations of ethnic profiling, conversations of police brutality, and conversations of secession.

On social media, I have seen conversations praising police killing of members of a certain community; conversations about how certain communities are good fighters, and how others cannot fight at all; and conversations about which communities should be wiped out.

On national TV, I have watched the President and Raila Odinga take part in the conversation (The President saying “sisi sio waoga” and Raila Odinga defending one of his allies who had advocated for violence).

On vernacular FM stations I have heard popular presenters asking their viewers to get ready to defend their communities.

From parliament, I have heard conversations about how communities will perform in the coming war – based on pre-match contest between Jaguar and Babu Owino. I have also seen a respected senator take part in this conversation. His exact words were “Kama mbaya, mbaya. Wacha kiumane”.

I have heard a governor and MP from his county participate in this conversation: the governor asking members of communities that did not vote for a certain candidate to vacate that county, and the MP donating machetes to his followers.

These are conversations that take place moments before nations step into the slippery slope from which there can be no turning back. These are the conversations that took place in Somalia in 1990. They are the conversations that Syrians were having in 2011.

Such conversations cannot be stopped or changed by an election, police action, or legislation.

We must first be bold enough to admit that Kenya has a serious problem and that it is a problem for which we must find urgent but lasting solutions.

I call this problem “Them Vs Us”. It is the problem that…
• Triggered widespread violence in different parts of our country in 1992, 1997, and 2007.
• Made thousands of people to flee back to their ancestral homes a few weeks before the August 8 general elections.
• Makes some people say they want to secede.

It is this problem that has now reared its ugly head form of an electoral dispute.

Unless we do something about it, sooner or later we will be forced to say goodbye to Kenya – as we know it.

The reason I wrote this piece is to ask us – the ordinary people – to start our own conversation.

It is a conversation which I hope will force our leaders to prioritize the development of a permanent solution to the “Them Vs Us” problem.

When our leaders say “our communities will fight”, they don’t mean them and their children; they mean us and our children. It is our children who will lose lives, forfeit education, and forego a future.

If we lose our country, they will fly their families to European capitals. Their children will go to the same high-cost schools, they will play golf in the same high-end clubs, and they’ll take holidays – to exotic destinations – together.

In the meantime, the rest of us – irrespective of tribe – will probably be sharing the same crowded tent at a refugee camp in Somalia or South Sudan.

Please share your views with love (without anger, acrimony, or abuse).

Share widely.
Thank You.

Joshua K. Njenga

Twitter: @JKNjenga

I’m Proud to be Kenyan, and I’ll Say it Out Loud, Thank You.

When Rodgers Rop turned to Christopher Cheboich, Francis Kiprop and Mbarak Hussein, to hurry up and catch up and take the memorable photo finish at the 2002 Boston marathon, winning more than 20 seconds ahead of the rest, every Kenyan, who watched it, including myself, felt like a winner.

In the pub where I was watching the marathon, a whole pack of people smiled wistfully as Rop turned and beckoned to his compadres to catch up and when they finished, ever so spectacularly, the room exploded in hugs and high fives, the likes of which it warms my heart to remember. Many of those high fives were between strangers.

At that point, as we jubilantly patted each other in the back for our boys’ win, the fact that we were broke faded into the background, that fees needed to be paid and mothers taken to hospital tomorrow and jobs to be found urgently and rent to be paid and the government screwing up left and right… all of it faded into the background and to the fore came the oneness that joined us together.

When Dr. Alfred Ng’ang’a Mutua launched the “Najivunia kuwa Mkenya” campaign, I read a lot of derogatory stuff about it. I read that it was plastic and lacked in merit. I read an explanation from him of the rationale behind the campaign and that made sense too. Just as did Barrack Muluka, Macharia Gaitho’s and Kwendo Opanga’s arguments – which were mainly linked to the fact that the government leaves quite a bit to be desired and that Kenya is no Utopia.

But the day that Rop and his friends won that marathon got me thinking. Being brave is not not being afraid, it is being afraid and facing your fears regardless. Being patriotic is not failing to see what is wrong with Kenya and speaking up about it, it is doing so and also giving credit where it is due and counting our blessing regardless.

Reading the articles by Muluka and Gaitho and others, I get the sense that the problem is more the messenger than the message. I hear the voice of David Makali, one of my mentors, who would hold that there is nothing to celebrate and so this whole campaign is premature at best.

Muluka says, “But more significantly, this kind of publicity stunt occasions resentment, even among generally apolitical people.” Apolitical people? Kenyans are very political and this is why one his chief reasons for dismissing the najivunia campaign is political.

