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Christians in a troubled land

 

 

Folks,

Things are not good. A potent mix of Jubilee-ism vs CORD-ism (the collective term for which is tribalism), Jubilee’s incompetence, Raila Odinga’s irresponsible rallies, and recent events in Mpeketoni together mean that this country is at a dangerous point in its history. The nation is headed towards calamity, and we ourselves with it.

As Christians, we need to pray for this country now, more than at any time since 2007-08. We may not be in positions of power and influence. We may not hold cabinet positions. But we do know God – or we claim to. We claim that when we pray, He hears us and He answers.

In fact, we might say, we are praying. We are praying every Sunday in our churches for God to help this nation. Yet each week the country gets progressively worse.

Friends, this might come as news to some of us, but clearly, God is not listening. We should by now have discovered by long and painful experience that God is not hearing our prayers. We can’t say God is hearing and yet there was Westgate. We can’t say He is answering when after Westgate there was Thika Superhighway, when after Thika Superhighway there was Gikomba, and when after Gikomba, there was Mpeketoni.

We need to understand that He is not listening.

And then we need to ask ourselves why.

To my way of seeing it, it is no wonder that God is not moving when we pray, because when we pray we pray whilst harbouring (even nursing) biases within ourselves. Far too often, when a minister, a bishop, a well-meaning father or a concerned mother says “Let us pray for this country”, what he/she really means is “Let us pray for those areas in this country with whom we are politically aligned, and the people therefrom. The rest don’t matter.”

Friends, we cannot hate Kikuyus and pray for Kenya and be heard, because Kikuyus are also Kenyans. We cannot hate Luos and pray for Kenya and be heard, simply because Luos are also Kenyans. We must understand that our fate is tied in with each other’s fate. If we live, love and work in the same country, then we have one fate. Your fate is mine, and mine is yours, because we live in this one country. Nothing would prove this more emphatically than a civil war where we all would suffer horribly, as we shall see below… but we shall come to that.

God says in Ezekiel:

“And I sought for a man among them, that should make up the hedge, and stand in the gap before Me for the land, that I should not destroy it: but I found none.”

God searched for just one man who could stand in the gap for an entire land and couldn’t find him. It would appear that He is still searching, and that is why though we pray every Sunday, the bombs keep going off, the corruption continues, and the country continues to deteriorate.

 Do we think that God hates Kikuyus? Might He hate Kalenjins? Might He hate Kambas? Might He hate Luos? If He does, then let us continue praying the same prayers, and thereafter expect the same results (or lack thereof). But if, perhaps, we are accommodating within ourselves biases that God Himself does not have; if He is as much a Father to “them” as He  is to “us”; if He cares about “them” as much as He cares about “us”, then we need to repent. Not them. Until we become aware that the problems Kenya has, we as Christians are harbouring these same problems in our own hearts, we can’t even start with God. We should cease to pray for Kenya. It would behoove us, rather, to pray for ourselves. We need to apologize to God for hating our brothers and sisters that He Himself made and whose welfare He is concerned about. We need to pray for ourselves until we are at a point where we can entreat God for every county in this nation with little variance in concern. Strangely, in praying for ourselves, we shall find that we have managed to pray for Kenya. Then God can begin to move.

 As we pray, we need to ask God to give us a love for this whole nation and all of its people whether or not they even agree with us. Whether or not they agree with us? Yes. You see, up to now while we were hating our countrymen, God has still loved us, even when His point of view and ours have differed. If we claim to be His children, we need to extend that same kind of tolerance and patience to our own countrymen, no matter where they’re from.

 I will end with a word of warning from one Kariuki Gachoki that came to my attention on Facebook. It succinctly captures the consequences of continuing along the path we are going.

 “RWANDA IN THE MAKING

Let me dissect for you the chronology of ‘Rwanda in the making’.

When the first cannon is fired, you will celebrate and bay for ‘their’ blood. Reports will start trickling in that some enemies have been killed in Coast, Rift Valley and the shanties in Nairobi. This will turn your celebration into a frenzy.

Four days later, the mood will change. As you are no longer getting the basic provisions such as food, your celebration will be cut short to attend to more urgent matters, that is, fending for yourself.

Two weeks down the line, when your energy levels have ebbed to the lowest, reports will reach you that your enemy has regrouped and is coming for your neck and that of your loved ones. You will now abandon the quest for food and attend to the matter of saving your own life. International news media will show you and your kin carrying mattresses heading to a safe haven, most likely a church. You will reach the church and much to your horror, find thousands of people, many from your perceived enemy tribe also camped there, fighting for the little provisions donated by the UN. That night it will rain heavily and exposed, hungry, scared and nursing a deep machete wound on your most loved one’s forehead, the slow realities of ‘Rwanda in the making’ will start sinking in. If you are still surviving one month down the line, 30kgs down from your usual weight, you will start wondering who is fighting who, since the camp is cosmopolitan and you are all fighting for basic survival not caring who comes from which tribe. But that’s just the beginning.

