A few days ago, Catholic bishops under the auspices of The Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops gave their assessment of the state of the nation.
It flatly contradicted that given by President Uhuru Kenyatta during his State of the Nation address to parliament in April.
The bishops’ appraisal spoke of corruption and greed among politicians, which now pose an existential threat to the Kenyan nation-state.
They pointed to a deep rot eating away at the heart of the nation, causing a state of “hopelessness, poverty and despair.” From the perspective of the bishops, if this slide is not halted, Kenya will slip into unrest and anarchy.
The bishops gave power and urgency to a message articulated by commentators since the coming to power of the Jubilee government.
The message is that the country in the throes of a double crisis of morality and governance. The bishops’ statement came on the heels of a call by the Archbishop of the Anglican church Jackson Ole Sapit, urging a halt to the growing symbiotic relationship between the church and corrupt politicians.
In this tacit arrangement, the church launders dirty politicians in return for millions of shillings. Muslim leaders have also in recent times issued warnings about the levels of theft in the country.
These strident critiques of government by clergy of all religions could be the beginnings of a movement to push back against a type of politics that could lead to the implosion of Kenya.
In the 1990s, men of the cloth like Ndingi Mwana a’Nzeki, Timothy Njoya, Henry Okullu, David Gitari, Mutava Musyimi, Manasses Kuria and Muslim clerics and Hindu priests, joined with civil society to form the Ufungamano Initiative. This was the historic movement for constitutional change that, together with the media, framed national debate and set and drove the national agenda.
Over the past couple of years, the setting of the national agenda has been ceded once again to politicians with the disastrous results described by the Catholic bishops.
Today, the media propagate politicians’ views without any filtering. Prime time TV almost exclusively features politicians.
Instead of helping propagate the vision contained in the Constitution – of “community of interests” as the basis of political mobilisation – we are subjected to brainless sycophancy and tribal demagoguery.
You can tell which way the politicians will argue on a given issue. These discussions are not unlike those about Big Tribes and Small Tribes, the Gikuyu, Embu, Meru Association ( Gema), or Kalenjin, Masai, Turkana, Samburu Association ( Kamatusa) or Luo unity, etc.
We have a Constitution that clearly shows what our present and future should be, but our politicians, with the unwitting, or maybe witting, aid of the media keep us enslaved to a consciousness that subverts the constitutional vision.
Perhaps then, the increasing willingness of the clergy, priests and imams to amplify the peoples’ anger against the wanton pillaging of a country by politicians and government officials heralds a return to the days of Ufungamano when the country came together to take control of national agenda-setting from the political class.
As the Catholic bishops’ statement intimates, we keep quiet at our peril. When a country collapses under the weight of poverty and ethnic violence, all of us, with the exception of the political elite, suffer untold losses.
We should remember that those close to Mobutu escaped to their villas in South Africa and Europe when the country collapsed into poverty and ethnic bloodletting.
We are a people easily distracted from the really important discussions. The distraction of the moment is the discussion about two political formations – Tanga Tanga and Kieleweke.
No one asks what the ideological or policy positions of the two formations are or what are their views on why people die in Turkana during every cycle of drought.
What are their strategies to eradicate FGM? How do we finally put an end to tribal mobilisation? Oh no, such questions are not sexy enough.
The media obsequiously covers their dramatics at funerals and churches without analysing the effects of their reckless power plays on our society and sense of nationhood. News has become dangerous entertainment.
Kenya has great potential. But that potential can never be realised unless we engineer a paradigm shift in the way we manage our affairs. As it is, the Big Four Agenda will not be achieved. Vision 2030 will not be achieved. Unless it changes course, Kenya is slouching recklessly towards doom.
Tee Ngugi is a Nairobi-based political commentator.