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Our undoing is simply deceit and ineptitude in high offices

By Daisy Maritim | March 8th 2020

Forget the coronavirus, incompetence in governance is a severe ailment and Kenya is suffering an epidemic. 

Since his first year as President, Uhuru Kenyatta has suffered a string of embarrassments courtesy of his own inept appointees.

When the Westgate attack happened, the Cabinet Secretary for Interior demonstrated the meaning of ineptitude. Although to be fair to him, he was the right man for the wrong job. Joseph ole Lenku was a former food and beverage manager, suddenly charged with the responsibility of fighting terrorists. 

Seven years later, we have a former minister who is now a retrospective embarrassment. Rashid Echesa is going around with a fake General, tricking wazungus that they represent the government, and that they will buy their guns and ammunition.

The former minister has now added banditry to his portfolio, in addition to the chronic incompetence he demonstrated at the Ministry of Sports and Culture. 

Meanwhile, our latest hero, the Director for Criminal Investigations is contradicting the same evidence he presented to us. In announcing that Echesa and his associates were in Harambee House for more than an hour, Kinoti’s tallying is defective. He is counting even the ‘empty’ minutes. 

Anyway. Let’s not forget that Ferdinand Waititu was once an Assistant minister in Kibaki’s government. It happens. The good news is that at least when it comes to ministerial quacks, they are ‘fireable’. Cabinet Secretaries who turn out to be mistakes can be dismissed. The better news is that they are highly replaceable. 

Devoted converts

But there is a particular type of the incompetents that is not ‘fireable’. These are the elected charlatans. They are the ridiculous Sonkos, the daredevil Babu Owinos and the outrageous Waititus. They are in office solely because of the votes of their devoted converts. 

Historically, Charlatans are the ‘Purveyors of Hope’. They would go through villages selling miracle potions, and get rich quick schemes to the poor and disenfranchised.

They were proficient in the science of attracting and working up a crowd. Their following is almost cultish. 

The same logic remains today, and the miracle peddling Charlatans get elected. Once they are in office, the Charlatans normalise the bizzare and rationalise the absurd. That is why life goes on after Babu shoots someone point blank, and Sonko refused to appoint a deputy governor, point blank. 

Charlatans emphasize the optical and sensual over the intellectual. That is why we have had a governor who dresses more like a leader of an acrobatic troupe than the leader of a city. It is all about the visual effect. It is about being a performance artist.    

But when it comes to actual governance, Charlatans are out of their depth. They are good at getting to the top, but they are not good at staying at the top. Charlatanism is neither tenable nor sustainable. 

It is no wonder then, that we are seeing their downfall one by one. Lately, the destiny of the Charlatan is either impeachment or imprisonment. 

Is it because Kenyans are snapping out of the spell of the Charlatans? Absolutely not! Kenyans will continue to be hypnotised by comedians and charmed by showmen. For as long as there is a poor, disenfranchised population, we are susceptible to the temporary relief of the Charlatan.

Machiavelli once said that ‘men are so simple in mind, and so much dominated by their immediate needs that a deceitful man will always find plenty who are ready to be deceived’. 

Showy career

So why are the Charlatans faring so badly lately? On one hand, their undoing is the self-sabotage that comes with the flamboyant and showy career of a Charlatan.

A gun in the hands of a charlatan is not a weapon for protection, but an instrument to impress at a nightclub.  

On the other hand, we will see the end of ‘Sonkoism’, and the ‘Fall of the Charlatans’ when they are outmaneuvered by the ‘establishment’. 

Charlatans are mercurial in nature. They are a constant threat to the stability of regimes.

Their wild popularity causes anxiety to the ‘powers that be’, and their dramatic antics are unsavory to the ‘status quo’. That is why eventually, they are always cut down to size. 

But then again, the very same regimes depend on these Charlatans to say the unspeakable and do the unthinkable on their behalf.  

- The writer is a PhD candidate in political economy at SMC University. [email protected]

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