The next day, your camp will be raided, 5 of your loved ones will be slaughtered and you will be lucky to escape with a bullet wound on your right leg. UN will now heap you into lorries and transfer you to another camp. In excruciating pain and feverish from your infected leg, the second reality of war will hit you: what is the fight all about? You will die 3 days later – from neglect really since people around you are too used to seeing others die to bother about the feeble groans coming from your leaking tent.

Four months later, corpses, including yours, will be buried in a mass grave as the lieutenants that started the war sit at a table in some hotel in Kampala to craft another ‘power-sharing’ deal. There will be relative calm as the vultures enjoy the spoils of war. The politicians will be back to their cosy offices…

When the drums of war are sounded, everyone is a theoretical winner but the reality is so different a few months later. What’s more, war does not guarantee equality, it dehumanizes and traumatizes people. Every little thing you’ve worked for goes. I will leave you with this: a certain tribe is not your enemy. People that sit in ivory towers from all political persuasions and subdue you are.

 Change will come when you start demanding accountability right from your county upwards.

 Have a blessed and peaceful day.”

 
5 Comments

Posted by on June 18, 2014 in Christian, Religious, Spiritual

 

Thoughts on the Night Travel Ban

Gateway to Auckland

Photo credit: Man’s Pic / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

The National Transport and Safety Authority recently introduced new rules that included a ban on night travel by Passenger Service Vehicles (PSVs) in the country.

Let me start by saying that if you haven’t used a matatu for a couple of years, please try it! And carry your kids along. That is how the majority of Kenyans live, but once we have been “blessed with a car” and start using it to get around, we forget very, very quickly. Personally, I fear that this ban has been effected by elitists who haven’t used public transport in the last decade. Perhaps these policymakers can’t remember when they last went to “Shagz” by bus. Perhaps their children are dropped off at school by drivers. Perhaps they buy their veggies at Galleria as opposed to Marigiti. There is nothing wrong with living like that at all, but that is not how the majority of Kenyans live, and policy should be made with the interests of the majority in mind (the greatest good).

Now I’m certainly not condoning loss of life. We should protect every Kenyan’s life (from Westgate to Ntulele to Moyale), for every Kenyan’s life is invaluable. Undeniably, the directive has reduced road carnage, and another very good outcome is that the bus companies are feeling the pinch and beginning to understand the importance of safety. But to punish travellers for the sins of operators doesn’t really make sense.

Take for example the case of the trader who travels to Uganda by night, buys goods during the day (kitenge material I hear), and travels back with them the following night. He/she now has to spend two nights in Uganda, on top of the transport cost. That extra cost will be shared with his/her customer, or at worst just loaded onto them.

Rather than pulverizing mosquitos with hammers, let us start from the point that matatus have been forced to operate within savings and credit cooperatives (saccos). The Government should stipulate that any bus company/matatu sacco/PSV marque whose vehicle is involved in a road accident with a fatality/serious injury should be banned from having ANY of their vehicles on the road for a month. Further, if a company has three fatal accidents within a specified period (say 2 years) then the Directors of that company (or the owners of matatus in that Sacco) should be permanently banned from operating PSVs (to prevent the Directors from just starting new companies).

These two measures may not be entirely fool-proof, but:

  1. They’re simple,
  2. They can be implemented immediately,
  3. They allow night travel to continue,
  4. They’re a little easier to implement than ensuring there are working speed governors in every vehicle, or giving the police handheld speed cameras (these sorts of measures merely become a personal source of revenue for police),
  5. Most importantly, they shift the responsibility for road safety away from the travellers, away from the (massively corrupt) traffic police, and onto the vehicle owners, where it belongs.

Finally, at the root of the carnage in the transport sector is the corrupt nature of the traffic police. Inevitably, buses like the one that crashed at Ntulele have passed numerous road-blocks before their doom. We should remember that any lasting solutions to our troubles should involve as little human intervention as possible; more detailed and rigid solutions, especially involving GPS trackers, can be implemented.

But we can start with those two simple directives.

 
4 Comments

Posted by on January 7, 2014 in Economics, Life in Kenya, Politics

 

Why President Obama is going to Tanzania

Shipyard Cranes, Norfolk

Shipyard Cranes, Norfolk.
Photo credit: shoebappa / Foter.com / CC BY-NC

“The good news? U.S. President Barack Obama is making his second trip to Africa, the continent of his father’s birth. The ummm… ‘other’ news? He’s not coming to Kenya. What’s that? Yes, other news. Not bad news thanks, we’re Kenyans. We don’t really care whether he comes here or not (sniff). We don’t need the West. We have other trading partners… like China. And have you already forgotten what we did to Botswana? Leave us alone with our Uhurus and our Rutos, Kenyans know what’s best for Kenya…”

The paragraph above summarizes Kenyans’ reaction to the news that Air Force One will not be touching down at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport during President Obama’s upcoming trip to Africa. The President’s trip is scheduled for June 26th 2013 to July 3rd 2013 and will take in Senegal, Tanzania and South Africa. Undoubtedly, Obama’s avoidance of his father’s land is a snub – the second such snub if we count his trip to Ghana in 2009. What seems to rankle most is that Obama felt it wise to accord our neighbours to the South, Tanzania, a State visit. Why would he do this? If we dig a little deeper, we can start to understand (in particular) why Tanzania.

