Kivutha reveals why Kenya has shrunk to midget in last 60 years

Former Makueni governor Kivutha Kibwana during an interview with the Standard. [Denis Kibuchi, Standard]

“I share the birthday month of June with Kenya.

I am 69 today, Kenya is 60 after gaining internal self-rule on June 1, 1963.  So, I am nine years older than Kenya or one could say we are sort of agemates. That is one reason I chose early in life to befriend my country.

On my birthday, I reminisced about what I have done with my 69 odd years of God given life, and what our country has achieved within its six decades of re-independence.  

I asked myself suppose I was to live de novo from childhood, what would I do differently? How could I chart my life anew? Suppose too Kenya was attaining independence in 2023, what should we do as a country which is ground breaking, novel and life-giving for our people? These are not easy questions. I know we don’t like to interrogate our past and even present.

In my childhood, I went to school away from my parents and siblings from age 8. There were many missed years of filial relationship, early family memories and bonding.  Although along the way I tried to recreate other families, I missed core family.

Let us build Kenya

During the 80s and 90s, together with comrades, we tried to engage the Kenyan family to make radical change.  We believed in: LET US BUILD KENYA TOGETHER (TUJENGE KENYA PAMOJA).  Buried in the pursuit of birthing a new Kenya, it escaped my mind family life was at the centre of assembling community and country. There were years of absentee spousehood and fatherhood. I purpose to continue correcting this glaring anomaly. Our elementary school for learning the ABC, XYZ of  how to love is the family.

In my youth I loved education but I did not expose myself to deep enquiry in the disciplines I pursued.  I was restless and found focus irritating and so I was given to roaming all over the place. I did not satisfactorily answer the question: Education for what? I did not sufficiently appreciate there are many sources of education and learning such as the universities of life as Maxim Gorky revealed to us (Autobiography of Maxim Gorky: My Childhood. The World. My Universities, 1913-14, 1915, 1923). I want to learn from everybody and everything.  Henceforth I must learn, doubt, cross check, re-learn, process and learn more. And I want to continue sharing my acquired knowledge with, first and foremost, young persons.  It is their solemn duty to sow change on Kenyan and African soil; to awaken the sleeping giant of a continent.

During the struggle for our country’s democratisation, I lost many friends.  The State had declared us pariahs. Some childhood friends distanced themselves from us. It is not easy to replace one’s pals from young adulthood.  I will nonetheless continue to court sustaining friendships.

I think all my life I have disregarded the imperative of financial security.  I thought we should work for communities and society with or without pay. I have done my fair share of voluntary work.  I hope it is not too late to secure family financially, to continue volunteering and to relish some leisure time.

I suspended my creative and academic vocations in lieu of a political career. I have recently announced my departure from elective politics. I would love to write more, to record and share my experiences in life and contribute to the academy.

In my 45 years of public service, I often went against the grain.  I did not flow with the status quo. Many of those years were about heavy lifting, uphill toil. 

Government service

On reflection, I did not significantly enjoy my spell as member of parliament, assistant minister and minister of the Kenyan government (2002-2007).

Even though cumulatively my civil society engagement in the 80s and 90s, my commissions as a university lecturer and administrative dean, presidential advisor and county governor were very exacting, I consider the assignments as edifying and worthwhile labour.  I made a contribution, with a multitude of other comrades, towards making Kenya a better place.

When all is said and done, it is a tragedy that those who have fought for Kenya’s first and second liberations continue to inhabit the margins of political and private sector spaces.

I now desire to invest in mentoring young people whom I consider our future. I would also love to study the youth question extensively.  

A favourite author of mine Alexandre Havard in his Virtuous Leadership: An Agenda for Personal Excellence, (Strathmore University Press, Nairobi, 2013) identifies six human virtues that are central to leadership as courage (enables one to act);  self-control (helps a leader to control their passions, keeping them tempered); prudence (practical wisdom to make decisions); justice (giving each person what is due to them); magnanimity (the attention of the heart and mind to big things); and humility (truthfulness in acknowledging one’s role and competence in the service of humanity). Harvard also explores the Christian supernatural virtues of faith, hope and charity. 

If well cultivated, these six or even nine virtues are a springboard to internal growth, personal transformation and true servant leadership.

Even at the close of my sixth decade, I continue to struggle to incarnate these virtues within my daily praxis. I will persist in this self-defining pilgrimage.

I wish to summon greater courage in my personal calling, and a balanced work ethic.  There is definitely more to life than work, important as work is.

