For Great Literatures of the World, the Logic of Love and Marriage is Always Slippery

“If love be so good, then whence cometh my woes?” Many hearts that pound with the beauty of love – both real and imagined – will reflect on their loves and woes with Geoffrey Chaucer. This is especially so in this season of long nights of loving and being loved. For it is the Valentines season, when black and red are the colours of love and the rose flower the symbol.

John Proctor in Arthur Miller’s The Crucible (1953) would see it a little differently. Purple, he would say, is the colour of love, and lilacs the flowers. Remember where in Miller’s epic play Proctor looks out of the window in spring and explodes: “Lilacs have a purple smell. Lilac is the smell of nightfall.” And Proctor goes on to say that the night was made for loving, and purple is the colour of the night, the colour of love. The night of love has a purple smell. Purple or red, the season of love or – more to the point – the season of desiring to be loved is here. Chaucer (1343 – 1400) is regarded in literary studies as the father of English Literature. His collection of stories titled The Canterbury Tales is regarded as the beginning of English writing as we know it today. The stories are believed to have been shared by a group of Christian pilgrims journeying to Canterbury. The narratives are at once cheeky and hilarious. A recurrent feature is Chaucer’s abiding preoccupation with matters of the heart.

Matters of the heart are often attended by aches that defy the mind. Those who seek love and matrimony should thank the stars if they should get both. For, the great literatures of the world – from Chaucer to the present writer – the logic of love and marriage is a slippery one. The two have seldom been hosted in the same chamber. Hence, to some love is given and to others marriage. To most are only given hearts that pine for love, but never really get it. Hence, Chaucer may ask, “If love be so good, whence commeth my woes?”

Separate them

If love is not requited, the heart that loves must accept the pain of rejection. It must accept to be lost in the unfathomable legend of loving without being loved back. As if he was thinking of this Chris Okigbo, easily Africa’s foremost poet, wrote, “Love Apart.” Here he said, “The moon has ascended between us; Between two pines that bow to each other; Love with the moon has ascended, fed on our solitary stems; And we are now shadows; That cling to each other; But kiss the air only.”

Okigbo’s “Love Apart” is a poem of heartache,” such as many a loving heart would pen in the season of love. Why the season of love? Should love not be eternal? Should not the tying of nuptial knots be the crowning glory of love and loving? Chaucer certainly set the pace for English writing and writing in English. He legitimised writing in English at a time when Latin and French were the languages of literature. At the same time, he set a thematic thrust for the romantic work of literature. It pointed towards mutual exclusiveness between love and nuptial knots. Hence his poetry is mainly plaintive, decrying rejection and abandonment. From “A ballad of complaint,” through “A complaint to his lady,” all the way to “A rondel of merciless beauty,” to dozens of rich poetic vintage, it is the story of the searching heart. Where two hearts meet, circumstances must separate them – often permanently. The narrative poem “Troilus and Criseyde” is credited with the origins of the aphorism, “All good things must come to an end.”

A pulsating relationship between two youth comes to a rude end as the maiden, Criseyde, is given away in exchange for a prisoner of war, in the legendary Trojan War. She leaves Troilus waiting and hurting. Way before he is killed on the war front, she accepts another lover, in her place of bondage. Chaucer suggests she is not an unfaithful woman. She is just a noble and faithful woman whose heart must continue loving. Accordingly, she will love that which she has found, in absence of that which she loves. You men, who think your women have betrayed you, please take note. She’s not stopped loving you. You are only absent; yet she must continue loving.

Subsequent writers in English and other languages, too, pick up this theme to great effect. Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights is at its core a story of obsessive love between the unmannered Heathcliff and the urbane Catherine – where the two love intensely but never get married. Catherine, instead, marries Hindley Earnshaw because it is socially convenient. Thomas Hardy’s Tess (Tess of the D’Urbervilles) eventually marries Angel Clare, the love of her life. But the marriage is never consummated. It breaks down on the first night. She is doomed to exchange intimacies with Alec D’Urberville, whom she has never loved. Hardy has many similar characters – The Return of the Native is rich in love tangos, betrayals and unrequited dreams. The same pains characterize the pages of The Mayor of Casterbridge and Jude the Obscure – among others.

Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations is an outstanding epic in this regard. You will discover Miss Havisham whose dreams die on the day of her proposed wedding. You will also meet Pip whose undying love for Estella of the heart of ice burns to ashes.

In Russia, Tolstoy has given us Anna Karenina while in France Gustave Flaubert has Madam Bovary. Others are D H Lawrence Women in Love and Sons and Lovers; Shakespeare’s Anthony and Cleopatraand of course, the mother of all of all unrequited romances, Romeo and Juliet.

There are indeed numerous other fine readings besides those selectively mentioned here. Why, love remains only an illusion! Hence there abound many out there who would say with the poet, “She is everything to me; the unrequited dream; A song that no one sings; The unattainable; She is a myth that I have to believe in . . . “ Patricia Williams of Essay Writing Place has advised us that love does not come from outside. Try finding it within yourself. Hold a conversation with yourself. Know who you are. Accept yourself. And make friendships with yourself, despite all of your flaws. When you have loved yourself, you are ready to love others. For you know how good it feels to be loved. Then, just then, you might get some meaningful returns – both in wedlock and without. Maybe. Happy Valentines and try purple, this time!

Is Kenya Rolling Back the Democratic Gains that Have Taken so Many Years to Put Together?

This week’s activities by the leaders of the Jubilee Party, the Orange Democratic Movement and Wiper Democratic Party leave you gasping. Is the country not going back to Methuselah?

Against all pressure, there is a determined tripartite effort to make Parliament the rubber-stamp of a few individuals – basically the fellows at the top. Chinua Achebe has told us of a hopeless character who sold his machete and carried his empty sheath to battle. If Parliament is supposed to serve the people, does President Uhuru Kenyatta’s bullying of the Jubilee MPs around the Finance Bill negate this? Is Parliament at the risk of becoming an empty sheath?

It would seem that State House has taken away the blade for its whims. Kenyans are holding an empty scabbard. In this, State House has found strong allies in ODM’s Raila Odinga and Wiper’s Kalonzo Musyoka. The two are the proverbial outsiders who weep louder than the bereaved. By so doing, they have gone beyond their political “sell by” date. Odinga and Kalonzo are a liability to the citizens. They can only be relevant by blackmailing the nation with mayhem if they are not included in the State banquet.

If the democratic voices in the three parties do not stand up to the big man syndrome, Kenya is headed to a bad place. We have been here before. We were young people in high school – some of us – when the Jomo Kenyatta government began the mission to kill Parliament. In October 1975 the government was smarting from public outrage following the murder of J.M. Kariuki in March. A parliamentary select committee had implicated senior state officials in the murder. The Executive wanted to kill the report of the committee. They were angry that Parliament had asserted its independence and supremacy in the JM Affair. They went on a ruthless offensive against the Legislature.

A nominated MP called Philip Njoka referred to the members of the Elijah Mwangale probe committee as “a bunch of rogues.” Standing up for the dignity of the committee and Parliament, Martin Shikuku of Butere said, “Anyone trying to lower the dignity of the house wants to kill Parliament the way Kanu was killed.” For saying that Kanu was dead, Shikuku was packed away in detention for three years. He was arrested in the precincts of Parliament together with Deputy Speaker Jean Marie Seroney. For, Seroney had agreed with him that Kanu was dead. There was no need for Shikuku to substantiate the obvious, Seroney told Parliament.

It is difficult to tell what Shikuku would have said, had the Deputy Speaker allowed him to substantiate, as had been demanded by Clement Lubembe of Ikolomani. Today, the attitude of the Executive towards Parliament brings back memories of those horrific times. The only political party in the country had become the property of the Executive, following the banning of the Kenya People’s Union (KPU) in 1969. Starting with the infamous Limuru power play of 1966, Kanu had become an oppressive imp against independent minds. It would blossom into a full-blown monster.

For now, Kanu was trying to demean Parliament. And so Shikuku and Seroney spoke out in defence of the Legislature. Vice President Moi was livid. He led MPs on a series of walkouts whenever Seroney was in the chair, before eventually signing his detention order. If the Kanu government did not kill Parliament in 1975, it sent it into atrophy, at the very minimum. Kitutu East MP, George Anyona, was detained in 1976, for being vocal in Parliament. Eldoret North MP, Chelagat Mutai, was jailed on a spurious charge. Mark Mwithaga of Nakuru Town and Peter Kibisu of Vihiga were framed up and jailed. The rest sealed their lips, except when praising Kenyatta and his government. They Nyayo Era toed the same line and only made things worse.