It may surprise most Kenyans to know that foreign direct investment inflows (FDI inflows) to Tanzania and Uganda have exceeded FDIs coming in to Kenya for most of the last decade. The table below shows FDI inflows to the three countries from 2001-2010 (figures in USD):

Year Kenya Tanzania Uganda
2001 5,302,623 388,800,000 151,496,100
2002 20,202,580 396,244,800 184,648,100
2003 79,662,930 364,258,900 202,192,600
2004 41,647,830 226,732,400 295,416,500
2005 11,524,460 935,520,600 379,808,400
2006 26,717,030 403,039,000 644,262,500
2007 693,011,400 581,511,800 792,305,800
2008 51,819,060 400,047,200 728,860,900
2009 70,269,790 414,544,600 788,694,300
2010 184,215,300 433,441,900 817,178,700
Total  1,184,373,003  4,544,141,200  4,984,863,900

Source: http://www.indexmundi.com

This table is a sobering read. It shows that Tanzania and Uganda have both attracted about 4 times the foreign investment that Kenya did during the 2000s. In other words, because of Tanzania’s natural gas, Uganda’s oil, and both nations’ relative stability, for every 1 million dollars foreign investors have invested in Kenya, the same investors have invested another 8 million dollars in Uganda and Tanzania, shared roughly equally. Although the fact that Kenya has now discovered oil deposits may change the broad outlook of this table over the course of the current decade, there is still cause for concern about these figures. And if we do have oil, shouldn’t that be enough to make the US/China fall over themselves to visit us?

The second point is this: remember the Chinese we said we’d trade with instead of the West? Well, China’s (new) President Xi recently went on a state visit that took in Russia, the Republic of Congo (Congo-Brazzaville), and South Africa. Oh, and Tanzania. Yes, China’s (new) President Xi also visited Tanzania recently. While it is true that socialist Tanzania has a long history of ties with China, it is still instructive that President Xi paid Dar-es-Salaam a visit; President Obama actually appears to be playing catch-up to the Chinese in this regard.

Thirdly, those selfsame Chinese recently pledged to help build a port at Bagamoyo, northwest of Dar, that’ll make Mombasa look like a small puddle. This week’s article in the East African on the matter states that the Bagamoyo port is set to cost USD 11 billion (nearly one trillion shillings). In tandem with this, Tanzania is revamping her rail network as well. If we are not careful, we ourselves will be importing and exporting via Tanzania before long.

The nation of Kenya has lost crown after crown economically speaking. We were on a par with Singapore and South Korea at independence. We’ve let them go. Fifty years later, our last remaining crown is “East Africa’s largest economy”. What are we doing to retain this status? Not much, it would seem. Here we are playing tribal games and thumbing our noses at the world by electing questionable “watu wetu“, and yet it is merely a matter of time before we lose our final claim to fame: that of “economic capital of East Africa”. Already Rwandan importers are saying that it takes them 3 days to import via Dar es Salaam, and 7 days to import via Mombasa. In all likelihood, our kids may study Economics knowing East Africa’s largest economy to be Tanzania.

President Obama’s snub should be waking us up to these realities. But much as we did during the Botswana incident, and instead of asking ourselves why the Presidents of the world’s two largest economies are queueing up to visit our southern neighbours (a nation we have grown up labelling an “economic backwater”), we’re busy saying “Kwani Obama ni nani? (Who is Obama anyway?)”. I urge us to realize that this is bigger than Uhuru. This is bigger than Ruto. This is bigger than Kogelo and Mama Sarah and serkal. It’s not a joke folks, this is about our land, our nation, and where we all are headed.

God bless Kenya.

 
41 Comments

Posted by on May 22, 2013 in Economics, Politics

 

It’s over… and it’s not

Sunset at the Maasai Mara

Sunset at the Maasai Mara

Well folks, the sun has set on the March 2013 elections, and here is my take.

I think there were irregularities in the elections; I think the margin of error was so fine (around 8,000 votes) that these irregularities may have fraudulently led to the avoidance of a run-off; and yes, I think, in summary, that the term “free and fair” cannot conclusively be applied to the poll (Mars Group Kenya is carrying out a pretty thorough audit of the results). However, the former Prime Minister pursued the right (legal) channels for contesting the elections, the Supreme Court has handed down its ruling, most (if not all) of the challengers have accepted defeat, and here we are.

We have a new President.

The uncertainties are legion. One of the first indicators of the direction Kenya will now take will be the first cabinet. In a nation where “who was left out” is at times a more important question than “who was put in”, all of us are wondering: what will the Cabinet look like? Will it really show the intention to heal a fractured nation? Or will “the national cake” be shared, winner-take-all, between Central and Rift Valley? Will there be an effort to bring in credible technocrats with proven track records of performance? Or will tribes and regional factions be “rewarded” by putting the same old, inept, corrupt leaders in positions of influence that neither we nor they deserve?

