Just when you think incompetence and rot in Kenya’s Ministry of Health cannot get any worse, another scandal comes to light. You begin to think that the government might be technically legitimate, but from the perspective of moral and political theory, it is an illegitimate and parasitical enterprise.
First, there was the case of the ministry buying containers styled as mobile clinics for billions of shillings. Then there was the theft of Covid-19 funds, money partly sourced from impoverished and overtaxed citizens. This was followed by revelations that doctors were battling Covid-19 without personal protective equipment which were rotting in stores at the Kenya Medical Supplies Authority (Kemsa).
Presentation of the plight of doctors before a parliamentary health committee brought some members to tears. Now, to see tears from members of a House known for shameless and callous gluttony is instructive of the deplorable and desperate circumstances of doctors and nurses in Kenya.
I will not list other instances of rot in that ministry, suffice it to say that the latest revelation that vaccines meant to prevent dangerous diseases in mothers and children went to waste at storage facilities confirms what we already suspected. This is no longer incompetence. It is also more than a moral failing. This is criminal negligence.
And yet as the rot continues, Ministry of Health mandarins preen in front of TV cameras to pat their own backs. Alternatively, they make rounds on TV talk shows where, as is the tradition, those supposed to interview them turn to cheerleading. The overpaid mandarins are given prime time to paint themselves and their ministry as victims of malicious propaganda. They even have the cheek to claim that the problem is that Kenyans like complaining.
Other regions take their health mandate very seriously. Israel is setting the standard for mass vaccination, having vaccinated one million people against Covid-19 in a matter of weeks. India has conducted drills in readiness for mass vaccination. Countries in Europe, prior to the roll out, had built hundreds of vaccination centres in preparation.
Kenya and other African countries act as if they do not realise just how far behind the rest of the world we are. If the humiliating fact that other parts of the world are already vaccinating their citizens against Covid-19 as we await our turn does not tell us where we rank in the world, nothing ever will.
Precisely because of where we stand, we should be running three times as fast as everyone else. That is where the Ministry of Health should set the standard. The Cabinet Secretary should not pride himself with reducing corruption and incompetence. He should aim to make the ministry a model health provider in Africa, and then the world. That is how high the goal should be. This new mentality and work ethic should extend to all departments, including the presidency.
We must develop a culture of setting ourselves impossible goals. Aiming to simply not fail or to not fail badly is a standard for failing states.
Tee Ngugi is a Nairobi-based political commentator