Kenyans suffer because they don’t take their leaders to task

Peter Ndegwa wa Nderi, an acrobat balances on a rope as his fans cheer on. [Paul Mutua, Standard]

For the past several months, Kenyans have been crying over the high cost of living as prices of basic commodities keep rising and standards of living get lower by the hour.

In the same period, they have been irritable, like people on all kinds of dry spell — which in a way is true considering the drought that affected, and continues to affect, certain parts of the country.

The high cost of living has come with its attendant high taxes, or the former was caused by the latter as our democratically elected government liberally takes loans to plug gaping holes in the country’s budget.

These holes that need plugging did not create themselves. They were created by runaway graft which was covered under concrete slabs of huge infrastructure projects, which, in essence, the country needs.

Too many things have been said about these infrastructure projects and the main question that is always asked is whether Kenyans need them at a time when they can barely afford basic needs in a country where job opportunities keep dwindling.

Life has been hard as all sorts of taxes are levied on both tangible and intangible commodities with some items attracting more than one type of tax, or consumers getting charged at both ends of a transaction.

While Kenyans can shout themselves hoarse about the taxes, there is little about them that is illegal because all laws that birthed them were passed by Parliament.

That is why it is odd, and almost illegal, that the same legislators who voted in favour of amendments that introduced new taxes and eventually led to hike in prices, can turn around and not only pass the buck, but also complain about the high cost of living.

Some of the legislators who are now shouting the loudest that Kenyans are suffering because of poor management of the economy were also the loudest in defending the new taxes and were unashamedly proud after passing the bills that have led to the current situation.

But these Bills were not passed during one sitting of Parliament. It can be said, and rightfully so, that the quality of debates in the National Assembly is not anything to write home about, but the MPs spent some time engaging in childlike arguments before the final vote was taken.

That begs the question, where were the voters when this was happening — did we challenge the MPs to explain the advantages or disadvantages of these Bills; in instances where public participation was needed, did we make our contribution?

Of course this will be taken as a case of blaming the victim which in itself is an immoral thing to do, but it is never that simple as we always want to put it.

Our politicians get away with murder because we let them. They are corrupt but we are not saints either. Not because we are inherently a corrupt people, but because of our attitude towards change.

We talk about change, but we are not just ready for it. We want change, but we cannot take the first step towards achieving it and always expect the next person to fight for us.

We expend a lot of energy during the campaign period talking about the new breed of politicians who are likely to bring change, then we vote them in, and never engage them afterwards even when they start stealing from us.

We never take them to task over the promises they made. We do not tell them what we want when bills come up for debate in the assemblies. We just cheer them up in their political wars and when any of them is fingered for corruption, we cry that war on corruption is being politicised and they are being targeted.

We can argue that they never have the intention of coming back to us till the next election cycle when they want our votes again, but we have, over the years, condoned their disappearing act and they think it is normal.

Almost all elected representatives are surprised by the current situation as if it just worsened overnight and not over a period of time.

They were there when things started getting bad because they were active participants in the gradual running down of the economy.

They have convinced us that they are saints; that they are fighting for our rights; that they have been safeguarding our interests, and in the process, we have forgotten that they caused this mess.

Thus, we have also forgotten that running down of the economy, theft of public funds, inflating costs of infrastructure projects did not happen just last week but have been going on for years.

Probably we were too busy defending our tribesmen and women that we failed to see that we will suffer in the long term, but we have to admit that we dropped the ball, as we always do, by thinking that our civic duty ends at the ballot.