Then there is the small matter of the International Criminal Court. Uhuru and Ruto were not brought together by any confluence of ideologies, but by the ICC. The cases against the President and his Deputy appear to be weakening by the day, but if the time should come that they will have to present themselves in Court, will they even attend? And if they do make it to Court, will their union survive a ruling? What if one is sentenced, and one is acquitted?

Despite all these unknowns, I am taking it upon myself to tweet Uhuru Kenyatta daily until the end of April urging him to fix our electricity and our railway. I started tweeting the day after the inauguration under the hashtag #FixKE. Will it work? I don’t know. I wish Peter Kenneth was the President, then maybe I wouldn’t have to do it. Friends, our current leadership has many flaws. But if a better Kenya is what we really want, we have to be willing to work with what’s available to us, for life is rarely perfect. We just have to work within the boundaries that reality gives us.

We cannot lie down and accept defeat in our quest to leave this nation better than we found it simply because of a less than desirable electoral outcome. If we are to achieve anything of note, we must surmount obstacles, climb over walls, crawl under ledges… in short do EVERYTHING we can to make something happen. Defeat manifests itself as an internal phenomenon long before it becomes an external one. For this reason we can not, we must not, we dare not admit defeat.

No, we must remain undeterred. We must soldier on.

Thanks for listening. And may God bless the nation of Kenya.

Photo credit: eir@si / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

 
10 Comments

Posted by on April 12, 2013 in Politics

 

On Historical Injustices (the Land Problem in Kenya)

Kenyan Sunset

Kenyan Sunset (Photo credit: angela7dreams / Foter.com )

In recent weeks, the COalition for Reform and Democracy (CORD) campaign team has chosen to make land an election issue by speaking of historical injustices. This has been seen as pointing a finger at the Jubilee coalition, whose leading lights Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto are believed to own significant tracts of land. In light of this, one of my friends posted on Facebook:

“What are these historical injustices we keep hearing about. My maternal grandfather was jailed by the colonial powers on suspicion of being pro- Mau Mau. Is this a historical injustice? Should reparations be made and by whom for these historical injustices? Methinks we are treading on very dangerous waters on this historical injustices matter.”

This is my take. It is a historical injustice for the Kenyatta family to own (it is said) half a million acres of land, all over this country (including thousands of acres in Coast Province). The defence that this land was bought is no defence at all, because the critical factor is not that the land was bought. The critical factor is that Jomo Kenyatta was President; the Kenyattas would not currently be the owners of that land had that not been the case (i.e. the land could not have been “otherwise obtained”). Now that’s the truth, and I don’t know why we’re afraid of saying it.

(Parenthetically, the same family, in league with others of ill-repute who have their own land cases in court as we speak, and other land cases that ended in unclear circumstances, is in the middle of visiting yet another injustice upon Kenyans, by standing for election while standing accused at the ICC of crimes against humanity.)

Nor are the Kenyattas the sole culprits in this regard; it is alleged that Kalonzo Musyoka stands accused of stealing public land meant for squatters, and that is before mentioning the Koriatas, Criticos’s, and ole Ntutus of this world. I sincerely hope that those who read this are willing to at least admit that these issues are a problem for our nation.

From the foregoing, I hope we can see that CORD itself, although it raised this issue, will bring us no nearer to a solution than the Jubilee coalition. Quite apart from Kalonzo Musyoka’s allegedly fraudulent acquisition of public assets, the Lands Ministry has been under the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) for the last half a decade. Zero land reforms have come of this. Even the far simpler matter of a title deed search is done exactly the same way it has been done for decades – yet by now this data should be online and we should be carrying out title searches from the comfort of our homes. But that has not happened.

How can we solve the problem of these historical injustices, and deal with the issue of vast tracts of land that are held by a privileged few? I believe the Government should charge an annual tax of say KES 1,000 per year per acre on all land, freehold or leasehold. This is manageable if you hold 1 acre of maize in Western or a ka-quarter in Kitengela (KES 250 per year). But if one has 100,000 acres, one would have to pay KES 100 million annually. Such landowners would have to either

(1) Sell that land, or

(2) Lease it, or

(3) Somehow make it produce that KES 1,000 per year, thereby creating employment.

Another benefit is that land prices would fall, due to a sudden excess of supply over demand. All of these outcomes are helpful, are they not?

The tax rate itself need not be fixed, e.g. land can be categorized based on location and the uses to which it is being put. But the broad brushstrokes of a land policy that would result in equalization and re-distribution would be in place.

I would add that the Government should have the first right-of-purchase on the sale of land by large landowners, at the price they purchased that land, without adjusting for inflation. Thereafter the National Land Commission can issue policy on how this land should be used, because land fragmentation is another issue that pulls in the opposite direction of what the KES 1,000 tax would achieve.

Getting this done wouldn’t be easy. Frankly I don’t even know whether my preferred candidate, Peter Kenneth, would be able to tackle it; because getting Parliament to pass such laws (even with a Parliamentary majority) would be difficult. But the problem with Kenya has never been how to solve our problems. The problem has always been whether we want to solve our problems. And from the current poll rankings, we do not.

