|Former President Mwai Kibaki during the official opening of Thika Super Highway. Looking on is former Prime Minister Raila Odinga (left) and other Government officers. [PHOTO: FILE/STANDARD]|
By KENNETH KWAMA
KENYA: An ‘offensive’ article published in an international magazine so angered former President Mwai Kibaki in June 2007, that he cancelled a high-level political and business forum.
The article was published in The Economist magazine of June 9, 2007, and was titled, “Going up or down”, allegedly written by a correspondent who had lived in the country but who had returned after four decades to find remarkable changes.
The first thing the writer noted was that someone had done splendidly well by selling pea-green, bright red and banana-yellow paint.
“In village after village, however crummy the shops and muddily rutted the single street, you see a smartly painted green building and an even more garish red-and-yellow one, where you can buy scratch cards to top up your mobile phone either with Safaricom (green) or Celtel, now Airtel (yellow and red), the country’s two rival firms,” stated the magazine.
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The article stated in part that for someone returning to Kenya after many years, the general state of disrepair was rather striking.
It added that tens of billions of dollars of aid had been spent, yet in many respects the country’s infrastructure was worse than it was 40 years ago.
“Roads have crumbled away, the rail service has all but collapsed, ports are clogged and some have even closed. Many hospitals and schools are dilapidated.
“Forests have been cut down, rivers have silted up; grazing land has been eroded, and fencing posts in once well-run commercial farms uprooted and burnt,” the article alleged.
The most visible example of Kenya’s regression was the roads, the article pointed out.
It said while in the early 1970s you could drive from Nairobi to Mombasa in four hours, now, because of potholes and diversions and hold-ups, it could take eight hours.
“Another main road, north-west to Uganda, which should be one of Africa’s great arteries, is pitted with craters often two feet deep, reducing traffic to little better than walking pace for stretches of 15km or so,” the article said.
All this was blamed on misguided economic policies, mismanagement, poor maintenance, sloppiness, tribalism and corruption.
On July 24, 2007, The Standard reported that the President had decided to cancel the inaugural business roundtable – the first in East Africa.
The meeting, organised by Economist Conferences, the events division of the Economist Group, was to run from July 17 to 18 at the Intercontinental Hotel, Nairobi.
Then Finance Minister, Amos Kimunya, was quoted saying the meeting was cancelled because of an offending article in The Economist.
Before Kimunya’s revelation, the Economist Group had postponed the meeting a few days to the conference, but did not explain why.