Waiting for Godot, Kenyan version: The end of poverty, tribalism and corruption

Sunday August 13 2017

After five years of the Jubilee administration,

After five years of the Jubilee administration, Kenya is nowhere near the goals set out in Vision 2030. PHOTO | FILE 

By TEE NGUGI
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By the time you read this column, Kenyans will either have extended Uhuru Kenyatta’s mandate for another five years or elected Raila Odinga to replace him.

This race, the second between the two, has been hotly contested, the stakes in our tribalised world raised to life-and-death levels.

Yet, in all probability, no matter who wins, Kenya will still be a poor third world country, suffocating under corruption and tribalism after the next five years.

It is quite possible, however, that a Raila Odinga administration could implement the TJRC report, address the vexing land question, and pay reparations to the hundreds of victims of detention and torture under the Kanu regime, and survivors of massacres. These are all urgent questions, and their resolution would be significant in rebuilding our frayed nationhood.

But not even a Raila presidency will be able to undo deeply ingrained tribalism and corruption, and the lethargic culture of public office holders.

One could argue, rightly or wrongly, that the problem is not with Raila or Uhuru themselves, but that they are beholden to powerful supporters who are heavily vested in corruption, tribalism and a lethargic work ethic in the civil service.

When Uhuru took over in 2013, he brought in a fresh image to the presidency, far from the mafia-like image cultivated by previous regimes. He came across as personable and approachable.

Implicitly or explicitly, he promised to deal firmly with corruption, and his rhetoric of a digital revolution implied a fresh start, a new way of doing things. To further bolster this promise, the president made a powerful speech in the wake of the Westgate terrorist attack. Then, he expressed sentiments that were unthinkable under previous regimes.

First, he said that he was humbled by the rallying together of Kenyan people — irrespective of tribe or religion — in the wake of the attack. Then, looking humbled by the spontaneous and heartfelt help Kenyans extended to whomever was in need, he declared that Kenyans deserved better from their government, and vowed that his government would live up to the high standards deserving of Kenyans.

But within no time mega corruption made a huge comeback, making the Jubilee administration the second most corrupt in the history of Kenya.

Lethargy returned to government, such that when people and livestock began dying in a famine that had been forecast ages earlier, the clergy had to remind the government to pause its campaign for re-election and attend to the crisis.

The much-hyped technocratic Cabinet relapsed to the usual lethargy or began, contrary to a promise by Jubilee, to politick. In a Cabinet of 20 or so Cabinet Secretaries, only one — Fred Matiang’i — staked his prestige, not on his position, but on transforming the almost moribund education sector.

The end result is that Kenya, after five years of the Jubilee administration, is nowhere near the goals set out in Vision 2030.

I guess now we will have to push that vision forward and baptise it with another catchy name: Vision 2060 or, perhaps, go dramatic — Leap Forward 2050. We love catchy phrases. They envelope us with the comforting illusion of movement forward: Sessional Paper Number 10; District Focus for Rural Development; The Nairobi Metropolitan Plan, etc.

The AU, too, now has a Vision 2063, crafted after failure of other plans, principally Nepad. It’s an African malaise, this love for catchy lullabies.

Plans such as Vision 2030 will not succeed because we do not invest with absolute seriousness in two key areas. First, in a leadership that stakes its reputation on advancing the welfare of the people. Too often, leadership is an end in itself.

Alternatively, it is a vehicle to accumulate perks and riches. A former cabinet minister once shamelessly mocked us that the only value she saw in her ministerial position were the privileges it afforded her, like, she said, escaping the terrible Nairobi traffic jams!

Then we have to have leaders who demand from those working for them a work ethic of the highest possible standards.

During the electioneering period, I could not help thinking: What if the Jubilee leadership had worked as hard over the past five years as it did in the last two months of the campaign; working beyond the call of duty to propel Kenya towards its set goals?

As it is, the mental/cultural shift crucial to our success is nowhere in sight. We are like those tragic characters in Samuel Beckett’s play, hopelessly waiting for the Godot of prosperity and justice.