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A NATION IN NEED OF CHANGE

By Michael Mundia Kamau

The apparent furore that has been created by the recently released
recommendations on constitutional review by the Raila Odinga led
parliamentary select committee, is merely a theatric display of hypocrisy
and ineptitude. Given the nature of politics in Kenya over the last 37
years, no one can seriously claim that they expected anything the least
different from what was tabled by Raila Odinga's committee. No one can
further claim that they seriously expected anything productive to come out
of the ill-conceived Unfungamano House initiative and/or the ongoing empty
display of bravado and defiance by it's conveners. Not many people however
are paying much attention to the games that the elite in Kenya are engaged
in, because the majority of us are preoccupied with personal survival,
having lost almost all hope in the system and our leaders. For instance, the
recent announcement by Kenya Commercial Bank (KCB), that it had made a two
billion shilling loss in 1999, passed unnoticed: this is an example of the
glaring apathy in this country.

If there was any goodwill in this country then we would be addressing such
crucial issues as the deplorable performance of Kenya Commercial Bank,
poverty, unemployment, job creation, road carnage, crime, insecurity, and
disease, instead of making misplaced calls for mass action. Living standards
in this country have sunk to levels where deaths and disabilities continue
to be caused on our roads with reckless abandon, where Kenyans continue to
abuse local beverages despite the lethal repercussions, and where we have
taken to relieving ourselves everywhere and anywhere in what are referred to
as "flying toilets". We surely do not expect to solve these and numerous
other problems by reviewing our constitution. Indeed the problems in this
country are much deeper than many of us are aware. One only need recall the
flare up that emerged out of the ownership dispute of Nairobi's Soweto plot
two years ago. One of the combatants was hacked, doused in paraffin and set
ablaze in full view of television cameras and the press at large: the
paraffin was administered by a woman. This is an example of how little we
care anymore. Much further back in time but no less unsettling are the
events of August 1st 1982, 18 years ago, during the abortive coup. The
widespread mayhem and looting that took place in those few hours are a clear
indication of disenchantment. That was 18 years ago in which time our
situation has grown much worse. The level of poverty and disenchantment is
what should be causing us concern and where we should be directing our
energies.

The challenge for us is to exercise a lot more diligence, responsibility and
ambition in the manner in which we conduct our affairs. For many years now
we have been waiting for our leaders to bring about desired change to no
avail. We waited for Jomo Kenyatta to dismantle the colonial structure but
he merely re-invented it. We waited for Daniel arap Moi to do the same but
he went ahead and did precisely what Kenyatta did. No other event or
personality has dominated public life in this country more than the duo of
Jomo Kenyatta and his successor, Daniel arap Moi. It's no wonder that the
two remain comrades, friends and political soul mates as much in death as in
life. Notice that the only person that Daniel arap Moi seeks to give his
personal greetings during National days is Kenyatta's widow, Mama Ngina
Kenyatta. This speaks volumes of the relationship between the two in life as
in death.

In the years that we have been waiting Nelson Mandela was released from
prison and became president of a new South Africa, something many of us
thought impossible. In the years that we have been waiting, the formidable
Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (U.S.S.R), broke apart, something many
of us thought was impossible. In the years that we have been waiting, the
Berlin wall came down, something many of us thought was impossible. Why is
it therefore that time has stood still in Kenya? What is so difficult in
implementing structures that will bring about real change in Kenya? What is
so difficult in accomplishing what others have accomplished?

We have distinguished ourselves as such conformists to mediocrity and
absurdity in a world that is drastically changing, holding on to the empty
romanticism of the Kenya colony. This applies to all Kenyans, white or
black. True, whites and Asians in Kenya are still affluent and in every way
live the good life engaging in such activities as deep sea fishing,
rallying, motor-cross and horseracing, but that's as far as it goes. Our
impact on a global scale is however marginal. Ours is a Nation that starts
and ends within our borders. We should seek to emulate the South Africans
for instance, who have produced the world class Springboks, and world class
golfer Ernie Els. India also has the distinction of having produced Sabeer
Bhatia, co-founder of reputable internet company, Hotmail, which has 65
million users worldwide, I being one of them. Anil Singh, another Asian, is
also a key figure in another very reputable internet company, Yahoo. We can
only expect to come to terms with our predicament by coming out of our
cocoons. For instance, there were demonstrations revolving around
homosexuality in Robert Mugabe's troubled Zimbabwe last year. There was a
photograph of a white policeman and a white policewoman apprehending one of
the demonstrators, regular cops on the beat, nineteen years after Zimbabwe
attained independence, and something unheard of in Kenya. Zimbabwe is once
again engulfed in another controversy, though much more archaic, barbaric,
and brutal. Robert Mugabe has set a very dangerous precedent, because when a
Ndebele becomes the president of Zimbabwe, Robet Mugabe's Shona tribesmen
will face the same terror currently being meted out on white farmers in
Zimbabwe.

In the same token, it was also gratifying to note the multi-racial
composition of demonstrators against Thabo Mbeki's wage increment in South
Africa last year. Teachers of different colour marched and chanted alongside
each other. In Kenya, the demonstrators would have been all black. There are
three distinct Kenya's but this forms only part of our problems.