I first attended Sunday School in late 50s, then Protestant and Catholic sponsored schools. In primary and secondary schools, we received Christian religious instruction. As a university student and during part of my tenure as a university lecturer, I was a nominal Christian. At university, we were taught and made to believe “religion was the opium of the people” and specifically Christianity was a colonial imposition. I now know better.

I have come to believe I am a spiritual being who must develop his personal relationship with God. Troubling emptiness in my life was occasioned by the absence of God in my existence.  I must continue to seek and relate to God in a deeply personal way.  God is the principal source of my life’s meaning, purpose and significance.

By no means are the above elemental concerns exhaustive in relation to how I could live my life anew as I approach God’s bonus years.

Let me turn to my birth-mate, Kenya.  I understand she was born about the same time as Singapore and other Asian tigers.  Some characterise us as a rat of a nation.  But we are also praised as an African success story.

Don’t misunderstand me.  I wish to speak truth not just to power, but more importantly to the people of Kenya.  If I am harsh (hopefully not judgmental), you will forgive me.

Three maladies

In her 60 years, Kenya has grown or shrunk into a midget, while at independence we looked forward to a giant country which would demolish ignorance, disease and poverty.  Instead, these three maladies and others have almost felled Kenya.  What are some of these other ailments?

We are deep to our chin in public debt but can’t account in a precise way what public investments the borrowed money accomplished.

Since 1964, we have never tallied how the public budget has been spent in all regions (provinces, districts and counties) of our country.  Why are parts of Kenya still styled as marginalised?  What is the plan to remedy this?  Why do we continue to starve the 47 counties of constitutionally sanctioned resources? Or do we still cherish centralisation of power, instead of devolution?

We speak openly about Kenya’s class system of dynasties and hustlers.  One could rephrase: Walalahai (ruling class), Walalaheri (dwindling middle class), Walalahoi (the poor).  Why do we continue to be such an inequitable society? Why can’t we equitably share Kenya?

Periodically the highest office in the country as well as the anti-graft commission have admitted that the country is a den of corruption. It is good to name a problem, but better to offer a solution and effect it.  Are we mocking the citizens when we admit we are besieged by a corruption dragon and do nothing or very little about its demise?

Let it be admitted corruption has permeated and infected all sectors and generations of our society. Most citizens give bribes; they will hardly vote without a hand-out.  Even some young people openly admit that they don’t mind getting rich without working: “wash wash” sweat free wealth breaks no bones. We have thoroughly embraced a hand-out culture.  You can almost “buy” anybody and any institution in our country.

Negative ethnicity is devouring our motherland.  We substantially vote as ethnic blocs.  Whatever direction our ethnic kingpins tell us to go, we kowtow and mindlessly obey.  Even when we don’t witness positive results, we still file behind the so-called leaders like zombies.  We are willingly enslaved, but pride ourselves as free women and men. Many leaders therefore manufacture tribalism to divide, subdue and rule Kenyans. When shall all of us subscribe to one united tribe of Kenya?  

Our citizenry is largely docile.  Any time we raise our voices, it is usually at the instigation or behest of a section of politicians.  Once in a while civil society raises a meek voice. Citizens, who are declared as sovereign by the Constitution, do not deploy their voice for themselves, to right the wrongs afflicting them.  Kenya continues to be elite-driven as opposed to people-driven.

Even after three decades of re-making our constitution, it is not perceived to be the basic peoples’ charter.  It is usually disobeyed, neglected and subverted especially by leadership.  We still harbour the one-party mentality and culture.

Laws, policies, other norms and plans are largely disregarded by leadership.  Common people are punished when they infringe laws that threaten the privileged.  There are two laws and norms in the country – one for the rich, the other for the poor.

So-called independent institutions have been systematically captured by the political elite.  Officers within them who resist, do so at their own peril.

For the majority of our children and young people, their education is sub-standard.  Only the rich can afford quality education locally and abroad.  Teachers are underpaid and not rightfully appreciated. Universities are collapsing. 

The Competency-Based Curriculum (CBC) system which was hurriedly planned and executed is still in its infancy with most poor parents unable to successfully navigate around it.  The children of the rich will have first class education which will make them access the best jobs, entrepreneurship and leadership positions. 

The Matthew 19:24 parable of how difficult it is for a camel but more so a rich proud person to go through the eye of the needle mirrors a similar bur secular challenge for children of poor parents in accessing education, prime jobs and other lucrative opportunities.

