We launched the School of Law Chapter of the University of Nairobi Alumni Association on Thursday at the University Towers. This return to the Fountain of Knowledge was the kind of homecoming that you don’t want to be told about. It was what, as students of Latin in undergraduate years, we used to call sui generis — an assembly that few African universities experience.
The country’s legal fraternity was around in full force, from the Bar and the Bench. The lead celebrant was Chief Justice and President of the Supreme Court, Justice David Maraga. The gathering blended light moments with grave reflections on heavy matters. The CJ summed up the spirit of what has driven generations of those who have been privileged to drink from this fountain in the words of RG White, an Adventist poet: “The greatest want of the world is the want of men and women; men and women who will not be bought or sold; men and women who in their inmost soul are true and honest; men who do not fear to call sin by its right name; men and women whose conscience is as true to duty as the needle to the pole; men and women who will stand for the right, though the heavens fall.”
In the 1970s and ‘80s, we were budding scholars, feeding on this kind of credo. We were probably nurtured into incorrigible romantic idealists. We dreamt Utopian dreams. Hence, you come across many of us who still dream of a better country than we have today. Decades later, we still nurse the belief that we can leave our country a better place than we found it. We find it a credo worth holding on to, especially in this high voltage political season.
In this season of anomie, the country easily descends into a community of political fish trawlers. We cast our electoral nets into the deep waters, everywhere where we see our clansmen. But it is not enough that you belong to a clan. You must also have deep pockets. The electorate is waiting for you, on street corners and at road junctions in the villages and in towns. Throngs of men and women are gathered, waiting to be bought. Where other nations have general elections, Kenyans have general auctions.
Cost of elections
Earlier in the day I attended a meeting of the Kenya National Chamber of Commerce and Industry. The chamber wanted to flag a number of industrial concerns to political parties. It was delightful to listen to the chair, Kiprono Kittony, talking about the cost of elections. Kenya has just about the most expensive elections in the region. Men and women alike care for only two things — deep tribal pockets.
You must blend the pocket and the tribe perfectly. The tribal equation must include the goodwill of the tribal fat cat. If the foremost tribal feline does not like you, your deep pockets and mother tongue mean nothing.
The Kenyan national ethos is rich in the desire for self-constipation. Accordingly, this electoral season is the time of harvest and carousals. When we should be looking for men and women who cannot be bought or sold, we are looking for those who can sell or buy us. In some constituencies, well-known looters are getting ready to be sanitised at the polls. They are splashing money that everyone knows is stolen. The electorate, for its part, is quite at home with this. How do you consciously elect a thief and expect good governance?
All the way into church daises, we are keenly waiting for stolen money to buy us. The holy priest leads the crowds in Kenya’s electoral clarion call, “Not the man (of conscience), give us Barabbas.” The recent shambolic party primaries were the harbinger of things to come. Prepare for huge numbers of honourable thugs after the polls. The Kenyan voter is in urgent need for rescue. An electorate that consciously prefers a thief to a candidate of conscience betrays future generations.
In Christendom, Barabbas was a robber and an insurrectionary. We read of angry crowds shouting at Pontius Pilate, telling him to free for them Barabbas while also handing Christ over to them for crucifixion. At this time, Kenyans are getting set to crucify men and women of conscience both at the political altar and at sanctified altars in churches across the country. Of course the rot cuts across religious faiths. You are seeing religious leaders from a number of faiths going public about their support for one politician or the other, usually making appalling choices.
The search for men and women who cannot be bought or sold goes on. There is a silver lining in the cloud. The number of concerned professionals is growing. Over the past two months, I have personally been privileged by invites to address these concerns at different professional assemblies. Among these have been forums by the Kenya Institute of Management, the Institute of Certified Public Accountants of Kenya, Marketing Africa, Mt Kenya University and Karatina University, among others.
The tribal and moneyed political class has cause to worry. The professional and business classes are telling you that they have had enough. The days of your general auctions disguised are elections are numbered. Kenya’s real owners are coming for you.
—The writer is a publishing editor, consultant and advisor on public and media relations. [email protected]