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Chinua Achebe depicts poor leadership as problem for Kenya at 50

By - JENNIFER MUCHIRI | June 1st 2013


As the world continues to mourn the death of Chinua Achebe, my modest proposal is that his essay, The Trouble with Nigeria, be made compulsory reading in the school syllabus and for every public office holder in this country. In fact, any person who seeks a leadership position in any sector of our society should demonstrate that they have read and understood Achebe’s concerns in this little book.

The Trouble with Nigeria reminds us of the need to identify the bug that ails our society and exorcise it.  Achebe does not beat about the bush; he hits the nail on the head when he begins his essay by declaring that “the problem with Nigeria is simply and squarely a failure of leadership.” In place of Nigeria you can insert any African country today.

Fifty years after independence, Kenya is yet to achieve the dreams she had at the dawn of independence, mainly spelt out then as: eradication of poverty, ignorance and disease. Instead, we have walked steadily down the road to destruction. Reason? Poor management of public office. The trouble with Kenya is, to use Achebe’s words, simply and squarely failure of our leadership since independence.

In the year of our Lord 2013 poverty still menaces Kenyans everyday; illiteracy is pervasive, free education or not; corruption is our second skin; embezzlement of public resources might as well be one of the articles in our Constitution; tribalism and nepotism walk down the corridors of Government offices and, I dare say, institutions of higher learning, with abandon; Crime has grown up and, it seems, the security agencies have no control over him; election malpractices have become part of our national psyche and will occupy a number of chapters when Kenya finally pens her memoirs; we have no qualm electing unqualified or persons of questionable morals as long as they belong to our clan and have deep pockets; patients in public hospitals are not sure whether or not they will be treated since doctors and nurses might down their tools any time, dialysis machines are non-existent, and pharmacies have taken on a different meaning – a place where, in public hospitals, one cannot find drugs; mothers with new-born babies are detained by hospitals because they cannot raise the whopping Sh3000 maternity fees.

Teachers and lecturers are busy singing “solidarity forever” while their students, to while away the time, engage in torching dormitories and stoning motorists and traffic lights; tuition and feeding fees are yet to be credited into school accounts and head teachers cannot access any more credit from the local grain and firewood supplier so the schools close earlier than the Ministry dictates; good public schools are the preserve of the rich; there is no difference between highways and cattle tracks; private investors in the name of matatu drivers formulate their own traffic rules and murder thousands Kenyans – after all the owner of the matatu is police officer so-and-so and the officer at this-or-that road block/ junction has already been ‘seen.’

Farmers cannot afford the cost of imported-and-delayed fertiliser; vegetables are rotting on the farms since the roads are impassable and anyway the only bridge was washed away by floods three months ago; citizens are hungry and the relief food they sometimes receive – after, of course, the chief has had his share – does not do much for their nutritional needs; the cost of milk is prohibitive soon after a milk glut; a large section of the youth literally has one foot in the grave, a consequence of drugs, and the result is that some counties claim that the maternity sections of their health centres and nursery schools are reporting zero registration.

Law and order

Law and order have been thrown out the window by their very custodians; mediocrity has taken its rightful place as one of the qualifications for leadership; displacement from one’s legally acquired property on account of belonging to the wrong tribe or clan has become a public pastime; pregnant and nursing women, dejected and humiliated fathers, and young children daily retire into polythene tents which they call home.

Members of Parliament behave like a bunch of fiends, mutilating a Constitution that took years to deliver; the Church is under siege because PhD holding pastors are busy seeking political leadership while others are hiding from mouth-twisting worshippers; families are falling apart .… These are the troubles in Kenya.  The rot of African leadership is often dramatised in very public acts. For instance, Achebe writes about a police officer who urinates on his car, in broad daylight, without a reason except probably because he is a police officer. If you think about it, the hallmark of police service is discipline.

How, pray, can we explain cases of police officers who steal, rape, beat and kill citizens, disobey traffic rules, among other iniquities as is reported in media daily in this country? Or how did an imposter in the force become a ‘senior’ officer?

As Kenya begins a new chapter in her life in the 50th anniversary of independence under a new Constitution, one hopes that our leaders will listen to Achebe’s wisdom, which though originally meant for his country, is equally relevant for us. I wish the President and his Deputy would pick and read The Trouble with Nigeria for daily inspiration. Equally, each of the governors, senators, Members of Parliament, and county representatives need a copy of the book as part of their induction into office.


The writer teaches Literature at the University of Nairobi.

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