But more importantly, he quotes Achebe who says, “A patriot is a person who loves his country. He is not a person who says he loves his country. He is not even a person who shouts or swears or recites or sings that he loves his country. He is one who cares deeply about his country and all its people.”

Now this is true, only, if I really do love my country and care about it and its people, may I not also shout it from the rooftops?

Macharia explains how it is that the problem with the campign is the messenger and not the message. Good ol’ Alfred is the official public communicator serving the government of the day and therefore the tone of the campaign equates the love of Kenya with support for Narc/ Narc Kenya.

I’ll tell you why I will have a sticker on my bumper that says “najivunia kuwa Mkenya”, regardless of who makes it.

Because despite the fact that I am not happy with many aspects of Kenya and I know that there is a lot to that needs to get done, I see the glass as half full, where Kenya is concerned. The message, “I am proud to be Kenyan” has nothing to do with the government, it has everything to do with my relationship with the country I was born in and whose citizenship I choose to keep.

No, Mr. Muluka, you are right. “Mutua (and I) should know that patriotism is not about putting useless stickers on bumpers” but the fact that I am patriotic and bursting with pride of the simple fact that I am and feel Kenyan, is reason enough for me to want someone else to know and hopefully, we will learn to be more positive.

Say it. I am proud to be Kenyan. Say it again. How do you feel?

By the way, in advertising, that’s called assertive marketing. Say I am a winner enough time and you will act, speak and play as one. Say I am proud to be Kenyan enough, and the glass will look positive despite the politics and economic divides etc.
There’s tangible advantages to that too. We stand up more straight, because we know we are a proud people. We walk taller as a result. and everyone else wants to be part of our pride… and so investment flows in, and tourism flows in and we get incomes and we stand taller…

Barrack Muluka is dismissive of Mutua as a Nyayo kid who “in the 1980s, Mutua was a boy, drinking Nyayo school milk and ingratiatingly singing ‘Tawala Kenya, tawala’ in mass choirs. Hindsight cannot help him appreciate the extent of resentment borne out of sycophancy at public expense.”

I am a Nyayo kid too. I drank Nyayo milk too. But I did feel the effects of the sycophancy and fear of the eighties. I’m the one who couldn’t find a job in the nineties, after all. And that resentment? Its a bitter pill that is beyond its time. Spit it out and move on.

Keep it simple. You are proud to be Kenyan. Just say it. On your web site, on the signature of your email, on your car’s bumper, on your window pane, on your wall. Say it. Feel it. Act with it.

The Pilgrim Who Inspired Me to Pen Goes Home to Rest

I owe my writing to the late Prof Ali A Mazrui who inspired me to write and to Mundia Muchiri, who availed the opportunity.

I was a youthful publishing editor in the early ‘90s when Mazrui published an essay in the Sunday Nation, revisiting his pet theme of the trinity of the African condition.

The thrust of the thought was that Africa was culturally the product of three backgrounds — the Indo European, Arabic Islamic and Afro Asiatic heritages.

He saw the Afro Asiatic heritage as dying. It was succumbing to natural attrition at the hands of the Arabic Islamic and the Indo European heritages.

The latter two heritages were meanwhile locked up in their own war of supremacy.

Eventually one was set to prevail. Mazrui pitched for the Arabic Islamic heritage. If the traditional African heritage was dying, the European heritage was cancerous.

The Arabic Islamic heritage was, therefore, the natural choice for Africa. I disagreed.


I argued that Africa needed her own idiom, identity and destiny, equidistant from the Judeo-European and Arabic Islamic worlds.

We debated over an eight-week period in the Sunday Nation. In the end we agreed to disagree. But, with that, my weekly perorations were born.

Despite our disagreement, Mazrui found the dialogue edifying. He purposed to publish the essays in a future collection of his intellectual battles. It did not come to pass, however, for reasons beyond us.

Our relations nonetheless remained warm, peppered with occasional email exchanges on varied issues.

We purposed to revise Nations and New States in Africa but this fell through when I left EAEP. This seminal work was previously authored jointly with the late Prof Michael Tidy. It remains a tour de force on Africa’s postcolonial states.

It is an indictment against our failure to build new nations in our new states.

I first picked up the expression “the Hereafter” from The Trial of Christopher Okigbo. The converse was “the Herebefore,” or land of the living, as “seen” by the dead. The Okigbo story is the tale of a great artist — a poet — who is on trial in Heaven — the Hereafter.