Caveat/Disclosure:

This thinking (a land tax) is not original; personally I first heard it in Form Two or so from my Ethics teacher, a Mr Silvano Borruso, a wise man who taught that land should belong to the people; the Government should hold it in trust, and landowners should pay the Government for the right to use the land (the land tax). The man had other noble ideas, such as the idea that housewives should get a stipend from the Government for their work, but that is a discussion for another day.

 
7 Comments

Posted by on February 23, 2013 in Politics

 

The Kenya We Lost

View of the Masai Mara from A Hot Air Balloon

Folks,

I am not an old man, by any stretch of the term. Far from it. In fact, by our own nation’s definition, I am a young man. I am part of its “youth.” Life, with all its myriad joys, stretches out in front of me (or so they tell me). And I am looking forward to it. But I am not so young that I do not have memories. I am not so young that I have nothing to remember (or forget, for that matter). My memory may desert me at times, but I have many treasured recollections. And this morning, I am remembering.

Yes. Thousands of miles away from home, I am remembering the verdant slopes of Uhuru Park, a place I have walked through from the Haile Selassie Avenue entrance to the Kenyatta Avenue/Uhuru Highway exits many, many times. I am remembering how lovely those grass-clad slopes look after a week of refreshing rain. I am remembering how that same hill looks when juxtaposed against the Government buildings on Community Hill.

I am remembering how forbidding the Park looks when black clouds, heavy with imminent rain, hang low over its brow. How many times I have rushed by, oblivious to the dark beauty in the scene, bent only on beating the rain! Anyway, this morning, I am remembering.

What we had

I am remembering how apt the name “Uhuru” Park must have seemed that glorious afternoon in the late December of 2002. I am remembering what the country felt like, now that the second liberation had actually occurred. I am thinking, now, how fitting it must have been to hold the new President’s inauguration there. Truly there could have been no other venue. No stadium, no other site was fit to hold that inauguration ceremony.

I am remembering how the usually grass-clad slopes were alive that day – alive with people. Photos in the eagerly-awaited paper the next day seemed unreal. Never was the phrase “Kenyans from all walks of life” used more fittingly. Thousands upon thousands of Kenyans had made the pilgrimage to Uhuru Park. Perhaps for some, it was to confirm for themselves whether it was really true that we had toppled KANU and replaced it with NARC. Kenyans stood, sat down, and stood up again. A small number of Kenyans scaled the few available trees to get a better view of the proceedings. There were Kenyans everywhere! Happy Kenyans. Impatient Kenyans. Even a few irate Kenyans – irate that Moi still had any part to play at all in the ceremony. Such was the momentousness of the occasion that even those of us who had hitherto been apolitical were drawn to the spectacle. I recall that some fellow Campuserians, including a Ugandan medical student, actually made their way to Uhuru Park. It seemed the nation had made the impossible possible, and that the improbable had come to pass.

I am remembering sitting close to the little two-tape-deck Goldstar radio at home, and listening to the Inauguration ceremony. I remember hearing the President-Elect swear to protect the Constitution. I remember the conviction in his voice as he delivered what has elsewhere been called “a soaring speech full of regime-change passion and dynamics.” Unable to rely on a TV to follow proceedings, I looked out over the shamba at home and watched the green maize fronds frolic in the breeze, as the sounds of the inauguration ceremony filtered into the sitting-room.

I remember that it was not a cripple I listened to that afternoon, either. No, that was no wheelchair-bound, neck-braced cripple. After decades of Moi, our generation was now listening to/watching – not a President that the fates had forced upon us, but rather – someone an overwhelming majority of Kenyans had put in power. The idea of a President who was “ours” – novel concept! – was imprinting itself onto a Kenyan consciousness that responded with wonder. It was a stupendous moment! So it was very easy to believe, that day, as he spoke with a power in his words that belied his temporary physical state.

I particularly remember how I felt as he said: “…corruption will now CEASE to be a WAY OF LIFE in Kenya.” In all of that speech, that is the one phrase that will never leave me. It was, and is, the one phrase I can never forget. That phrase enthused me. It enlivened me. It galvanized me. That for me was the moment I knew that “change had come.” The delicious vehemence in the President’s tone was filed away in the labyrinthine libraries of my memory forever.

I am remembering the Kenya we all woke up to in early January 2003. I remember how when an extra public holiday after New Year’s Day was announced, it chimed right in with the feelings of national joy and euphoria that swelled in our collective breast. I am remembering those long-lost, heady, now-distant days when a Gallup International Annual End of Year Survey said we Kenyans were the most optimistic people on God’s green earth. If you have ever had the pleasure of taking large gulps of clean, cold, rarefied, early-morning, out-of-town air, then you know what the political atmosphere was like in Kenya in early 2003. It felt like it was dawn in our country. And, perhaps, it was.

This morning, I am remembering a Kenya where the entire Presidential motorcade consisted of three cars. Yes. Just three. And in fact, only two were Government vehicles. The other long wheelbase S-Class Mercedes (I loved those cars) was the President’s personal car. And it had been modified to take his wheelchair.

