Last week we celebrated the achievements of the child called Narc in its first year in government: the opening up of discourse in society; the granting of free basic education; the very public steps taken to tame the HIV/Aids pandemic. These are real achievements, worthy of real praise.
Now that the spirit of Christmas is behind us, we can put aside the award ribbons and pick up the cane. For this government has failed us on too many critical fronts to be allowed home with a glowing report card. Sparing the rod may spoil this particular child beyond redemption.
Let me take you back to this time last year. On 30 December 2002, all Kenyan eyes were on Uhuru Park where the inauguration of the new president took place. Many of us sat in the mud under an unforgiving sun, oblivious of discomfort, transported by possibilities: the possibility that a new and noble era had dawned in Kenya; the possibility that we could leave tribalism, plunder and ineptitude behind us; and the possibility that our politics would now be progressive and our development emphatic. We sat united, our hopes welded together by sheer joy.
One year later it is difficult, with the best will in the world, not to feel bitter. We have been shown, brutally, that we got carried away in our applause last year. Reading the papers today, you would have to ask yourself: where did all those wonderful possibilities go? For we have seen some very ugly truths: that tribe is still the defining political unit in this country; that trust is something only fools value; that signatures on memoranda of understanding mean nothing; that a politician’s word is no more reliable than that of an inveterate liar; that political unity is the most ephemeral of phenomena, dissolving like mist in the heat of the sun.
I say today that there is no such thing as a national interest in the minds of our leaders. It is a complete sham, a fraud inflicted on us by double-dealing politicians. No politician believes in the wider benefit or the higher motive. All are consumed by the narrowest of goals: rabid self-interest and the obsessive pursuit of power. Look at the sheer bile surrounding the constitutional review process: politicians are polluting our thoughts every day via our TV screens, their words like toxic radiation. Which of them do you think is acting in the country’s interest?
None of them. What consumes them is the need to ensure that their own side benefits. Those who have tasted real power have liked the flavour beyond expectation, and now must hang on to it at all costs; those who lost out in the power game must devote all their energies to agitation and scheming. The names of the political parties involved are actually irrelevant, whether Narc or NAK, LDP or Kanu, Ford Kenya or Ford People. Behind the bright logos and counterfeit smiles lies a common animal: an ugly, grasping, rapacious beast driven by the desire to hold on to power and by insatiable greed for property and status.
The development of this nation will not occur because of these people; it may have to take place in spite of them.
Let’s put their motives aside for a moment. We had another hope at the beginning of the year: that we would now enter an era of competence in leadership. After watching the circus that was called the Kanu government of the past ten years, we were sick to the stomach of ministers appointed solely because of their control of tribal voting blocs. We had had enough of bumptious bumpkins who ran ministries even though they apparently had difficulty telling the permanent secretary from the office messenger. At last, we thought: bring on the young, the qualified, the adept and the enthusiastic to lead this country. Let us have leadership based on knowledge and management based on intelligent thought.
Alas! Say it honestly: how many of our new ministers strike you as having even the merest competence to manage their portfolios? Do you really need more than one hand to complete this calculation? If you do, you are more generous than I am. We are still blighted by the political consequences of believing in tribe above all else. Leadership positions are still given to tribes, not individuals. And the individual representing the tribe needs to have only one qualification: the ability to please his people. What of qualifications, credentials, experience? Ha! A loud voice, a suspicious nature and a manipulative mindset will do just fine.
And so we have seen a very familiar parade of panjandrums weaving its way through the corridors of power. The star attractions in this procession: ethnic chieftains leading, beating the drums of division; some callow youngsters in the middle, dancing the salsa of leadership for the first time and getting the steps all wrong; and a long line of tired old men, whose cognitive powers peaked in the early seventies, bringing up the rear in a geriatric daze.
What has this carnival to show us, in its first year of carousing through Capitol Hill? How many rural folk newly connected to water and power? How many kilometres of new roads constructed in 2003? How many dollars of genuinely new, sustainable private investment ploughed into the country? How many hectares of new forest cover planted? How much reduction in the price of electricity? How many innocent citizens saved from murder and rape?
Or is it that I am looking at the wrong metrics? If you ask a different set of questions, this infant appears to have done rather well. How many political fights started (but not finished)? How much time devoted to political intrigue and scheming? How many divisive statements uttered? How much time spent hiding behind the skirts of fellow tribespeople? On all these measurements, the child Narc is an overachiever!
A final note on the report card: in addition to being ill motivated and incapable, this child is also a spendthrift, not to be trusted with money! If given a free hand, it will spend its parents’ money on shiny new vehicles and foreign trips and will allow itself some serious pocket money. It has yet to grasp the concept of austerity and saving for the future. It suffers from the delusion that it lives in a rich country. And to sustain its lifestyle, it is often seen standing on street corners, begging for handouts from rich foreigners.
In short, this is a problem child, and you, the voters, are its father and mother. In 2004, give it another chance. Start paying close attention to its report cards. Box its ears when it strays too far. Keep repeating the message of good behaviour. Spell out the limits of acceptability. If you do not do these things, this child could squander all your money and burn your house down, just like all your previous children have done. And you must be getting a little tired of that…