He is charged with the crime of throwing art to the dogs and allowing himself to die on the battlefield in a tribal war.

Chris Okigbo, easily Africa’s finest poet, died in action in the Nigerian Civil War (1967-70).

In the eyes of Kwame Apolo-Gyamfi, himself an extraordinarily brilliant Ghanaian student who was killed in a motorbike crash in the UK after a rare drinking binge, Okigbo did a bad thing to die in war. “When the ordinary man or the great soldier dies for his nation, that is indeed heroism,” Apolo-Gyamfi, the, “prosecutor,” said.

He concluded, “When the great thinker dies for his nation, that is escapism.”

Mazrui was fascinated with ideas. As if talking about himself, he famously wrote in the Sunday Nation in 1979, “A philosopher is someone who wonders.” He packaged his “wonderings” in rhetorical and titillating intellectual cadence.


He was the ultimate master of Aristotelian rhetoric. Of Kwame Nkrumah he would quip, for example, “Was Nkrumah a Leninist Czar?” Leninist Czar? What a beautiful oxymoron! So Kwame was at once a revolutionary liberator and a profligate reactionary!

But Mazrui was in his element when discussing the trinity of phenomena. In the Okigbo story, he used trinity to examine the curse of the African tribal intelligentsia.

Here, Apolo-Gyamfi describes what he calls “The fall of Okigbo.” Mazrui writes, “Counsel made a distinction between individualism, universalism and social collectivism.

A great artist was first of all an individualist, secondly a universalist, and only thirdly a social collectivist.”

The individualist is, we may infer, the person who respects his thoughts, conscience and will. He bends only to these three. He will not do things to conform to social collectivism, such as kith and kin.

The scholar who refuses to “join in”— for example in inter ethnic conflict — is an individualist, the black sheep of the tribe.

The collectivist is driven by tribal passions and sympathies.  He belongs to the tribe first and to everything else afterwards. The universalist is committed to eternal values and principles.

And so Apolo-Gyamfi concludes, “If the great artist has to sacrifice himself for anything, he should only sacrifice himself for the universal. To die for the truth is martyrdom. To die for knowledge is martyrdom. To die for art is martyrdom.

But when the great thinker dies for his nation (read tribe), this is an indulgence.

He has put the politics of the tribe before the power of the eternal. He may not have broken his contract with the dead. But he has broken his contract with the living and with those who are to be born.”

Barrack’s first post

This is the first post by Barrack.

There is a great need for the product’s website which will be different from the company’s. I see the product as the flagship brand for Strauss Energy that has the potential to grow on its own and give clout to the mai

Making Public Money Count by Enforcing Accountability

Making Public Money Count by Enforcing Accountability

Presented at the Public Finance Management Conference for Africa

Pride Inn Paradise Hotel, Mombasa on 20 April 2017

Under the Aegis of the Institute of Certified Public Accountants of Kenya (ICPAK)



By Barrack O. Muluka (B.A, PGD Mass Comm, M.A. PhD Researcher (Leicester) FMKIM),



I intend to argue in this paper that a country has the levels of public accountability that it deserves, for the time being. Every nation has the leaders that it deserves and deserves the leaders that it has. If public accountability is poor, it is because the people do not collectively demand higher standards, although they may privately yearn for them. I am also going to argue that quite often, even reasonable and well educated people will sacrifice what is good for them – as individuals and as a nation – at the altar of narrow emotional attachment to a spurious group identity, often without such identity delivering anything substantive to anybody, except to those who exercise political power. The power barons will appeal to group solidarity to sustain themselves in power and to entrench their rape of public resources. I conclude that in order for a people to make public money count through enforcement of accountability, there is need to take a fresh look at their sense of nationhood as a critical predicate to holding our leaders to account.


Richard Heeks, a probity governance scholar, says that effective design and implementation processes will enable gap closures and improve the likelihood of success in efforts to make public money count through increased public accountability. However, beyond such enablers, it is the politics of the situation that determine the drivers to anti corruption successes.

Enablers and gap closures may include such interventions as creating what are expected to be powerful anti-corruption authorities, police reforms, strengthening of public prosecution processes, tightening procurement processes, reforming the Judiciary, reforming public auditing standards, and the like. Yet, ultimately, it is the politics of the situation that will eventually determine the rate of success or failure.

Among the very first things that the Mwai Kibaki government did soon after it came to power in December 2002 was to reorganize the procurement function in the Public Service. All serving officers were disengaged and advised to reapply for their jobs. The new Minister in charge of the National Treasury, Daudi Mwiraria, explained that this was the first step in fighting corruption in the Public Service. The Kibaki government had come to power pledging to end corruption in the Public Service.

