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Kenyans should have systems to protect the vulnerable besides the photo-ops

By Henry Munene | August 6th 2016


A while ago, I chanced upon a heated discussion on politicians and philanthropy. The matter was triggered by rumours that a relative of a certain flamboyant politician was detained in hospital over a huge bill. Why could the politician, whose generosity is a matter of legend, not help out? Of course at the back of my mind I knew we first needed to establish whether the rumours were true. But I was not willing to let my journalistic sense of doubt create a party-pooper out of me.

The debate soon veered to the demands of being a politician in Kenya.
After the so-called Rainbow team romped to power in 2002, we killed harambee, that noble yet largely abused African spirit of helping one another in times of need and to set up schools, hospitals and so on. But still, to this day, harambees are held every weekend for various noble reasons. There are those that seek to raise funds for important social matters such as health and education. These have become commonplace and quite necessary, largely because we are unable, half a century after independence, to ensure all our bright but needy students access higher education. Again, our health system is such that we lose more to graft than we spend on health, that is why people with conditions that we can’t treat locally and affordably need help to go to India and other places for help. The cases are so many and dire that politicians — you know them — have used it to justify hefty and mainly undeserved perks. In fact, before banning political harambees in 2002, there was a feeling that politicians just wanted to stop sharing their obscenely hefty pay, even as the majority sunk deeper into the mire of poverty. Again, I have heard the rather uncharitable view that most politicians will not help in the absence of cameras, unless of course when bribing us for votes.

So we in the media send our people to some dusty village where kindergarten children have to do a dance with death to cross a swollen river to a sometimes roofless school. Our reporters and camera crew go there, breathe life into copy and send it to Nairobi. The following morning we shock the world and the first person offering to build a multi-million-shilling bridge is the same politician who uses a chopper to Nairobi just to avoid that well-known death-trap bridge. It is atrocious, but it pretty much captures the conmanship that sometimes passes for leadership.

Whenever we see a story of people who are suffering in the villages, I make sure whoever wrote it asks those who manage taxpayers’ money in that corner of the world what they are doing about it. The governors are the most depressing in this regard. One county chief, who reportedly lives in a humongous palace on taxpayers’ sweat, told our reporter that the bridge “ is under the national government.”

You are left wondering how — in the name of all that is holy —toddlers can be tumbling to early death on their way to school and all the local tax cash managers care about is a county golf course, or useless trips abroad, or the governors’ official residence. Even if the Constitution says it is the headache of the amorphous animal called the national government, isn’t a better version of the Constitution supposed be imprinted in our hearts? It all makes you want to jump out the window from the second-floor newsroom to the immaculately tarmacked parking bay below. So this week, I saw again as politicians trooped to the home of a victim of gender-based violence. While it is a good thing to visit and help such a person, legislators should propose laws that make it scary for social evils like hacking of women’s limbs to happen. For, truth be told, the cases that make it to headline news are just a tip of the iceberg. In our midst lurks so much evil. We need laws and systems to protect us from them. Ladies and gentlemen, let us have a structured way of helping the vulnerable  besides the photo-ops too.

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