I am remembering how for six months at least, we were one. There were strikes at export-processing zones, I remember, because folks wanted the change they had voted for yesterday to show up inside their wallets today. But we were one. There was freshness in the air. Oneness.

And most of all, I am remembering a Kenya where corruption was fought not just by Kenya’s Government, but by her own citizens as well. A Kenya where at least one policeman who thought that he could still stop matatus for bribes and get away with it received a rude awakening as incensed passengers descended from the matatu, staggered him with a short but pithy lecture on the concept of a “New Kenya”, forcibly dispossessed him of bribes he had taken up to that point, and proceeded on their journey. This incident in particular represents the high-water mark of my entire existence as a Kenyan citizen. As I said, I am not an old man. But I still remember.

Alas. It was all of it a lie.

What we’ve got

In less than 10 months (by October 2003), no lesser publication than The Economist was reporting that Kenyans were disappointed in their new Government. The article was occasioned by the “apparent assassination” of Dr Crispin Odhiambo Mbai, a man who at that time had been involved in drafting the new Constitution. In the article, that worthy periodical reported: “…the speed with which Mr Kibaki’s presidency has become synonymous with the interests of a small group of his Kikuyu tribe, Kenya’s largest, and its cousins from the Mount Kenya region is extraordinary.”

Perhaps we have forgotten that Kibaki had promised Kenyans a new Constitution in 100 days. Dr Mbai’s violent death was merely a sign of things to come, for we all know that that we only got a new Constitution over 3,500 days later, and that because it was forced upon the Principals by the terms of Agenda IV of the National Peace Accord.

We all know that nearly 10 years after the Goldenberg Commission of Inquiry, no-one is behind bars for their role in that scandal. Actually some of those who are said to have been involved were given a hero’s sendoff upon their untimely demise. Others of those who are said to have been involved are running for the Presidency today. All this, fellow Kenyans, we know.

We also know, from the contents of The Githongo Dossier and the book It’s Our Turn To Eat (Michela Wrong, 2009), that the NARC Government by this time had rolled up its sleeves and was knee- and elbow-deep in the mucky business of stealing KES 21 Billion from taxpaying Kenyans through Anglo Leasing, with the current President’s complicity. That looting started on May 29 2003, a scant five months (almost to the day) after that glorious afternoon on December 30th 2002.

And that Presidential motorcade, @Roomthinker tells me, is now not 3, but 23 cars long, not counting outriders.

We were deceived

True deception, I discovered earlier this year, occurs when you don’t even know you’re being deceived. It is when you don’t know what’s happening that deception is complete and total. And folks, in 2002-3, we were deceived. The morning and the promise of early 2003 did not lead to the bright day of prosperity that we all expected. Nay, that morning has instead given way to a long and protracted darkness. That rarefied atmosphere of hope has been replaced by the fetid stench of a rotting, nameless, shapeless filth, Augean in its proportions. The dawn is long gone, and in its place is a soiled and Stygian night that has lingered far too long: a night of rampant, pervasive, and Government-sponsored corruption, the fevered and clannish protection of narrow tribal interests by the political class and some of this nation’s citizens, and the looming spectre of ever-deepening poverty for far too many of our nation’s people. Today, Kenya staggers under the burden of the thousands of transgressions that have been visited upon her undeserving citizens by a remote and distant political class. What is worse, a distressingly large number of small-minded citizens are perpetuating this cycle, both wittingly and unwittingly.

Yes, we were deceived. And we are being deceived again.

What next

Before we vote again, next year, before we return unhelpful, harmful and downright dangerous politicians to positions of power, we must ask ourselves: WHAT HAPPENED? That in Kenyans’ souls that made them forcibly dispossess policemen of their bribes – where did it go? Where is that force that relegated tribe to the back of our thinking for at least half a year? That essence that made us proud and happy citizens of one nation for six short months, where did it go? Is it gone for good? Can we get it back?

Will we ever trust one another again? Will a belief in a common ideal of what Kenya should be, and not what she is, ever unite us again? Will we as a Kenyan people ever be energized, catalyzed, enervated – one – again? Or are we doomed to stagger through another decade led by distant, self-serving and self-seeking leadership, even as the Tana burns, the Coast erupts, and scandal after filthy scandal hits our headlines?

Will we trust any leader, ever again? If so, upon whom are we going to bestow the precious gift of that trust? Are we going make it expensive for leaders to win our trust, or will we sell it cheaply and repent at leisure even as that trust is cruelly betrayed? Will the cheap politics of costly handouts continue to appeal to us, or will the March 2013 election encounter an altogether more mature electorate? Will we think before we vote, or will we vote first and think later?

That Kenya we had – and lost. Can we get her back?

 
38 Comments

Posted by on September 11, 2012 in Politics

 

We Are All Kenyans

(or: What “Us” vs “Them” really means in Kenya)

And so today I finally post this article. I started to write it around the time the inflammatory Kikuyu songs were publicized in this excellent article. I commend the author for having the courage to write it. But perhaps it is Providence, after all, that I am posting this article on the day when we all unite around our celebrated and talented track athletes as they represent our nation at the 2012 London Olympics. On this day, it’s not “hao waKalenjin.” Today, you will not see #TeamMaasai or #TeamKaleoz or #TeamRift hashtags. No today, as it has been for the past one week, and as it will be for the next one week or so, it will be #TeamKenya.