In his inaugural address on 31 December 2002, President Kibaki had promised the nation that there was going to be stringent public accountability. There would be zero tolerance to corruption. Up to this moment, the country had been treated to repeated waves of allegations of high-level corruption. The Goldenberg Scandal of 1991 – 1992 was the mother of all scams in Public Service in the country.

The Kibaki government had hardly been in power for a few months when Kenyans began hearing of another Goldenberg-kind-of-scam, the Anglo Leasing Scandal. A prominent minister in the Kibaki government would later brazenly refer to Anglo Leasing as “the scandal that never was.” A Permanent Secretary who had been specifically hired to lead the onslaught against corruption would flee the country and later on resign in exile. He said that the cancer of corruption had found its way into the heart of the Kibaki government. There was no will in the government to fight corruption, he said.

At the heart of this harsh indictment was the “scandal that never was” minister. This minister is cited in the famous book by Michela Wrong, Our Turn To Eat, as having asked the permanent secretary, John Githongo, to “go easy on this government, it is our turn to eat.” Ever since, the story of public sleaze and scandal has become the most common coin of government. Kenyans are treated to one appalling disclosure of high-level corruption, after the other. It has become the rhyme and rhythm of our life; a part of our national character, almost to the extent that it does not seem to matter anymore.

Today we have a national budget of 3.6 trillion Kenya shillings. The corruption narratives that we have heard about NYS, Eurobond, Afya House and assorted scams, amount to about 1.3 trillion shillings, collectively. About half of the national budget easily goes towards sponsoring corruption in National Government. This is to say nothing of what is happening in County Government across the country. Even the political Opposition, that enjoys casting itself in the mould of crusaders against corruption, shockingly remains silent whenever governors who belong to Opposition parties are fingered in corrupt deals. The message is simple, “Corruption is bad so long as someone else is involved. But when it is one of our own, we should not lift a finger.” Besides, we have not yet touched on public wastage both in National and County Government. And when someone is identified with corruption, or poor use of public funds, s/he gets ready defenders in the ethnic community.

The defence may be from the tribe – if the issue is happening at the National level – or the clan, when the matters are at the County level. Corruption is  accordingly  alive and well in our country. If you have what is considered to be “a good job,” in government and even in the Private Sector, you are considered to be “a fool” if you do not steal by virtue of your office. “You have no brains.” It is, therefore, almost something of a shock when someone asks us to address a gathering such as this on making public money count and seeking accountability in public finance.

Where does this malady begin? How could we possibly arrest it and bring it to an end? How do we begin being accountable to ourselves? These are the fundamental questions before us. To answer them, we need to reflect on our philosophy of government and why people vehemently seek to go into government. In the end, it boils down to our attitude and beliefs about public finance, public procurement and public audit.

Public finance, procurement and audit as political incentives

Corruption in government in Kenya gravitates around the three disciplines of public finance, public procurement and public audit. If you can capture and take hostage of the three functions and soundly have them under your armpit, you can steal from public coffers with untrammelled impunity. Charles Hornsby has discussed this phenomenon in Kenya in his great work titled Kenya, A History of Since Independence. Under the heading “Corruption and Prebendalism” Hornsby recalls how in the 1980s the Kenyan economy was booming. “The State had control over large and valuable assets,” he says.

Regrettably, Hornsby observes, most of these assets were left “vulnerable to exploitation by those holding the levers of political power.” Hornsby observes further, “Access to the resources that the State commanded and the ability to direct them for personal gain and political purposes was in fact a fundamental driver for competitive politics.” This is the essence of prebendalism. Those who occupy powerful political office consider the opportunity for misappropriation of public funds to be part of their legitimate entitlement and benefits. The public, too, seems to quietly agree with them that this is their entitlement. You, therefore, occupy public office not so that you can serve, but so that you can become rich. This is Kenya’s present philosophy of government. Even the daily Press describes government ministries in terms of “lucrative” and “non lucrative” ministries. The question that is not asked is, “Lucrative to whom, for what purpose?”

Corruption is hence a benefit of being in power. The instruments and institutions of public accountability may be well in place. Those in power want to remain there so that they can continue to reap this benefit. Those outside want to get in so that they can take over, thus the notion of “It’s our turn to eat.” You are unhappy not because the people in power are corrupt, but because you are not part of the eating team. That is why in Kenya we have heard it said, “We are eating succulent meat while you salivate.”

