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Display of power, fear mongering have created a personality cult

By Anyang' Nyong'o | Dec 21st 2014 | 4 min read

The co-principals in the Grand Coalition Government brought some fresh air on how the top leadership in this country can be managed: simple, down to earth, subject to making mistakes as we all do and ready to be corrected.

At times, the two could afford to disagree in public, sit together in private, hammer out their disagreements and come out with a solution that satisfied the public. They exhibited no cult of personality or some monarchical tendency to national leadership.

I started feeling goose pimples in my body when I saw the sitting President and his Deputy appearing on the steps of State House in uniform: white shirts, red ties, black trousers and black shoes, complete with youthful swaggers and high fives. There soon followed a quiet departure from that— which was welcome news — as the President graduated to a solo show. But soon we started seeing the President adorn military fatigue consistent with his rank and in line with the forces he was inspecting or addressing. Apparently, some of our youth loved it: but so did some youth love Hitler in fascist Germany.

Now the show has done its round and reality is dawning on us that all that was glittering actually had something worse than gold behind it. We must now think of living with a regime intent on ruling us on the basis of a commandist and militarised state where the general is obeyed and not questioned, worshiped and not listened to with skepticism. Blogger Robert Alai was on Wednesday charged in a Kiambu Court for “undermining authority of President Uhuru Kenyatta.”

The manner in which the crime was stated is reminiscent of a past era in which Kenyans were expected to “sing like parrots in following the Great Leader”.

The cult of personality always begins by cultivating the worship of closely knit believers: religious groups, party zealots, ethnic compatriots, voracious businessmen or a mixture of some of these. In ethnically divided societies, a personality cult can be generated around a national leader from within his ethnic following in exclusion to the others.

But using state power and fear mongering, the others may begin to acquiesce for fear of punishment, marginalisation or other forms of discrimination. In contemporary times, ethnic FM radio stations are efficient means of propagating the cult of personality among the ethnic followers of the leader. The leader soon becomes intoxicated with the praise and the following, believing that the whole world perceives him in the same light.

Kenya is a multi-ethnic nation. This is a cultural heritage that we can harness for the good of the nation through imaginative social engineering. That process begins from the top. It begins with the national leadership which must be representative of all Kenya, inspiring confidence and hope from as many citizens as it possibly can. When it towers over and is worshiped by only one or two ethnic communities, it ceases to be national and begs to be inclusive. And precisely because the leadership misses the national anchor, it begins to be insecure and rely on the intense support of a narrow social base and the temptation to compel obedience from the rest through intimidation, fear mongering and blatant intimidation.

Kenya is going through interesting economic times. Oil has been discovered, coal has followed suit, several minerals are popping up here and there, a mining ministry has been set up, huge infrastructure projects are in the offing and financial markets are bullish.

This means businessmen and primitive accumulators are hovering around state power, each seeking to promote his own brand of capital, legitimate or illegitimate. The weaker the capital base and the more dubious the origin of capital, the more ruthless some of these fellows are.

These are the fellows who will wont to ride on the ethnic bandwagon of the President to get what they want. They are actually the architects of the cult of personality.

If you listen carefully, you will hear that fellows are “buying off banks”, getting access and ownership to coal mines through companies whose histories and origins are as recent as yesterday — no track record in the coal mining industry —and then straddling further to build railways. These so called businessmen have, over night, grown larger than life, expanded their capital at geometric progressions beyond the imagination of any stock market operator and now straddling the financial world like colossus.

These are the material of which fascism is sometimes made: they easily court the cult of personality to provide them with the political shell within which to survive.

Fortunately, we have a progressive Constitution and laws that can protect us from the excesses of the cult of personality. Our faith must be placed in the courts. The judicial system needs to use and protect the Constitution in service to the nation.

That is why the cases that have gone before the courts, challenging some of the tenders given in the major infrastructure projects, should be adjudicated fairly and swiftly. We need a Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) but at a cost we can afford and not simply because the President has ordered that “work must begin immediately.”

We need an SGR but nobody should take us to the cleaners simply because “he is close to power” or has greased the right palms and can no longer be touched. We should listen to economists who know what investments do not make sense, and what degree of indebtedness needs to be looked into.

Those who believe the President’s commands must be followed lock, stock and barrel will not allow us time to reflect simply because lack of sufficient and informed discourse does not serve their narrow interests.

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