Expect this unity to be short-lived.

For seven years now it has been a source of constant wonderment to me just how much success our politicians have enjoyed when it comes to putting us all in tribal pigeonholes and then making us all put one another in tribal pigeonholes as well. I wonder at it, honestly. I wonder at how tainted a word sisi has become in Kenya. I wonder at how much more tainted a word hao has become. I wonder how we are able to celebrate and befriend the Kalenjin when he is winning glamorous Grands Prix in ritzy European capitals, and then resent the same Kalenjin when he is our neighbour. I wonder at it.

Let me wax political. I wonder how two Hague suspects, Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto, can declare their respective interests in the Presidency, and receive the support of millions for their flawed bids. I wonder how it is that any of these candidatures can be robustly defended on middle class forums such as the The Daily Nation/East African Standard/Capital FM news sites and on Twitter and Facebook. Perhaps I will wonder even at the comments on this article, even though I promise here and now to answer each comment as patiently as I can. It appears to me that much of the middle class in Kenya has managed to attain a middle class economic status while remaining steadfastly “below the poverty line” intellectually speaking. How can anyone rule when defending themselves for months at a time at The Hague? Why should we expose ourselves to the peril, the embarrassment, and the stigma of having a President in international courts for months at a time? Or a President who is unable to make any foreign trips for the fear of being jailed? But I digress.

Anybody can stand on a podium and say anything, within limits. That’s called Freedom of Speech. For example, I can stand behind a pulpit and say if you touch my great-grandmother’s tombstone (may she rest in peace), within two hours from aforementioned contact you will receive news of great personal wealth. Now that is all kinds of un-Scriptural. Yet supposing there were queues of people waiting to touch said tombstone. Who should be blamed, myself (the liar) or the congregation (who believed it)? Yes, I’ve told them a lie. But they’ve believed it. Is the congregation entirely blameless?

Because in quite similar fashion our politicians have pulled the wool over our own eyes. “It’s them!” they say. “They are the ones stealing NHIF money!” Or: “It’s them, they stole the Anglo Leasing money!” As I’ve pointed out in a poem, things are now at the point where it is less about the stealing, and more about who did the stealing. The stealing no longer troubles people. We have sunk to such depths that we only really care to know who benefitted from it. The fact that it was stolen is neither here nor there. As soon as we can ascertain that “they” did it, however, we leap to our feet, with the decibels pouring out of our throats.

What has led to the success of this divisive kind of politics? It is the perception that when mtu wetu is in power watu wetu benefit. [Frankly part of the reason some of the Kikuyu feel so close to Uhuru Kenyatta is because (I hear them say) “At least Uhuru stood up for us when were being finished.”] This perception that watu wetu benefit when mtu wetu is in power is perhaps the biggest deception on the Kenyan political scene. When mtu wetu is in power, what he/she does is to busy himself or herself looking out for the interests of – wait for it – mtu wetu. “Not watu wetu?” I hear you ask. No. Mtu wetu. Best believe it is mtu wetu first, mtu wetu last, and mtu wetu always. Anything mtu wetu does for watu wetu is done either accidentally or solely as a way of keeping mtu wetu in power so that mtu wetu can then continue stealing from everybody up to and including watu wetu. Now that is the truth, and if you’re fidgeting, calm down while I try to give some examples. I will give two instances where Kenyans have had to live like animals because of their so-called leaders’ failings – and the culprits may surprise you.

I am reminded of the time when our current Mtu-Wetu-in-Chief, President Kibaki, had just come back into power after a flawed election. It is a documented fact that people in Nyeri were eating pig food at the height of the 2009 drought. I remind us that Nyeri happens to be President Kibaki’s home district. What good had it done watu wetu that mtu wetu had retained power? Had that sneaky swearing-in stopped those poor Kikuyus, our countrymen, from having to eat the food of swine? Were they benefitting in any way from all the scandals that have occurred during the reign of mundu witu the President? Or perhaps let us take the example of Mr Stephen Kalonzo Musyoka, the current Vice-Mtu-Wetu-in-Chief, and a man who has done precious little for the people of Mwingi in over a quarter of a century as a Member of Parliament. It is yet another documented fact that his people were drinking water straight out of the ground like cattle as recently as 2010. What good has it done these poor Kambas, our countrymen, that the Vice President is a wa kwitu?? I use the phrase “his people” quite loosely here, for they are not his people. They are merely his intellectual slaves, and he uses them for his own ends. It ought to be a criminal offence to treat one’s constituents like that. You see, this is the end-result of the mtu wetu argument for the watu wetu: misery, dehumanisation and utter, abject lack. That is the mtu wetu argument distilled to its essence.