Has Kenya returned to the dark days? If she has, is the attempt to kill Parliament more vicious than it was in the Kanu years? For all their sins against democracy, the Kenyatta and Moi governments kept State House out of direct meddling with Parliament. They were a lot subtler in their misuse of the Legislature. Uhuru and Odinga are blatant and tactless in theirs. They don’t really care what you think of them. They are the bosses and their word has the power of life and death over your cowardly political career. They have no need for subtlety in forcing their will down your throat.

Yes, there was scheming at State House and in Gatundu in the bad old years. Cabinet Ministers Mbiyu Koinange, Njoroge Mungai and Attorney General Charles Njonjo were all the President’s men. They positioned state-sponsored schemes and whims before Parliament, using regular sycophants, bullies and gadflies. In the fullness of time, Kenya had a dud Parliament. The Legislature became the excrement of society. The Executive was the mad dog, eating the excreta. Yet even in their most wretched times, the bad old order never summoned MPs to State House to read to them the Riot Act. The Jubilee habit of summoning MPs to State House to direct them on how to conduct business is bad for Kenya.

Kenya needs to be vigilant against creeping autocracy and, especially, the bid to kill Parliament. The urgency of the situation is underscored by the reality that they have wolves in sheep’s clothing, pretending to be with them. They run with the rabbits and hunt with the wolves. It was refreshing to see Parliament, against all odds stand firm even as the State smuggled the contentious Finance Bill through the House. Parliament must remain firm and reclaim its supremacy, for it is the voice of the people.

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:
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“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.”

SOURCE: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-26116868
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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.

FASCINATED WITH IDEAS

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.

POLITICS OF TRIBE

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.

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Is this the final act by Phoenix?

The great poet said that the world is a stage. All the men and women are merely players, with their exits and entrances. And one man in his time plays many parts.

This melancholic soliloquy in Shakespeare’s As You Like aptly captures the life and times of Kenya’s Phoenix Theatre. In Shakespeare’s estimation, the many parts of a man’s life boil down to seven ages. If the seven ages are infancy, schoolboy, lover, soldier, justice, pantalone (pant alone) and old age, Phoenix Theatre has gone through it all – and back again. Indeed, the very name Phoenix says it all. After the mythical Greek phoenix, this troupe has had its numerous births, infancies, panting alones, deaths and resurrections. This bird has died to rise and risen to die and rise again some other day. For having died before in 2009, the Nairobi based theatre came back to life again. Yet its short-lived demise in 2009 was not even its first encounter with death. It might be too soon to pronounce this theatre dead. Yet, it is presently either panting alone, or dying again or – maybe – dead. But make no mistake, this is a phoenix, it could still rise again.

Depressing press reports have indicated this week that auctioneers on Wednesday descended on the Phoenix Theatre at the Professional Centre with tongs, anvils and hammers. After the fashion of Shylock the harsh Jew in Shakespeare’s Hamlet, they came to collect their pound of flesh, in rent arrears. They ferreted away theatre costumes and props. They locked up the place. Such is the call of distress. It afflicts the best of us – and especially in the arts. Kenyans will recall the struggles that such iconic artistic edifices as Elimo Njau’s Paa Ya Paa and Gallery Watatu have had to reckon with in the past, in the quest to keep both themselves and the arts alive. In its present predicament, therefore Phoenix is not alone. Nor is this story new to this troupe, as we have said.

The Phoenix story is a long and turbulent one. It goes back to the 1940s, when British soldiers began arriving in the then Kenya Colony after World War II. They came here to take up their rewards for the war effort, through the colonial office. Annabel Maule, in the volume titled Theatre Near The Equator: The Donovan Maule Story, recalls how her father, Major Don Maule, arrived in Mombasa in 1947, aboard SS Ascanius with the singular mind of setting up a repertory theatre on the Equator. And he did not come alone. For with him was his wife, Mollie. The two would become household names in theatre in Kenya, all the way to the early 1980s, in the golden age of the Donovan Maule Theatre. The life and times of the Donovan Maule Theatre inform part of Phoenix’s seven ages. Then, like now, it was not always plain sailing. Plays would be produced and performed to great acclaim. Yet the sheen on the stage and cheer in the theatre was not always matched with sterling accounts in the banks. Preeminently, it was always a matter of dents in the rents.

