Time has come to hit factory reset on Kenya

Dr Barrack Muluka, strategic communications advisor.

Africa’s independence anniversaries remind us of betrayed dreams. They speak of official let-down and citizens’ suspended hopes. This Tuesday, Kenyans mark the 60th Jamhuri.

It has been six long decades of lofty official promises and sugar-coated success stories by those in power. More practically, it has been a season of politics of betrayal, unashamed tribalism in government, assassinations, theft deodorized as corruption, abuse of office, and misrule disguised as self-determination.

Independence as an expression of national sovereignty often sounds like a wicked joke, especially when the Constitution proclaims that all sovereignty belongs to the people. For, how should we understand sovereignty? What is the true meaning of a sovereign state?

Apart from the illusion of self-government, more fundamental concerns exist. A sovereign state feeds itself. It educates its people. It can treat them and guarantee them other social and economic comforts. It cannot be a state constantly pleading with foreigners for basic support. Africa’s independence is fraught with the beggar’s hat experience and the cargo cult mentality. We mark our 60th independence day burdened by debt. The chickens of decades of poor fiscal practices have come home to roost.

Successive regimes have excelled in reeling off fantastic narratives of prosperity year after year. In perfect Orwellian irony, the country seems to prosper without the people themselves prospering. For how do you explain the gap between the beautiful national success stories our leaders tell us every Jamhuri Day, and the hardship that we live with every day?

Our national story is at the very bottom of its fortunes. We are in crises everywhere – grim poverty, ignorance and diseases have overrun us. Insecurity is the order of the day. In Orwellian idiom, again, the nature of our lives in independent Kenya is “miserable, laborious and short”.

If independence were a digital device, we would seek to restore it to factory settings. Yet even when it is not, we must find a factory-setting solution. Is President William Ruto’s bottom-up agenda a plausible factory setting exit? If it is, here in Emanyulia we do not seem to be getting it. Not yet. The people are saying that they are not getting what they signed up for last year.

Could it be that the model cannot work in our context? Disillusioned Emanyulians are keenly waiting to listen to President Ruto this Tuesday. And they don’t want the traditional 60-year-old vacuous sugar-coated sound bites. They are waiting for practical measures that begin with addressing wastefulness and lavish living at the top, with the benefits flowing to the bottom.

They want a Top-to-Bottom Economic Reform Agenda.

I have observed before that it is unfair to heap all the blame at President Ruto’s doorstep. The rain began beating us when he was a toddler. But he is the man in the saddle. He will take his own beating and that of the four custodians of our sovereignty before him.

We don’t just want to hear good words. We want to enjoy good things. We believe that there is too much wastefulness in government, at our expense.

Apart from corruption, the people at the top have spared themselves no comfort, and ordinary Kenyans pay for this luxury.

Here, in Emanyulia, there is talk of the hyena who once told an old woman, “Never despise what is said.” She despised it all the same. She paid the price, when Hyena’s dinner time came. Separately, the same hyena gave a message of goodwill to the rock. Thrice, the hyena greeted the rock. But the rock took no notice. “All right,” said Hyena, “Even if you say nothing, I have greeted you.”

Kenyans have been saying things to power for 60 years. Power has not listened. Un jour viendra.

-Dr Muluka is a strategic communications advisor.