Pictures of thousands of youths who turned up for the Kenya Defence Forces recruitment drive a few weeks ago told a story beyond that of the exercise.
They showed endless lines of youthful humanity, all hoping to be among the select few.
The pictures told a story of a country where unemployment among the youth has become immoral and a national shame. But they also told another more fundamental story; our economic growth over the years has either stagnated or grown at a snail’s pace.
The pictures exposed the International Monetary Fund, World Bank and government optimistic growth projections over the years as figments of bureaucratic imagination. The narrative told by the youthful human bodies contradicts that told by statistics of impersonal bureaucratic international and national bodies.
While the tragedy of unemployment and poverty is playing out before our eyes, we learn from the Head of Public Service that high level state employees live large. Not that we did not know this but hearing it from the horse’s mouth brings the reality home to even those government sycophants who label those who criticise government incompetence foreign stooges.
This admission of wastage was not prompted by a prick of conscience. It came a day after the Controller of Budget indicated that over the past nine months, public officials had spent a staggering Ksh20 billion ($135 million) on domestic and foreign travel.
An earlier report had indicated that the budget for the presidency had increased significantly since assumption of office by the Kenya Kwanza regime. Other reports have indicated unprocedural award of tenders to regime loyalists.
And, just the other day, the President and his deputy revealed that their Cabinet was incompetent and that many of its members spent their time on foreign travel.
When a country is in the throes of economic crisis; is years behind in infrastructural development; is bedevilled by ever-increasing youth unemployment; is crippled by runaway thievery; and suffers ethical and moral decrepitude, it is time to have a national conversation about itself with a view to pushing the reset button.
What values define our nationhood? What is the Kenyan national character? What do we want to achieve in so many years? Why have we not performed as well as our erstwhile peers? Crucially, what can we change about ourselves to catch up quickly? This reflection and self-interrogation would inform a new framework to guide the rebuilding of our nationhood — a national renaissance.
The way we are carrying on can only lead to a national implosion. To be sure, this slide was not instigated by the current regime. It started on the day we gained independence.
Every regime, even the slightly more conscientious one of Mwai Kibaki, not only failed to halt the slide, but also increased the downward spiral.
I am not sure there resides in the current regime the ideological and moral depth to lead a national renaissance.
Tee Ngugi is a Nairobi-based political commentator