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Caught Part I – Flagged Down

Flagged Down

#ThatVeryAwkwardMoment (Photo credit: Afro Autos)

I had been wondering why all the cars, buses, matatus were going up that hill in one long line on the right-hand lane of the dual carriageway. Kumbe it was so that cops couldn’t spot their number-plates and flag them down for speeding. I pulled out to the left to overtake the dawdling queue and was promptly flagged down myself. The cop asked for my licence and I gave it to him, following which he informed me that I had been driving at 118 kph instead of 110 kph.

Naturally, there ensued what we shall call a warm discussion. Since it was very likely that I had been doing 118 kph earlier, and since I had been told that the evidence is incontrovertible (a photo of your car, superimposed with the illegal speed at which it has recently been travelling), I began by trying to tell the policeman that really 8kph above the limit was not that much. He asked me: “Wewe unataka tusimamishe watu wanaenda spidi ya ngapi?” (“At what speed would you prefer us to start flagging people down?”)

I advised myself to abandon this line of argument.

Pressing his point home, the policeman helpfully showed me the cash-bail receipt of an individual who’d been doing 114 kph instead of 110 kph. My sin began to look blacker and blacker. I comforted myself when I saw that there was a Subaru B4 driver who had been caught doing a rather nippy 144 kph.

Since I couldn’t convince the cop to let me off, I decided to bite the bullet. I believe if you’ve done wrong and the law catches you, then you should allow yourself to be dealt with as the law stipulates. One simple way of fighting corruption is by not being corrupt. Simple, I said. Not necessarily easy.

Bail

Bail (Photo Credit: Business Daily http://www.businessdailyafrica.com/-/539552/1203156/-/view/printVersion/-/116iygez/-/index.html)

Bail (Photo Credit: Business Daily)

Now you see, for offences including traffic offences (different from crimes), one is supposed to be taken to court immediately, where the magistrate pronounces your judgement haraka-upess. Except it was the weekend. So courts were not in session. So I couldn’t be taken to court. So I was supposed to go to jail, until such time as the courts would open on Monday. Only that this could be avoided by paying bail. But bail was KES 5,000. Which I didn’t have.

Huna kwa MPesa?

“Hapana.”

Haya we ngojea hapo, tuite polisi mwenzetu kutoka Kabete (we were towards LIMURU), akupeleke ATM, utoe pesa, ukuje station, ulipe bail.

“Officer uko na licence yangu. Wacha nikimbie niwithdraw, halafu nilete Kabete.”

“Hapana! Licence zimejaa kwa station, hatuachiliangi watu namna hiyo siku hizi.”

And so it was that I had to wait until a policewoman came all the way from Kabete Police Station and was assigned to me to ensure that I paid bail. I had been rushing to meet my good friend and our lawyer over something, so I called ahead to let them know I’d be late. When the policewoman arrived, she was given my licence, and we got into the car and set off for the nearest ATM.

“Mbona umekasirika namna hiyo?” [Standard Police/Government procedure is to put you on the back foot and/or on the defensive and then take things from there]

“Hapana sijakasirika officer.” And truly I wasn’t annoyed.

“Sasa utalipa namna gani?”

“Nataka tu nikimbie kwa ATM ni-withdraw, halafu turudi Kabete.”

“Bank gani?”

“StanChart.”

“ATM iko wapi?”

“Westlands.”

“Aiiii… huko ni mbali sana, mi siwezi enda mpaka huko. We fanya hivi, tukifika Kabete, uingie police station uache gari yako hapo kwa station. Panda matatu kutoka Kabete mpaka Westlands, utoe pesa halafu urudi Kabete Police Station ulipe bail ndio tukupatie gari yako we uende.”

“Hapana officer, Westlands sio mbali sana, na hatutachukua muda mrefu. Twende tu.”

“Uko na lunch?” [No doubt that while creating the problem, this was what the cunning female had been leading up to all along]

“Officer, kama ni lunch, wacha twende tu police station.”

<PAUSE>

“Haya basi, twende u-withdraw.”

At the Mobil opposite Njuguna’s I spotted a StanChart ATM, so I managed to withdraw a lot quicker than we had anticipated. Afterwards we went to the police station, I posted bail, they took down my phone number, receipted my payment, returned my driving licence, and advised me to be at Kibera Law Courts on Monday morning. Happily, considering the circumstances, I got to the meeting only 30 minutes late.

Next: In Court

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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.”

 
6 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.

 
40 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?

 
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Posted by on September 11, 2012 in Politics