Let’s face it, Kenya is very thoroughly lost at sea

Tuesday July 16 2019

Kenyan governors at a past devolution conference.

Kenyan governors at a past devolution conference. Devolution has not delivered the revolution it was meant to. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

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A while ago, a poll by Infotrak showed that a majority of Kenyans thought the country was headed in the wrong direction.

This would seem to confirm what anecdotal evidence was suggesting. Our national voyage seems rudderless, and without a clear destination. Our national ship sails in rough seas, lashed by the huge waves of divided government, epic thievery, tribalism, crime, joblessness and poverty.


We can fault the “developmental state” on some of its aspects, but few would dispute that it has a more steady leadership with a clearly defined vision.

The president, his Cabinet, MPs, teachers, scientists, farmers, etc., have all bought into the vision. The brightest in the land are put in charge of implementation of policies and strategies that will help achieve the vision.

The state provides the resources, and mobilises the whole population around the vision, policies and strategies. The state weeds out those found to be negligent or failing in their duties. Corruption is treated as sabotage of the national vision and dealt with ruthlessly.


Over time, a culture is created that recognises and rewards intelligence and hard work, and which measures achievement, not on the basis of the riches individuals accumulate, but by communities transformed.

Countries like South Korea, Taiwan, Malaysia, Singapore, Japan, Vietnam, China exemplify, to varying degrees, the developmental state model. In all of these countries, citizens have felt, and feel, a sense of national purpose, and movement in the right direction.

Within their lifetimes, they have seen their fishing villages transformed into modern cities. They can point, not to two or three millionaires hopping about in helicopters giving handouts, as achievements (a Kenyan primary school book – later withdrawn — urged children to aspire to be like politicians, riding in helicopters and big cars, and wearing gold rings) but to whole communities and population groups uplifted from poverty.

So how can we describe the Kenyan state?


The Kenyan Cabinet is now divided between those who support the president’s Big Four Agenda and national reconciliation and those who support the deputy president and his relentless campaigning for president in 2022.

In a weird twist, it was revealed that ministers accused, through a letter thought to be fake, of plotting to assassinate the deputy president used to meet to discuss their region’s development.

But is not a Cabinet minister appointed, not as a regional representative, but to oversee the development of a sector throughout the country? What will happen to those ethnic regions not represented in the Cabinet?

The president has vowed to fight runaway thievery in his government, but the deputy president, in ways subtle and direct, discredits that fight and casts aspersions on institutions mandated to fight it. Can anyone imagine China or Vietnam countenancing groupings within government derailing or opposing their anti-corruption fight?

MPs in the ruling party, too, are divided into those who support the president and those loyal to the deputy president.

As those divisions harden, how will House business be conducted? Some citizens may actually want to see no business conducted, as all MPs seem to do is create this or that allowance, the most recent being “Night Allowance.”

They already have fuel allowances, sitting allowances and other exorbitant perks. If you visited the parking lot at the Parliament Buildings, you would think you’ve stumbled into a meeting between G8 leaders and heads of top conglomerates!


Devolution has not delivered the revolution it was meant to. Many governors are in court to answer to charges of theft, and many more will be charged. Theft in county governments is straight out of books about buccaneering legends: Contracts awarded to relatives of governors. Governors doing business with their county. Inflated cost of goods. Diversion of public money into private accounts, etc.

As grand thievery continues at national and county levels, joblessness and despair increase. Drought will continue to kill livestock and humans. Organised crime will take over more aspects of our lives (the next poll should establish the extent of violent crime).

A “predatory state” is defined as one in which the state and big corporations enter into a symbiotic relationship, not to achieve a national good, but for profit for individuals.

Kenya is not a developmental state. It is not a predatory state either. Kenya and other countries in Africa and Latin America are “cartel states,” which are described as states where cartels, compromised of state officials and criminal elements, partner to steal from the public.

As a result of all these dysfunctions, citizens feel lost at sea.

Tee Ngugi is a Nairobi-based political commentator.