Ex-president's perks call for a reality check

Former President Uhuru Kenyatta outside the Defense headquarters during his farewell ceremony on September 9, 2022. [Kelly Ayodi, Standard]

A top professor in an Ivy League university recently rattled an international conference with a radical view that being born an African is a curse.

In his approximation, how else would you explain the rather high levels of mediocrity, especially among political leadership?

From South Africa to Tunisia, DR Congo to The Gambia, he gave moving accounts of how the continent had failed its people and why we’re eternally distressed in the community of nations.

After the scholar’s spine-chilling speech, I returned home digesting this bitter truth. I recalled the words of Daniel Moi, who warned that ‘siasa mbaya maisha mbaya’. Moi believed that reckless leadership breeds misery. In light of recent events, few would doubt the veracity of both Moi and the professor’s caution. In the political scene, the list of the bad and the ugly seem to be swelling. Parliament and county assemblies are compromising accountability yet we pay top dollar to keep them on the job.

The cavalier attitude is back. The wanting quality of legislation and pre-occupation with sectarian interests among the political elite lends credence to the claim that we may be a cursed lot that simply refuses to learn from our past and chart a credible future.

The ongoing melodrama in the once behemoth of Jubilee Party has led to bold attempts to gag former President Uhuru Kenyatta, make him pet hate figure and use threats to deny him his retirement benefits as the new run-of-the-mill publicity stunt.

It baffles the country when lawmakers who should have the grit and guts to keep the Executive well aligned to actions that contribute to the country’s overall good resort to mediocre avenues and loyalty pledges that do not, in any way, demonstrate commitment to the Constitution.

Elected leaders have an obligation to strengthen institutions and churn out impactful legislation that improves quality of life. Absolutely, there’s no need to cause ripples over humdrum issues like what Uhuru does in retirement. Even if the law bars him from politics six months after retirement, how does his choice of what to do directly affect the lives of Wanjiku?

Gabriel Kagombe, the Gatundu South MP whose obsession with not-so-important ideas risks being on the fast lane to indignity, wants Uhuru denied his perks. The MP also – without justification - wants Kenyan learners from other counties barred from joining Kiambu County schools. How selfish!

On the perks, my advice to Kagombe is simple. Uhuru shouldn’t be a target because he fell out with William Ruto. The MP should pursue honest amendments that will trim the perks in view of our grim economic realities. The Sh678.57 million the Treasury has allocated the fourth president’s pension and retirement perks for this year to June, reeks of utter wastage.

Analysts say Uhuru’s benefits, if Kenya Kwanza loyalists don’t throw a spanner into the works, will be largest to be enjoyed by a former president. Let’s face the truth and digest this rhetorical question. Does the former president need that money? To do what?

In Iran, former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who served as the sixth president of the Islamic nation from 2005 to 2013, declined to approve of amendments to the law that would have handed him fat perks upon retirement. Now, the former president, whose father only owned a small shop in Tehran, continues serving his country as a teacher. He also rides a matatu to work.

We can avoid the African curse by spending wisely. The task of building the nation is enormous. Taking time off to hit out at Uhuru using the pension debate or targeting other Kenya Kwanza rivals – real or imagined – is needless. If it’s about ex-president’s pension, Kagombe can push to make them modest. That way, Wanjiku the hustler will be the ultimate winner.  

-The writer is a communications practitioner. Twitter: @markoloo