Who “they” really are

You know what? Despite all this, we actually believe the politicians!  After we have eaten pig food, washed it down with filthy groundwater, and endured all the myriad cruelties, large and small, that we suffer due to inept leadership, we then behave exactly like the dumb cattle they make us out to be. Because we still believe that “us” and “them” is about Kikuyu vs Luo and/or Kikuyu vs Kalenjin and/or Kamba vs Meru and/or Luhya vs Luo and/or Kisii vs Luo. They pit us against each other and make us even fight each other. They watch as we die. And while we are dying for them, they are busy escaping the local problems that they have themselves created. Seldom do you hear that a senior politician was injured in a demonstration. Their cancers are treated in foreign hospitals even as their local Health ministries are involved in scandal after scandal (I do not wish cancer on anybody at all). Their children study in foreign schools, or schools here that are so exclusive that it is like another Kenya altogether (I saw with my own eyes the airstrip at St. Andrew’s Turi during the Madaraka Day weekend, and I have seen an eye-watering fees invoice from the school). Then when their children marry each other – across the tribal divide, mind – they will invite one another to the ceremony. And all the while we argue for them, defend them and at times die for the so-called cause.

I will be frank. I must be frank. I cannot be otherwise but frank. A thief of public funds is a thief of public funds be he a Luo thief, a Maasai thief, a Meru thief, a Kalenjin thief, a Digo thief, a Kikuyu thief, a Dorobo thief, a Luhya thief, an Arab thief, a Somali thief, or a white thief. The long and short is this: he/she is stealing and we are suffering. That is the real “us” and “them”; that is the real “we” and “they”.

Who “we” really are

You know who we are? Well, we’re the fools who are supposed to gulp down swine-feed and feel privileged that our man is in power even as we chew the stuff. Yes; we’re the guys who’re supposed to smile for the cameras while we munch. We’re the ones who get to enjoy drinking dirty water out of the ground, like cows. We’re the dirt-poor, NGO-fuelling, indigent wananchi who can’t afford a KES 125 packet of unga but who will believe the politician who gives us 500 shillings after doing nothing for 2 decades of both his and our lives. We’re so destitute that when the price of the matatu goes up by 10 bob in the morning, we have to cut back on lunch. We get to “feel it” every time fuel goes past KES 100 a litre. That’s our role in the grand scheme of things. And let’s not be naïve either; that’s the way the politicians look at us, too. They know us to be this. Let me ask this: when the price of fuel rises, does it remember who voted for President Kibaki or who voted for Prime Minister Raila? When the shilling plummets to KES 107 to the US dollar, does it remember who voted for Kibaki or who voted for Raila? No, it doesn’t. The shilling hits 107 for everyone. Fuel prices rise for everyone. Yet it is true that fuel could hit KES 200 to the litre, and these guys would never know. Why? Because our taxes give them cars, pay for their fuel, pay them a mileage allowance and add a driver on top for good measure. We pay for their opulence, as we suffer through our indigence. Right now, our taxes are even paying their taxes (one of the most ridiculously absurd ideas ever to emanate from a system of Government). Why? Because that’s who we are, that’s what we do. And then after all that, we line up at 5:00 in the morning and vote them all back in.

What can we do?

In case it isn’t clear by now (and it ought to be) this is isn’t really about Kikuyus vs Luos. It is not about Kalenjins vs. Kikuyus. It is not about Luhyas vs. Kambas. No, my friends. We suffer from a failure to discern the real enemy here. This thing is about the dizzy, staggering gazelle vs the patient, circling vulture. It is about the wounded impala, with torn flank, that is valiantly trying to fend off that dogged hyena that believes that it is now just a matter of time. It is about impunity vs justice. It is about the lives of 1,032 Kenyans vs. justice for 4. It is about the IDP vs. the politician. It is about transparency vs corruption. It is about right vs. wrong. It is about “us” the wananchi, and the citizens of this nation vs “them” the tribal leaders who want nothing to change except how much access they have to power and wealth.

I strongly urge us to start thinking for ourselves, because while our leaders do our thinking for us, we cannot, we will not, and we shall never benefit. In fact we will end up going to war against fellow Kenyans like we did last time for no tangible/valid reason. Then, after the hue and cry has died down and the politicians have paid themselves for their sins with a 40-minister cabinet, we all suffer together while the economy “recovers from post election violence.” It is urgent, it is imperative, and, as we look ahead to yet another election, it is critical that we remember that we have passed this way before. That we remember that we have paid dearly for our past indiscretions, and that perhaps we are still paying. That we remember that our so-called leaders will not be there to suffer with us when things go wrong (have you ever heard of clashes in Lavington/Runda/Muthaiga?). It is critical that we bestir ourselves out of our sleep and remember that:

we are all Kenyans.

And not just for the next one-and-a-half weeks, either.

To those sons and daughters of our nation who will be representing Kenya in the Olympic track and field events starting today I would like to say: All the very, very best. Some of our best talent left these shores because this nation didn’t do enough for them. I can’t blame them. But we all recognize that you decided to stay. Godspeed, ladies and gentlemen. And may God bless the nation of Kenya for she certainly needs it.

 
90 Comments

Posted by on August 3, 2012 in Politics

 
 
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