Platitudes seem to be good enough for Uhuru, he’ll never be a Deng Xiaoping

Friday April 19 2019

People pose in front of a billboard of China’s

People pose in front of a billboard of China’s paramount leader Deng Xiaoping on the eve of the 40th anniversary of the “reform and opening up” policy. PHOTO | AFP 

TEE NGUGI
By TEE NGUGI
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Addicts have no shortage of people and situations to blame for their addiction. Their parents. Their spouse. Stress at work.

If they are trying to quit but failing, they lie about how much progress they have made. But you know they have devised other less conspicuous ways of feeding the habit.

For a cure, psychologists address both the justification for the addiction, and the denial that it exists to the extent it does.

They urge their patients to acknowledge the gravity of the condition and accept responsibility. They encourage the addicts to summon from their own depths sheer willpower to change themselves and their future.

This is not an easy task. Many recovering addicts suffer relapse. Only those able to build the necessary psychological muscle, an iron willpower, are able to revolutionise their nature and, thereby, improve their situation.

Countries wishing to escape from the vicious grip of poverty and dysfunction must undergo a similar revolutionary process.

When Mao Zedong declared the People’s Republic of China in 1949, the country was poor and ravaged by years of war. China had so many poor people, even optimistic economists forecast nothing but a grim future.

But China began to make progress, propelled by an iron will to succeed. While not forgetting Japanese genocidal occupation, China accepted responsibility for its situation and understood that only sheer national willpower would deliver it from the ignominy of poverty and backwardness.

In the 1990s, Deng Xiaoping accelerated the process of revolution of the mind, setting ever more impossibly high standards of performance for everyone, and leaving no room for complacency and its justifying arguments.

Chinese culture, once laid back and rural, became synonymous with a mental character that sought nothing but the very best.

Today, China is the second largest economy in the world. Its science, medicine, aerospace engineering, etc, are some of the best in the world.

As if this improbable success were not enough, China has now embarked on a death-defying Silk Road initiative that will usher in a new world of trading.

This all started, like the addict, by getting rid of excuses, refusing to rationalise one’s condition, taking responsibility for the gravity of the condition, and by undergoing a revolution of the mind.

Every newly successful country, from South Korea to Vietnam, has had to undergo a mental-cultural revolution.

Africa has everything it needs to transform itself but insists on peddling the same platitudes. Like the addict, it lies to itself that it is doing better. Like the addict, the continent refuses to look deep into itself and change its nature and future.

A day to this year’s State of the Nation address by President Uhuru Kenyatta, I tweeted that he had a unique opportunity to “transcend being merely the 4th president of a Third World country and become a revolutionary leader.” It was an opportunity, I opined, “to set Kenya on a revolutionary path.”

A reply to my tweet was brief and cruel: “Don’t hold your breath!” The reply proved perceptive.

In the address, Uhuru stuck to the same platitudes that have guaranteed our poverty since Independence. He quoted the usual single-digit growth rates and other statistics that hide, rather than illuminate the real state of affairs.

Away from statics, every sector—agriculture, health, manufacturing, infrastructure—contracted or just performed perfunctorily.

It’s a cruel and instructive irony that, as the president was giving his platitudinous assessment of the economy, people were dying of hunger in certain parts of the country.

Uhuru, like all others before him, missed the opportunity to grab the country by the scruff of its lethargic and corrupt neck, and shake it into a revolutionary era.

He could have set impossibly high standards of performance for all officials including the deputy president, who uses every ounce of energy to campaign for 2022 or to fight against the government’s war on graft (only in Kenya!)

Uhuru could have been truthful and said goals in various sectors were not met because of inefficiency and gross corruption perpetrated by those in his government. He could have asked all these lazy and thieving officials to leave, even if it meant reconstituting his government anew.

He could have declared the time was up for lazy teachers, policemen, clerks and government bureaucrats. He could have announced the end of politics of patronage, and that from then henceforth, only personal integrity and merit would determine his allies and political associates.

He could have been a Deng Xiaoping. He chose to be just another African leader.

Tee Ngugi is a Nairobi-based political commentator.

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