As I tried to follow the wrangles over the emoluments of Kenya’s legislators this past week, a number of disconcerting thoughts preyed on my mind.
First, I thought of the processes that all our countries go through at election time to get the people who come to tell us how much they want to be our servants, working for us alone.
Then, I thought how bizarre it is that someone would show up at your front gate, ring the bell and when you answer, introduce himself as an expert gardener offering his services to you, promising to make your garden the best of all the beautiful gardens of Masaki, Nyarutarama, Runda or Mulago.
Not only does he offer his services to you, but while you are checking his bona fides and qualifications, he starts to give you incentives to entice you to hire him.
He offers you beer while you examine his papers, he presents your wife with a flacon of expensive perfume and treats your children to the best Swiss chocolates they have ever munched.
If at the end of that performance you hired the man you would be an idiot requiring psychological evaluation.
A mentally balanced home owner would call the police and report a malefactor who is up to no good, and I trust the cops would come over and cart the joker away for interrogation. Why? Because there has to be something weird about a fellow who bribes you to let him serve you, do you see?
But in all our elections this happens every time, and we don’t call law enforcement; instead, we actually go ahead and hand over our gardens to the people who bribed us into allowing them to be our servants.
Then they take over our gardens, and we see them as they throw these grand parties in those very gardens, to celebrate our idiocy, and we are helpless to do anything about them till the next election when they come back again promising to serve us and bribing us to allow them to do so.
Before very long, we hear our hired gardeners haggling about how much they, our servants, should be paid for the excellent service they are rendering us as our gardeners.
They actually are telling us now that they deserve to be paid so much money because they have this and that responsibility to carry out, and we should be paying for that.
In this fictional case above, if any village, street or community did what I have outlined above, they would have earned the right to be classified as clinically insane.
But in our governance systems and processes, this is the norm, and we do not seem to realise how much our minds are being contorted, disfigured and warped by the idiosyncratic ways in which our rulers, who promised to be our servants, are abusing us gloriously.
At this level, we are now witnessing the different branches of the “servants of the people” demanding how much each should be paid, and the people, who should be the beneficiaries of the services of this blighted crowd, look on as bemused spectators as their supposed representatives tear each other, and themselves, to pieces.
The sooner we can identify this arrangement as a scam the better it will be for us all.
If no one accepts a bribe from his would-be gardener to allow the gardener to garden for him, there should be no one accepting bribes from politicians to allow these latter to serve them.
Allowing this to happen is tantamount to allowing a mental disease whose name I have not heard of to take hold in our midst.
The Kenyan debate raises a few points that we should consider. One, which I consider basic, is whether the people who are being remunerated should be the ones to state what their remuneration should be?
Knowing his competence and worth, the good gardener would know how to negotiate with his employer to secure better pay.
But if it comes to the point where the gardener dictates to the home owner what the latter should pay him, then it is clear that roles have been reversed...and may be not reversed, because they have always been this way, only we did not recognise them as such.
The ungainly haggling I watched in Kenya this past week tells me we are still the captives of those we erroneously think to be our servants.
Jenerali Ulimwengu is chairman of the board of the Raia Mwema newspaper and an advocate of the High Court in Dar es Salaam. E-mail: [email protected]