In a presentation to a parliamentary committee last week, Kenya’s Interior Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i made revelations that exposed the flawed foundations of the Kenyan nation-state. The minister revealed that Deputy President William Ruto has 257 police officers guarding his official and private residencies, and his businesses. And as if such stupendous extravagance was not obscene enough, Matiang’i said there was no upper limit. In other words, such VIPs could continue to request more police officers to guard an ever increasing array of properties.
The UN recommends a national ratio of one policeman to 450 people. Kenya has a ratio of one policeman to 600 people. There are areas in Kenya where policemen are so overstretched , residents are exposed to daily acts of criminality. Some parts of the Rift Valley are under siege by bandits, as are areas in Samburu and Turkana. Parts of Mandera and Garissa counties continue to come under terrorist attacks.
Daytime robberies, many captured on CCTV cameras, happen almost daily in Nairobi and Mombasa. Citizens spend their scarce resources to hire private security to guard their homes and streets.
In many places in Kenya, nightfall is a time of great anxiety. At dawn, citizens breathe a sigh of relief that they have lived to see another day.
If we assume that President Uhuru Kenyatta has a similar arrangement, then we have upwards of 600 officers guarding two people. In fact, Matiang’i admitted that about 4,000 police officers guard politicians and their properties. This obscenity is not an anomaly or an oversight by overzealous state bureaucrats. It is a principle built into the Kenyan nation-state. This principle, though unstated in statute or constitutional precept, is that Kenya exists for the political elite to mismanage and plunder in “legal” and extralegal ways. This principle can be seen in many instances.
Take, for example, the extortionist pensions for retired presidents Mwai Kibaki and Daniel Moi. These men, who are extremely wealthy, have retirement packages that are the envy of their counterparts in countries that give us aid! How people, who had been in government all their lives, amassed such fabulous wealth in a poor Third World country remains a mystery. Next, consider the fact that our parliamentarians are some of the best paid in the world. The MPs also falsify their fuel allowance claims or go on joyrides across the globe armed with multimillion shilling per diems, etc.
Why should a government protect private businesses and multiple private homes of a politician?
We are not even asking how these individuals who, like Kibaki and Moi, have worked all their lives in government amassed endless farms, endless properties and several helicopters. We are only asking: Is it moral for a poor country to spend so much on a few people?
If that is the morality at the heart of the Kenyan nation-state, then we are all, but in name, serfs existing for the pleasure and upkeep of the political elite.
Tee Ngugi is a Nairobi-based political commentator