In the European Medieval Age (5th to 15th Centuries AD), it was common for powerful church leaders to convert some of the church funds to private personal use, as a matter of illicit entitlement. These holy people sat in special places during the church service. They were called prebendaries, sitting in prebandal stalls, usually behind the choir. The benefice paid to them was called a prebend. Hence the notion of prebendalism as institutionalized corruption.

In social science, the prebandalist State understands clearly that its primary objective is to bleed government of as much money as it possibly could do during its tenure. To do this effectively, the State must fill up all strategic positions in public finance, procurement and audit with the right people. These will be loyal people from the same ethnic group, with a smattering of loyal friends from outside the common breed. The leadership must also promote a leadership philosophy that gives it instant – even unsolicited – support from a critical segment of society deceiving itself that it is a part of the eating community.

Accordingly, the prebendalist State takes on the face of a tribe, a clan, a religious group, a race, or even a family. Take the example of Liberia under President William Tolbert (1971 – 1980) David Lamb has captured this snugly in the volume titled The Africans Lamb recalls, “Tolbert’s brother, Frank, was president pro temporare of the Senate. His brother Stephen was the minister of finance. His sister Maria was the mayor of Bentol City. His son A.B. was ambassador at large. His daughter Wilhelmina was the presidential physician. His daughter Christine was the deputy minister of education. His niece Tula was the presidential dietician. His three nephews were (each) assistant minister of presidential affairs, agricultural attaché to Rome and vice governor of the National Bank. His four sons in law occupied the positions of minister of defence, deputy minister of public works, commissioner for immigration and board member of Air Liberia. One brother in law was ambassador to Guinea, another one was in the Liberian Senate, a third was mayor of Monrovia.”

We can call it nepotism, tribalism, or whatever other –ism. The bottom line is that this is the foundation of making public finance not count. These people have been put in power basically to siphon funds out of the public coffers. It is not enough to be from the right tribe or clan. You must also be politically correct. This means that you do not question anything. But apart from not questioning, you must also be ready to stand with the tribal leader all the time. The correctness or wrongness of anything is predicated upon the tribes that are involved and the position that they have taken. Everything else is immaterial. When the tribal leader is out of government you stand with him in condemning the government of the day both for real and imagined offences against the people. When he is in power, you agree with him even when things are blatantly wrong.

Has Kenya taken this prebendalist road? When any matter comes before the two houses of Parliament in the country, it is easy to tell who will take what position. It all depends on whether they belong to tribes that consider the government of the day to be their government, or whether they are from the Opposition. Hence the Opposition fights everything from the government because this is not their government. The converse is also true. Everything from government is acceptable to those from tribes that consider the government to be theirs.

If we are looking for accountability in public finance, we are a terribly long shot away, for even the organs that should watch over this in Parliament have become zombified. They no longer have conscientious leaders who interrogate issues and vote on the basis of merit and conscience. They are, instead, voting zombies. The only thing that matters to them is their tribe. We have since coined the grotesque notion of the “tyranny of numbers.” This is to say that the side that has more zombies will carry the day. Never mind that the notion of tyranny and that of parliamentary democracy ought to be mutually exclusive, at all times.

Now whole tribes will flow in this stream of ethnic zombification. It does not matter that they are professionals, or that they belong to the class of our spiritual superiors. We have learnt to hate people who do not belong to our tribes more than we love ourselves and our children. We would rather have a thief from our midst being in charge of government than an honest man from some other tribe. If we loved ourselves more than we hated others, public accountability would not be so elusive.

In about a hundred days’ time, Kenyans will go out to vote in the general elections. Indications so far are that the elections will not be based on any ideological agenda, except the ideology of negative ethnicity. The lie that is negative ethnicity is the most portent force against making public finance count. Politicians know that their tribesmen will vote for them, regardless of any other consideration. For the time being, it does not matter how much any one individual plunders the public coffers. When he or she goes back to the tribe, or the clan, they will support him or her. And s/he will use the same ill-gotten wealth to buy his or her way back to power.

Inefficiency and impunity

A systemic and organic challenge to making public finance count exists beyond the trinity of public finance, procurement and audit. It assumes the shape of a nexus that makes mockery of all pretext to public accountability. The auditing function has often not cooperated with the public finance and procurement in the conspiracy to raid public coffers.

