It’s disheartening to see Kenya, the regional leader, acting so helpless

Monday June 10 2024

African leaders’ seeking finance solutions from where the problems originated should worry you, if your destiny is here. ILLUSTRATION | JOSEPH NYAGAH | NMG


Before the cynic in you laughs at official Kenya’s celebrating the billions of dollars offered recently by the US, first remember the character in Nikolai Gogol’s beautiful play, The Government Inspector who, after castigating himself for not being so smart, reminds the laughing audience that they are actually laughing at themselves. 

So, African leaders’ seeking finance solutions from where the problems originated should worry you, if your destiny is here. What you can ask is why seek inspiration from a regular US president today, instead of from the bigger one who was in the White House when many Africans got independence, and who still towers far above any of his 11 successors, John F. Kennedy?

After the rather hasty proclamation to politicians (in a joint Senate and Congress session) on May 25, 1961 that America would land a man on the moon by the close of the decade, JFK went to Rice University a year later and addressing a more sober, academic audience on September 12, 1962, gave a clearer, thought-out version of the declaration that still looked like a mission impossible, thus:

“We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organise and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and which we intend to win.”

On July 20, 1969, the rest because history as Commander Neil Armstrong did as Commander-in-Chief Kennedy had commanded.

Sometimes I suspect that the Ethiopians recited Kennedy’s Rice University speech before launching the phenomenal Grand Renaissance Dam project. But, sadly, it is hard to find other comparable government projects led by hard men who inspire determination, confidence and pride on the continent. But I hasten to add that the independence liberation movement of our forefathers, who managed to decolonise the continent in a mere seven to eight decades after domination by superior forces, was an amazing success.


Additionally, individual nearly super-human “projects” have been many on the continent, especially in sports like feats of multiple long-distance champion Haile Gebrselassie; elevation of the world’s most technical race (400m Hurdles) to a sub-48 seconds affair by John Akii-Bua; indomitable writers like Chinua Achebe Wole Soyinka or Ngugi wa Thiong’o; and outstanding musicians who touch millions of souls.

We must also recognise professionals like Kenyans who developed transformational fintechs, digital payment systems, and scientists in health and agriculture sectors, who create new breeds and remedies respectively.

Looking at Kenyans’ fintechs leaves one wondering why their government would mobilise funds outside the country without first throwing the challenge to the Safaricoms of Nairobi! The billions were solicited from America during a “historical first state visit by an African head of state to the US in 16 years,” whatever that meant and is supposed to signify!

If the visit was not initiated in Addis, the African Union should be wondering why it came during growing unease at China’s finance that earlier surely transformed Kenya’s infrastructure development.

Why do leaders of debt stricken Africa repeatedly go back to the sources that have driven us deeper into debt? Isn’t it disheartening to watch Kenya, the regional leader in technology, business, finance and diplomacy, acting so helpless? A century and a quarter ago, colonial agents, who had no internet and whose engineers used slide rules, built us a railway from the coast to the interior in under a decade.

And Kenya’s neighbours aren’t doing much better. Last week, I listened to top Ugandan public sector managers lamenting the construction of roads (with borrowed money) which lack vehicular traffic and are now used for drying grain and cassava. Result? A heavy dose of petroleum in people’s diet, courtesy of their food being baked on heated tarmac. We seem to be constantly hunting for new health problems. In the first independence decade, our fathers did major infrastructure projects, and without stealing a penny of the loans.

Six decades later, after thousands of engineers have been produced by our universities, with occurrence of all the minerals in the soil of Africa accurately mapped, why do Africans need outside help to build roads?

This is not to say Africans are not talking to each other to solve transport problems. Last month, Uganda’s electric buses, that have now been running faultlessly for five years, featured prominently in Tanzania’s Business Forum exhibition. Before you celebrate this Africa-to-Africa awareness, first wait to see where Tanzania’s next orders for e-buses will be placed.

Buwembo is a Kampala-based journalist. E-mail:[email protected]