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Cholera outbreaks proof that we are living an economic lie

By Makau Mutua | Published Sun, December 3rd 2017 at 00:00, Updated December 3rd 2017 at 00:17 GMT +3

Governments often govern through the fib. That’s right — lying by governments is part of statecraft. But undemocratic and illiberal regimes lie the most. That’s because they lack transparency and suppress press and speech rights. If you muzzle the “eye of the people” — civil society — you can get away with murder. I mean this literally.

In 1984,  the 1949 dystopic novella by English author George Orwell, Big Brother rules the tyrannical state of Oceania through the cult of personality, official deception, and propaganda. Rule through the lie is often more brutally efficient than rule through the truth. North Korea is Exhibit A. Which brings me to Jubilee and the cholera outbreak in many parts of Kenya, including Nairobi. Let’s dig deeper.

In two tries, Kenyans have failed to elect a legitimate government. Elections should be a referendum on the performance of the incumbent government. Absent electoral fraud, a sitting government should only be returned to power if it has handled two primary obligations — the economy and security — satisfactorily.

In Kenya, the electoral outcome was a rejection of Jubilee, the IEBC and Supreme Court declarations notwithstanding. But to me it is the cholera outbreaks — and what they say about Jubilee’s rule by the lie — is one of the key hidden stories of this election cycle. We live in the era of fake news, and so I expect states to tell even more lies. Let’s tabulate Jubilee’s.

Tragic irony

Earlier in the year, guests at a plush party in upscale Karen were stricken with Cholera after gorging themselves on questionable cuisine. The state assured Kenyans that there was no cause for alarm. The cholera episode was blamed on the caterer. Several weeks later, there was another, more serious, outbreak of cholera in Nairobi. This time the culprit was the Weston Hotel which has been linked to William Ruto, Jubilee’s numero dos.

The tragic irony is that those stricken with Cholera were doctors and medical professionals — Kenyan and international – meeting in a science conference. At first, the hotel and the government tried to suppress news of the outbreak. But the epidemic had stricken too many people to be denied. Since then, there’s been numerous cholera outbreaks all over the country.

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Cholera is a disease of underdevelopment. It’s an economic disease spread through unsafe water and food contaminated with human faeces containing a bacteria called vibrio cholerae. The disease is found in the poorest countries, or those whose healthcare infrastructure has been devastated by war. No modern country worth its name should be the victim of cholera.

The frequent outbreaks of cholera are a gut punch for Kenyans who’ve been lied to we are a middle income country. We are not — we are mired at the bottom of the heap with desperate places. Yet this is a Jubilee lie. The regime has plunged Kenya into staggering debt without investing in health and infrastructure.

The other lie is that gleaming projects like SGR can vault us into the next stratosphere. I wish. No one has yet to show what economic value SGR will actually bring given the cost of building it. I understand the one next door in Ethiopia is much better and cost a fraction of what Kenya paid for the SGR.

I think it should’ve been built, but not at the cost bankrupting the country, or taking funds away from critical sectors like health and education. There were serious allegations of corruption in the tendering and construction of SGR. And it is not the only project so afflicted — the NYS scandal ranks up there. Rule by looting should pique electors.

Nor can I leave the unga scandal alone. But let me first talk about the country’s reliance on unga as a major staple. First, Kenyans — if indeed we are moving to middle income status — need to diversify what we eat. Let’s expand our palette.

The Irish Potato Famine was an object lesson for why not to rely on one foodstuff as your mainstay. Over 40 per cent of the Irish relied on this cheap staple to their detriment when crop failure — through potato blight — struck and ravaged farms. Ditto with unga for Kenyans — let’s start eating other things. That said, the Jubilee regime has been completely derelict in its failure to make sure unga is both available and affordable to the masses.

Denied an opportunity

One thread connects the cholera, SGR, unga, NYS, and the middle income country mirage. There are simply too many of these scandals to recount. The thread that connects them is woven in the lie — the economic lie. Obviously, I hope there won’t be more cholera outbreaks, or economic scandals. But I am not holding my breathe. Our ruling elite is bereft of good governance. But the electors — the people — were denied an opportunity to send Jubilee home on Election Day.

- Makau Mutua is SUNY Distinguished Professor at SUNY Buffalo Law School and Chair of KHRC.  @makaumutua

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