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Our nation is buried in pessimism

By - Oyunga Pala | December 17th 2012

By Oyunga Pala

“We are no longer the land of smiling faces, but rather the land of kuna matata (there are problems)”

A pastor in church asked his congregation, “How many of you have not registered to vote like me?”

Half of the congregation raised their hands with guilty smiles.

Those who had not bothered to register cited time constraints, some level of ignorance as to where they could get registered, and a healthy dose of skepticism directed towards the democratic process.

There has been widely stated concern about the alarmingly low numbers of eligible voters showing up to register. Election officials started mourning weeks ago and concluded that the general attitude could be summed as voter apathy — sheer lack of concern, especially regarding matters of national interest.

Hidden agenda

It is not difficult to understand why such an attitude is so prevalent. I can say without fear of contradiction that Kenyans are largely a very pessimistic lot. Kenyans have a tendency to stretch the negative or the unfavourable and given a choice, we take the gloomiest possible view. When pessimism taints the air, everything smells foul and suspect.

We are no longer the land of smiling faces, but rather the land of ‘kuna matata (there are problems)”. We have ended up with the short end of the stick so many times before that national interest has become some sort of euphemism for ‘hidden agenda’.


The Thika highway may have been a necessary road project but (there is always a but!) there are too many road accidents. What about maintenance, vandalism and why was the road to Central Kenya a priority?

When the Lamu port project begun the pessimists protested. Do we really need another port when we can’t sort out the mess at Mombasa port?

In the arena of sports, the national football team, Harambee Stars, has left many cynical. No matter how well the team is doing, it won’t be long before we hear disquiet over payment of allowances that precedes lousy play on the field.

Even Kofi Annan, once the hallowed saviour of the nation, has been relegated to the corner of distrust. We do not want to be told by ‘outsiders’ how gloomy the forecast looks.

The Chinese investors may have built some good roads but we do not trust those Chinese who stick around afterwards to grab jobs meant for locals. We would rather be screwed by western nations that kept the nation on the breadline doling out aid with stringent conditions. Not to forget the pessimists favourite, the post-election violence of 2008 and what that portends for the country’s future.

Half empty

Pessimism is some sort of coping mechanism used to deal with trauma of recurring disappointment. Kenyans generally expect the worst of any situation and the glass is ever half empty.

Underlying the apathy is depression. Clinically, one could say we are depressed, tired and defeated. Citizens have been beaten down and reduced to gnawing on the sidelines, solidly pessimist.

What difference will my single lousy vote make in this election? We reassure ourselves in our deep melancholy. We are great believers in putting off until tomorrow what can be done the day after.

Indeed if Noah, the biblical ark builder, was a Kenyan, he would have put off building the ark until the first rain drops appeared from the sky.

As a nation of depressed procrastinators, we do not budge until we run out of all options.


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