As early as 1949, The East African Standard lamented, “Here we are with four partially filled picture houses as our evening entertainment. Even when the show is in aid of (something) the Maules have to be content with matinees. Cannot something, even if it is only an ex-army hut on a suitable site, be put at the disposal of those who are prepared to entertain us in person?” The East African Standardwriter was grieved that the artistic revelers then – almost exclusively a European expatriate population – trooped into the movie cinema houses while few watched plays, or even cared about where the dramatic troupes were housed, if they were housed at all.

Fast-forward to 1980 and Donovan Maule Players are perfectly in the sixth phase of their thespian life. They are panting alone, lifting the curtain to their seventh age. Within the self-same stage are seeded the Phoenix Players. The Donvan Maule troupe closed its books of accounts for 1979 with a whopping loss of KSh. 8.7 million, according to Annabel.  By the start of 1981 James Falkland, the administrator, had begun thinking ahead. He was seeing the ashes of the DM Players and the emergence of the Phoenix from the ashes. He began prospecting for shareholders for Phoenix Players Ltd (In Formation). The owners of Donovan Maule – they were called Theatre Arts ’80 – however dug in for the long haul, pledging to inject more funds into the company.

Regardless, Phoenix was going to be born – and with lots of congenital problems carried over from Donovan Maule. Theatregoers of the ’80s will recall press reports of the night of long knives between Phoenix and Theatre ’80. It was one long story of love and hate. They seemed to agree today, only to differ grossly tomorrow. They led Nigel Slade, the lead arts writer at The Standard to write on 23 October 1982, “It needs more than cash to save DM.” At the apogee of friendships, suspicions and a doze of betrayals, James Falkland formally resigned in May 1983. The sun set on Donovan Maule. Phoenix was born.

Donovan Maule closed down after 35 years. Phoenix has shut down after 34. The congenital problems with which Falkland migrated from Donovan simply refused to go away. Yet, to its credit, Phoenix opened up the space to local talent, even if the repertoire has remained hugely exotic. Lupita Nyong’o, Ian Mbugua and Jean Gachui stand out in the talent pool. Others are Loice Abukutsa, Steve Mwenesi and the late Sam Otieno.

The financial sword of Damocles has for sometime now hung precariously above Phoenix. The alarm bells have gone off fairly frequently. Yet, it is a huge tribute to Ian Mbugua that Phoenix has come this far. He has strived, sometimes almost desperately and singularly to keep the repertory character of the theatre alive. He has introduced seasonal tickets, put up many plays and sought a solid board of directors. Yet it has remained difficult to stay afloat.

The one huge lesson from Phoenix is that repertory theatre can be very difficult to sustain. Here, of course, we understand repertory theatre to be a permanent company established in a regular home and performing exclusively in that place. There are all manner of establishment costs and allied challenges. In their heyday, Donvan Maule included the travelling strand in their theatre. They toured the entire country from Mombasa to Nanyuki and Kisumu to Kitale, staging plays to great praise and reasonable benefit.

If they would adopt this model, the Phoenix team could carry on, even under some other guise, and do just as well as they have always done. Indeed, they could even do better, without the regular stresses of establishment costs. The notion was always of course that they wanted to have a regular home within the traditional English repertory model. At the apogee of their financial challenges, in 1979, their precursors attempted all manner of survival tricks, from annual subscriptions to temporary memberships for those who wanted to patronize their bar for drinks and other refreshments. It did not work. Phoenix tried the same model. It has not worked. The lesson is increasingly that the theatre is the troupe and not the building. It is not even the corporate entity that is now in trouble. The artistic dream must overwhelm all these other concerns. When buildings, physical spaces and sundry structures want to leave us, we should allow them to go. For this is the time to say with Ted Kennedy when he bid his brother President Kennedy his final farewell, ” The cause endures, the hope still lives and the dream shall never die.” The theatre ought to outlive physical edifices and troubled corporate entities.

This article was first published in the Standard on Saturday 22 April 2017.

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),

 

Abstract

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.

Introduction

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.

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