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Kenya’s costly five-year mistake

By | December 23rd 2009

By Andrew Kipkemboi

Asked what came to their minds when they heard the word Africa, Curtis Keim in Mistaking Africa, says his students came up with coups, poverty, ignorance, drought, famine, tragedy and tribalism.

Keim, an American professor of history and political science argues that Africa has mistakenly been thought as a primitive place "full of trouble and wild animals and in need of help". This state of horror is occasionally supplanted by images of a wild safari, a warrior and a hut.

All around us are dark hints about crumbled beliefs, dashed hopes and monstrous cruelty. A few spots of hope and change are dimmed by the deep-rooted political gangsterism and bewildering ignorance of the masses.

On the whole, Africa and especially Kenya, is a tragic story of corruption, bad governance and a citizenry though inured to the bad state of things, is engaged in a futile attempt to make the best out of a bad situation.

A college acquaintance the other day told me he was excited that they planned to sling out his current Member of Parliament at the General Election in 2012.

He talked about how the village gossip was about his bourgeoise attitude (That for lack of water to wash his hands at a recent rally, he washed his hands using a bottle of soda), his inability to greet the people, his new SUV, the new mistresses in the city, new businesses, favoured relations and the new upmarket estate he was putting up.

As I walked away, I thought to myself that the man’s fears were borne of jealousy and malice. What would he do different if they elected him MP?

It is when I met a man from my village that my fears were confirmed albeit shockingly. His tale was the same. Unbeknown to many of there is simmering mass dejection. Both fondly spoke about the seismic change that they think will sweep away scores of MPs to be replaced by others.

Lethal cocktail

Apparently, across the country, a backlash against the current MPs is brewing. And the reason for this ranges from the mundane like; not waving back at those who "took him to Parliament" to claims of impropriety in the Constituency Development Fund kitty, to failing to secure jobs for jobless villagers.

In the short-term, this piles the misery on the MPs to deliver and many of them get tempted to engage in malfeasance to keep everyone happy and satisfied. An expectant public, a greedy MP makes a lethal cocktail.

Ideally, man makes mistakes. But actually, the people elect their leaders entirely for the wrong reasons. At times this has made those aspiring to lead to make promises they cannot deliver. Over time, the perilous rod and reward politics is manifest in a population that unwittingly becomes instruments of bad leadership barking up the wrong tree and getting drowned in a sea of disillusionment.

No doubt, so much is done in the name of politics. After all it is a ladder to wealth, a means to an end. In a functioning democracy, elections should provide the turning point to any country. In Kenya, tribalism, violence disappointment and looting stand out.

In circumstances where greed, deceit and violence are the hallmarks of a country’s politics, it becomes difficult to separate the foulness of former MPs and the grand intentions of the new ones. In my constituency, the word going around, my friend told me, is that never again will the people tempt fate.

To the chagrin of the people, the MP has gone AWOL since his election two years ago. With a chuckle, they explain away the absence saying the man is busy looking for money to defend himself over scandals involving land deals. Like many others, he thinks the MP’s goose is cooked.

To rub salt into injury, a former MP settled an electricity bill running into millions for the constituency’s main water provider in the wake of a cholera outbreak three weeks ago.

That did it and the people proudly say they have had enough of the incumbent MP.

By any standards, the moral case for yanking out an MP merely for not waving at you as you went to grind your maize at the posho mill, or not attending a harambee or not employing your cousin, is to say the least, frivolous and short-sighted. Nonetheless, resentment and cynicism is palpable and the drumbeats of change are growing louder. But you may ask what change?

mass ignorance

One of the hard lessons about elections in Kenya and much of the developing world is that despite regular elections, wretched injustices and misdeeds continue to be perpetuated by a corrupt and often brutal and self-preserving elite.

What is more, the people have refused to be masters of their destiny, instead, electing to be passive victims of their actions through deep-seated tribalism and despicable mass ignorance.

Paul Collier in Wars, Guns and Votes, Democracy in Dangerous Places says; "On their own, unless held in the context of a functioning democracy, elections can retard rather than advance a country’s progress."

Have a merry Christmas.

The writer is The Standard’s Foreign News Editor

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