Youth, children and minorities neglect in our country is legendary.  A country whose 75 percent of the population is below 35 lacks solid programmes which cater for them.  A huge percentage of such youth seek deceptive solace in drugs and alcohol.  Some ply crime as “alternative employment” while others dream of migrating abroad to greener pastures.

Who will build our country if we concede several Lost Generations?  When shall we make minorities and the marginalised totally become and feel to be part of Kenya

Kenya is liberally dotted by inappropriate, incomplete projects called white elephants.  After procurement and money exchanging hands, there is no dedicated follow-up to ensure completion of what should appropriately be called “white ants”, not white elephants.

When the State does not provide prosperity for the majority of its citizens, they drift into prosperity religion.  Clergy who give an assurance of easy riches and heaven hypnotise and ultimately capture such citizens.  The clergy and faiths which preach sound doctrine are left with leaner congregations.

Kenya’s genuine private sector, as opposed to tenderpreneurs, cannot easily thrive. Some are relocating to other countries which they deem havens of investment.

Corruption, high taxes, bad laws and policies and choking business environment thwart the flowering of the sector and its capacity to generate employment, growth and national prosperity.  Even SMEs/MSMEs can hardly thrive.  Logically but paradoxically, public sector corruption and wastage are largely responsible for high taxes by both national and county governments to guarantee their sustenance.

If Kenya belongs to a camarilla or select group of shareholders, this will justify the oft repeated charge that we are dangerously veering towards State capture.  If the Walalahai, Walalaheri and Walalahoi are all shareholders of Kenya, we are then on the march towards economic (social and cultural) liberation – the Third and genuine liberation. 

The First political liberation at re-independence (1963) and the Second liberation encompassing both the return of multi-party politics in 1991 and the promulgation of the new constitution in 2010 (spanning therefore from 1991-2010) have not even yielded the political and civil rights that together with economic, social and cultural rights, and group or developmental rights – the collectivity of human rights – are the hallmark of a true democracy.

Kenya continues to be plagued by a genre of unexplainable insecurity. So-called bandits are able to steal livestock, drive sizeable herds hundreds of miles undetected by official security radar to Nairobi or whatever other market destination for sale.  May be this is the bandit economy former Chief Justice Willy Mutunga talked about.  One of the State’s central roles is to guarantee security of citizen’s life, limb and property.

It is a shame we can’t feed ourselves 60 years later. It is extremely dehumanising for people to live on the life support of meagre famine relief and donor emergency assistance.

During Mwai Kibaki’s reign, Kenya had begun to significantly wean itself from foreign aid. The 2007/2008 election violence debacle compromised this development.  Kenya and Africa will never develop on the shaky foundation of donor aid. (See Yuen Yuen Ang, How China Escaped the Poverty Trap, (Cornell University Press, Ithaca, New York, 2016 in which the author quotes Pablo Picasso’s dictum: “Every act of creation is first an act of destruction”. & Lee Kuan Yew, From Third World to First: The Singapore Story 1965–2000, New York, HarperCollins Publishers, 2000).

We lack social discipline.  People don’t respect queues and traffic rules, for example.  Citizens litter in every space, not minding who will clean the mess.  We abuse the environment left and right and continue to bemoan the deteriorating climate crisis.  We routinely disobey physical planning laws and regulations and build on road reserves or grabbed public land. We love to savor the fragrance of disorder.

The county is yet to untie the Gordian Knot of extra-judicial killings, and allow courts and other tribunals to dispense justice.  Young persons are majorly the cannon fodder of extra-judicial killings and incarceration, especially for petty offences.

Although the Constitution guarantees labour rights, post-independent labour unions are a far cry from the pre-independence labour unions which were also pivotal in the struggle for independence.  The State has, by and large, subjugated the labour movement.

Overall, Kenya suffers from a serious leadership deficit. Since independence we have continued to recycle leaders who were drivers of the one-party state.  Some of such leaders have been retired by either death or internecine political elite struggles.  

Those who have consistently fought for a better Kenya, as we observed previously, are always excluded from leadership ranks.  When a few are taken on board as tokens, they are promptly co-opted, including young political leaders. 

On the whole Kenya’s apex leadership does not have a component of reform-oriented personages who would steadfastly remain wedded to a reformist ideology. Kenya must endeavor to supplement its conservative/liberal leadership wing with a reformist/constitutionalist tradition. 

The overwhelming majority of politicians in both government and opposition are stitched from the same establishmentarian cloth. That is why whenever threatened, truth be told, they quickly fold and flock together. 

I could say more about Kenya at 60. Although the country faces multiple drawbacks, it is still, but just about, a going concern.