Monthly Archives: March 2015

A few thoughts on the state of our Nation

I really liked the old judge on Boston Legal who would get into a huff at the antics of Denny Crane and that other guy. This guy:

outrageousTurns out that Denny and his bro crush Alan Shore play up on his insecurities because he is 70 years old, a virgin and still living with his mother. Okay.

Quite often, when I read the papers or listen to the radio, I feel exactly like that. Sometimes I even say it out aloud. There is a lot of outrage in the world right now and I want to throw in my very subjective views on all this anger:

1. On this thing called tribalism: Every time something wrong happens in Kenya, you have all these outraged people on the social media shouting at Kenyans about how we deserve this because we voted on tribal lines. As opposed to what, though? Political ideology? A spotless performance record? Clear vision and the determination to go there? Do we actually, realistically, have a choice? Would we really have been better off under the Opposition, which has been very publicly and very embarrassingly tearing itself into pieces?

Again on tribalism. How exactly are we meant to deal with it? Should we all erase our ethnic names and surnames, ask our grandparents to put their names in a lotto so that they can move from their homes? It would also have to be undertaken on a massive scale: we would have to rename our counties and villages too, and give them bland names like…like what actually?

If we look at how other countries have dealt with tribalism, there are no easy solutions. Rwanda, no-one needs a reminder. India, strong regional government, but still there are fights between the Muslims and the Hindus, not to mention the war on women. Europe? Well, extermination, integration by sheer numbers and force, and of course splitting up countries into smaller and smaller geographical units sort of took care of it over a really, really, really long time. United by language, culture and a shared history. (Also a strong conviction that your people are superior to everyone else.)

Yes…what we are really saying is that we want equality and peace. Shouting down tribalism is a convenient boogey-man. We can’t ‘solve’ it but we can blame all our failures on it.

Will we ever really truly love each other and hold hands under our beautiful flag? I’m not sure. Maybe we don’t need to. We embraced devolution, which is a clear statement that different regions have different needs and they have the right to protect their own interests and do what works for them. (Once all the governors’ mansions have been built and there are a few more billionaires in the country of course.) Again, even if we magically wipe away any trace of diversity/ difference, growing extreme nationalism (also known as stop taking all the jobs we refuse to do and go back to your countries you brown people) tells us that finding differences to unite against is something societies are very good at.

Which brings me to,

2. This thing called Kenya: Some people are of the opinion that calling Kenya a country requires a massive stretch of the imagination. If you live in Nairobi and some of the other towns in the 15% of Kenya that is not a desert or semi- desert, you may not believe this. Even then, there are pockets in the city that are not technically under the rule of government. Instead, this is a world where NGO’s, gangsters and local barons decide what happens. Places where people do not want electricity from KPLC because they have their own connections (that frequently cause devastating fires). And even then…this is a place where you would rather call the Red Cross when a building collapses, despite the fact that a whole department exists to deal with disasters. And the next day, shout about how NGO’s need to leave the country.

3. On fighting corruption: This is another great distraction. Which is often linked back to ‘YOU VOTED ALONG TRIBAL LINES!!!’

many headed hydra

The EACC has to fight this monster with hard hitting reports and PLO’s linguistic flare

I should say one thing though: I am not really sure what Parliament does. They debate a ton of laws, ranging from legally allowed substitutes for breast milk, to enabling Counties to officially have something called the ‘County Printer’ to more serious issues such as security and potato farming.

One of the greatest things that the NARC/ PNU government did was revitalize the public service. While we were following the Nyayo philosophy, the civil service virtually ground to a halt. Literally everything collapsed. Part of the reason was that we had to ‘structurally adjust’ our economies, another way of asking government to just slash the civil service, stop building schools, hospitals and roads and outsource everything to private companies who would obviously do a better job and would absolutely not shred these companies to pieces to make massive profits before making a quick exit. Also Nyayo had to focus on consolidating his power, which meant that a lot of incompetent people suddenly found themselves running the economy.

So now, at least we have a semblance of a functioning public service. We have PHDs and MPhils sitting in little cubicles drafting policies and getting angry at consultants all day. And they do make progress. Slow, boring progress that cannot compete against sensational headlines, and are always under the threat of complete erasure after a roadside declaration from an MP on the campaign trail.

Which brings me back to corruption. We focus on grand corruption because it is something we can talk about in a few paragraphs, exorcise our anger, and feel like we are tackling a problem. Chicken scandal! Counties will cause the financial collapse of the country! (they could be well on their way by the way). More outrage. Again, I am not sure if we can actually solve this. Our whole system, under whatever name, still gives politicians too much temptation. Even Hercules would falter.

On the other hand, systemic corruption  is corruption which is primarily due to the weaknesses of an organization or process. It invades the system, and becomes the system.  It becomes the rule, rather than the exception. It is caused by conflicting incentives, discretionary powers, monopolistic powers, lack of transparency and low pay (i.e all those public servants who are never at work because they are moonlighting for NGOs or busy growing potatoes to send their kids to school).

This is why I think that people who go around saying that ‘corruption starts with you and me!’ are asking a bit much from us. That if we stop paying cops to get off on traffic offences, the system will magically realign itself. Okay…

It would be nice if we focused a little more on what the public service is actually doing. Or not doing. They are the ones who actually move the country forward; stronger institutions means better service, which is what we really want.

4. On understand who we are: we are in the unfortunate position of not being in control of our own story. We get outraged every time our problems are framed in way that implies the reason we are such failures is because we are primitive. What is even worse is that we have internalized this  narrative are have become unable to have honest, critical debates about who we are.

I see this when MPs can ask for exceptions on domestic violence because ‘in our culture, that is how men show they love their wives’. I see this when you have people sighing and saying ‘Only in Kenya!’ and, ‘You voted on tribal lines!’ (as if land, production, wealth and trying to protect legitimate interests has nothing to do with it). I see this when we lash out at development organisations one day, insisting that activists are on their payroll and the next day, we accept loans from our best friends the IMF (architects of the infamous SAPs) I see this when we say bizarre things like ‘What the West needs to do is to help developing governments be empowered to fight corruption’. How can you ask someone to come and empower you? Isn’t there an oxymoron in there somewhere?

We still have not understood that everyone has an agenda, as they should. We don’t quite have a way to protect our own interests, as we should. So we act like the world owes us a favor. This is how we can get away to claiming that there is a secret campaign to sterelise African women. To what end? To bring us down and destroy us? There are perfectly legal ways in which this is happening…and continues to happen.

The world owes us a big apology. They owe us a massive debt. But they won’t pay it. Or even acknowledge that it exists.

I have no solutions because I am part of the system. Like plenty of others, I benefit from the dysfunction build into the system. I have privilege, and if you are reading this, then you probably do too. I can only beg that we think deeper and harder about who we are and what we want, and what is really ailing us. That eventually, one day, it will be normal to attend public hearings on budget and expenditure, instead of lurching from crisis after crisis.