Oh, what a letdown these politicians are!
On Monday 30 December 2002, I sat amongst several hundred thousand people at Uhuru Park as our new president read out his oath of office. The joy of the crowd could almost be touched. It grew to a crescendo, and as the president reached the end, the final lines were said in a rousing chorus by all and sundry: ‘ewe mwenyezi mungu, nisaidie’. The meaning was plain: this was a government put into office by all of us; this was an oath taken by all of us. It was one of the high points of my life.
The mood in those early days of this government was buoyant. We had new leaders on the block: a bright and clean-cut bunch, bubbling with enthusiasm and ideas. We listened to their first proclamations and watched their early actions with undiluted joy. Our hearts sang with renewed hope for our country; we were briefly the world’s most optimistic people. Rarely can a group of leaders have come into power with such a tidal wave of goodwill behind them.
It has taken these same leaders just eight short months to squander that goodwill. We do not appear to have moved an inch forward. Do more people have jobs? Judging by the platoons of idlers in the city, the answer must be no. Do we feel any safer? Quite the contrary: we appear to have been taken over by gun-toting gangsters who can commandeer major highways and enter cathedrals with impunity. Has foreign aid arrived by the planeload? The amounts we have seen thus far would more appropriately be drawn by handcart. And the war against corruption? Surely that’s going great guns? Well, can you tell me the name of anyone who’s actually gone to jail as a result of this ‘war’?
For a while, I believed the government’s standard line of ‘these things take time’. No more. I now believe that the problem lies in our new leaders themselves. For all the high hopes we had vested in them, the ‘new kids’ are a sharp and ugly letdown. By and large, they do not have the talent, the personal ethics or the perseverance to do the job we asked them to.
Consider what we have had to put up with in recent months. We have heard a cabinet minister proclaim very confidently that he may not necessarily read or assess the tender approval letters that he signs, even when those approvals involve tens of millions of shillings of tax-payers’ money. He apparently relies on ‘checks and balances’ elsewhere in the system to do his job for him. We have had another minister threatening to use his ministerial powers to settle a perceived personal slight. We have heard ministers from different wings in the ruling coalition attack one another in the most childish and puerile terms. And we have heard ministers tell us that hobnobbing with blacklisted offenders is perfectly normal and acceptable.
The vice-president’s death has brought out some particularly distasteful behaviour. We have seen those who were on record as having called the departed leader some very nasty names in his lifetime, now standing before the cameras to extol his virtues in the most pious terms. We have seen that those elbowing to take his position lack even the good manners and decorum to stay silent until the previous occupant is interred. And we have heard that what is important is that the successor should come from the same tribe. Abilities, presumably, are a secondary matter, a trifling irrelevance.
Most of our politicians, it seems, simply do not get it. They do not understand the terms of their employment. They think that their main function is to engage in politics. This they do with great gusto: they sit plotting and scheming, devising smear campaigns and conspiracies, sharpening political knives. They take turns to assemble the media to disgorge their ugly vitriol. The real job, that of rebuilding the country, seems to get at best a few hours of their time per week. It is a part-time distraction, something they do when the engrossing game of politics is going through a quiet patch. There are monumental things that need to be done: thorough restructurings, far-reaching privatisations, huge capital projects. These are apparently just too difficult for some ministers to handle; far easier to just make political attacks and hog the headlines that way.
The other pastime that takes little effort and is most enjoyable is, of course, the overseas trip. Look for some conference in a western capital with an important-sounding title, gather a few cronies to form an entourage, and off you go on an all-expenses-paid jolly jamboree! What fun! The only downside is that you might have to attend some tedious lectures – but you can sleep through most of those. You might even have to make some meaningless address of your own – but your aide can write that for you. Really a small price to pay, for the shopping, the glamour, the self-importance! Become a minister, see the world! Come home and tell Kenyans who footed the bill how well you were received and what important lessons you learned. Then go back to sleep.
Looked at in the round, this government has yet to deliver anything that is of value to the common man. Yet all the work that politicians are doing seems to be about the presidential succession! All the political games being played out are about one thing only: who will form the next government! The absurdity of this is truly amazing: they have delivered nothing, and are busy dreaming of being in charge next time round!
No, it has not been a very edifying eight months. Like many of you, I have often sat in utter despair. I have found myself wondering: if it’s results we want, why do we bring politicians in to do the job in the first place? Why can we not just elect a board of directors for the country, and let this board appoint the best available managers to do the job? Why can we not sack or reaffirm these ‘directors’ every year, depending on the results they produce? We would pay for performance, not for hyperbole and easy talk. Think what a country we might build! Sadly, just another of my daydreams.
For now, we the people are being taken for fools. Our politicians are very confident that we cannot see through their games and their lack of substance. “What luck for the rulers that men do not think”, said one Adolf Hitler. What luck indeed. I still live in the hope that we have a new kind of voter in Kenya, one who pays attention and evaluates performance. One who looks only at results, not at the irrelevances of tribe and party. One who watches and waits, and sharpens his pencil at election time. We must save ourselves from the politicians. We may have to build a new Kenya in spite of them. In that task, ‘ewe mwenyezi mungu, tusaidie’.