Historically, the Auditor General has made mindboggling disclosures about abuse of public finance by people in high places. Regrettably, no action has ever been taken against the offenders. These may be people whom we have cause to believe that they have stolen, or they may be people who have been negligent with public finance. The disclosures against them never go beyond the value of temporary shock to the taxpaying public. They are forgotten after a few days. Life goes on, until when the next wave of appalling disclosures comes around. Even the media is quick to drop its interest in the heist, as it follows one political red herring after the other.

That nothing happens after the Auditor General’s report is good enough assurance and motivation for the stealing class to go on with the business of stealing. For they know that nothing will happen to them. This is impunity at its best. Next to this, they know that there will always be a tribal crowd out there to shout out in their support.

Following strained relations between the Kenya Government and the development partners’ world in the 1990s, Kenya was arm-twisted into putting in place an anticorruption parastatal in 1991. The Kenya Anti Corruption Authority went on to become the Kenya Anti corruption Commission and now we have the Ethics and Anti Corruption Commission.

Put together with the Directorate of Public Prosecutions, the Criminal Investigations Department and the Kenya Police generally, Kenya has what should be a formidable army against theft from public coffers. Besides, these authorities have the back up of the Public Accounts Committee of Parliament and other oversight entities that make ours one of the most policed public services anywhere in the world.

Yet, conversely, Kenya remains highly ranked among the corrupt countries in the world. Last year (2016) February, a PriceWaterhouseCoopers survey indicated that Kenya was the third most corrupt country in the world, after South Africa and France. This report came two days after President Uhuru Kenyatta told Kenyans in Israel that Kenyans were only good at stealing, tribalism and grumbling.

A Few weeks earlier, the Chief Justice Dr. Willy Mutunga had described the Kenyan economy as “a bandit economy.” This was the cry of a frustrated head of the Judiciary. For in a country such as ours even a non-compromised Judiciary cannot do much. If the investigative and prosecutorial processes are flawed, they will never deliver to the Judiciary a case that can survive on the weighing scales of justice.  We are in the end caught up in the spider web of debilitating corruption.

Turning the Tide, Making Public Finance Count

The situation need not remain this grim in perpetuity. We can begin turning the wheel and the tides of time against this sorry picture. A number of prerequisites are necessary in this regard.

  1. Redefine our sense of nationhood and priorities in the war against corruption: Here it is of the essence that we all think of ourselves as Kenyans first and as all other identities afterwards. If we do this, we will recognize thieves as thieves first and last. We will not see them as people from our tribes and who need, therefore, protection by the tribe. It will not matter that the thief is a senior person in government, who wants us to believe that that the government belongs to our tribe and that, therefore, our tribe must protect our government by protecting him. For the government will be seen as the government of all Kenyans, the way it is supposed to be. This is the first step towards making public finance count.
  2. Reeducate the educated class: There is need to reeducate the educated professional class in Kenya. The educated intelligentsia must begin learning to maintain a certain professional aristocratic distance from the thieves in their tribe. The intelligentsia is an agenda setting class. This is the latter day Patrician community. When it coughs, the Plebs catch the cold. This class cannot afford to worship in empty tribal shrines if the country’s public finance is expected to begin counting and making a difference.
  3. Stigmatize and ostracize thieves: Part of our challenge is that we have learnt to accept and even gentrify thieves. Even the use of the name “corruption” deodorizes stealing. We readily mingle with these people and even treat them with reverence. In 2003 saw school children and their teachers taking autographs from the architects of Goldenberg, at the Kenyatta International Convention Centre. The message was that these were heroes and role models. Thieves must be shunned and be made to feel very lonely and uncomfortable amidst their ill-gotten wealth. Social stigma is a very powerful weapon that Kenyans have not employed. We have seen public looters across the political divide occupying special seats in houses of prayer and being greeted with supported hands by curtsying priests. Even such churches and priests should be ostracized. We must be able to tell some people, “Your money stinks, pesa zako zinanuka.”
  4. Love ourselves: We need to focus more on love for ourselves and less on hate for others in order to make the necessary breakthroughs. Anti corruption successes from places like Singapore tell of countries whose people and leaders have focused more on love for themselves and for their country than on their dislike for other people.
  5. Government Openness: This has worked very well in countries such as Denmark, Finland, New Zealand and Sweden. Such openness goes hand in glove with media freedom and toleration for civil society probity into government. Lessons from emerging European democracies like Serbia, Croatia, Macedonia and Montenegro also show that declaration of wealth, where it is genuine, will also help. It is instructive, however, that in this openness, the citizens focus on issues rather than on regionalism and ethnicity. For governments that enjoy ethnic protection are not known for their openness to public probity.

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.

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.

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