Values of Kanu oligarchy will ruin our state

Sunday February 18 2024
Kenyan President William Ruto

President William Ruto (L) arrives in Nairobi, Kenya on March 30, 2023. PHOTO | PCS


Last week’s column argued that Kenya cannot catch up with South Korea because the foundations of the state and nationhood are fundamentally flawed. It further argued that each successive regime since 1963 has only effected cosmetic changes to the edifice, leaving the foundations intact.

In support, I gave examples of spectacular state failure. Underpinning these failures are values that replaced nationalist ideals during the discursive ferment of the immediate post-independence period.

The question these discourses grappled with was, “Which way Kenya?” Tom Mboya presented in parliament Sessional Paper No. 10 which outlined Kenya’s socioeconomic policies.

Read: NGUGI: We are trapped in the treadmill of Kanu oligarchy

Whatever we might think of its vague, romantic notion of “African socialism”, the paper was a cogent argument which, at the very least, demonstrated that there was serious thinking in government and society about what the foundations of the state and nationhood ought to be.

Tragically, renegade thinking and behaviour were already taking root, and would soon inform the foundational ethos of state and nationhood.


So, what are the characteristics of the ethos upon which the Kenyan nation-state came to be founded?

First, accumulation of private wealth at the expense of the populace. Nationalists like Bildad Kaggia, who opposed this new religion, were chastised and ostracised. Other critics fared much worse.

Second, use of state resources to reward loyalists. Meritocracy was out of the window. State officials do not have to perform as long as they “sang like parrots”, to quote President Moi.

Third, financial and moral corruption was no longer a social or political liability. Wealth, even stolen wealth, was admired by the public. We vote for those with deep pockets, even though they have never advanced any transformative idea.

Fourth, a criminally negligent official culture. There are no penalties for negligence, whether it leads to deaths or loss of economic opportunities for the country.

Fifth, a political culture without principles or even conscience. Politicians can tell lies, commit horrible crimes, and be elected or appointed to powerful offices.

Read: NGUGI: Do Kenya’s poor connect thievery to their penury?

Sixth, an obsession with the trappings of power — motorcades, bodyguards, fawning underlings, etc. A Cabinet minister once revealed that, for her, a ministerial position meant being able to avoid the notorious traffic jams on our roads.

Seven, weaponisation of ethnicity. Tribalism became the ideology through which we interpret the world.

Eight, plunder of public resources. We became a country of billionaire politicians and millions of poor citizens.

All these and attendant traits form the foundational ethos of the Kenyan state. Thus, presidents can create unconstitutional positions to reward cronies.

That is why compromised individuals are given powerful positions. That is why those prosecuted for deadly explosions at an illegal gas plant will not be officials of regulatory or administrative bodies.

That is why billions are lost every year irrespective of the administration. That is why there is a gulf between where we are as a country and where we should be.

The Kanu model is a dead end.

Tee Ngugi is a Nairobi-based political commentator.