Many Kenyans are semi-literate and impoverished, both in economic and
intellectual terms. This applies to both the educated and uneducated. The
mentality is the same and this is the reason we have such rabid disrespect
for one another. We see ourselves as going through life engaged in one
career or another, with the firm expectation that we shall retire and be
buried in our rural homes. This is a mentality that has held for far too
long and it is a big cause for our being left behind in global matters. Even
those with properties in towns would rather that they managed them from the
distance of their rural homes, however inappropriate. This has resulted in a
deplorable rate and state of development, and one in which we seem
determined to stay. There are many neighbour-hoods in Kenya today where
people turn in for the night with basins, because one dare not venture out
at night to answer a call of nature because of prowling thugs. This is not a
life. In the major towns of Kenya one notices women tightly clutching their
handbags while walking on the streets. This is not a life.

Almost all Kenyans are living lives of terror, misery, despair and
insecurity. Law and order has broken down, and a total breakdown is
imminent. The likelihood of the despair and terror that obtained in Idi
Amin's Uganda, Jean Bedel Bokassa's Central African Republic, Samuel Doe's
Liberia, and Mobutu Sese Seko's Zaire, are fast becoming a reality in Kenya.
We mused at Idi Amin's Uganda and made a fortune from their coffee through
smuggling at Chepkube; we ridiculed Julius Nyerere's Tanzania, making fun of
Ujamaa's inability to cater for the basic provisions many Kenyans took for
granted. Our turn to be ridiculed and taken advantage of has come.

The fact that many Kenyans are bitter and have reason to be, cannot be in
dispute. Take for instance the signature tune played by the Kenya
Broadcasting Corporation for several years aimed at motivating the youth to
take education seriously. The tune as many of us remember, partly went,
"Someni vijana, mwisho wa kusoma, muta pata kazi mzuri sana" ( kiswahili for
"Study hard, at the end of which you shall secure a good job" ). What could
be further from the truth in Kenya today ? The system has lied to many and
is callously turning it's back on those it has lied to. To add insult to
injury, those who didn't study as hard, or who didn't attain as much, are in
charge of the system, and relishing every moment of it. Much as I don't
support this state of affairs, it should have dawned on us by now that it
takes more than just qualifications to build a Nation, the same way it
should have dawned on us by now that it takes more than just independence to
put us at par with whites. The legendary Bill Gates for instance, does not
have a university degree. What the occident and orient has behind them is
years of persistent hard work dating back to people like Leonardo da Vinci,
Galileo, Isaac Newton, Genghis Khan, William Shakespeare, Vasco da Gama,
Christopher Columbus, Julius Ceaser, Alexander the great, James Cook,
Beethoven, Bach, and Michelangelo amongst others. Their systems have been
developed over centuries of persistent hard work. To now regard ourselves as
equals because we have a grasp of their systems is folly of gigantic
proportions. We are not equal. The occident and orient have a crucial
head-start of numerous years and it is for us to close the gap by also 
putting in a tremendous amount of hard work, utilising the knowledge that
has been imparted on us, as once said by Kenya's Tom Mboya. We do not need
to be number one. We however need a placing of self worth, a placing of
dignity, a placing of economic, social, political, and intellectual
empowerment.

This is not to say that Africans lack a heritage and have never had worthy
leaders or a worthy vision. South Africa's Shaka, West Africa's Samore
Toure, and East Africa's Koitalel arap Samoei (the Orkoiyot), are among
Africa's great sons, bastions of vision and intellect. The epic Ngoni
migration also took place in Africa. Our heritage is rich but we don't have
much to show for it which is why we are still regarded as second class
citizens the world over. We must not lose our identity, but should take
deliberate steps to emulate features that have built the occident and
orient. It is very admirable for instance and especially so amongst
Anglo-Saxons, to read with such clarity about an event that took place on
15th April 1593 or about an event that took place in June of 453 B.C. Even
more significant is the fact that the majority of Kenyans are Christians and
use the Holy Bible as a reference and source of teachings. The Holy Bible in
it's untampered is the history of mankind and we can therefore in no way
profess ignorance.

Many leaders in Kenya are making reckless calls for mass action and/or
federalism (majimbosim), without the slightest inkling of the bitterness and
resentment on the ground, and glaringly ignorant of the fact that they shall
be the first victims of revolution. As mentioned above, the majority of
Kenyans are semi-literate and impoverished. A revolution in this country,
which is imminent, will thus not be based on ideology, but will be a
passionate, bloody and gory affair of revenge and acquisition by the masses.
We don't know better and have not taught ourselves better. The Kenyan
struggle, as were the French and Russian revolutions, is based on class and
goes beyond just a tribal struggle for domination. As also mentioned above,
many of us have rural mentalities, regardless of schooling or exposure.
Foreigners, who in this case will be anyone who does not belong to a
particular tribe or clan, will be expelled from a region so that it is
solely occupied and administered by a particular tribe. The criterion of
determining what in Kenya belongs to who will be a point of further
contention, and a cause of further bloodletting. This alone makes one see
the folly of Robert Mugabe's actions in Zimbabwe.

Those in Kenya therefore calling for mass action and majimboism will get it
but not in the way they had anticipated. Revolutions of this kind are not to
be desired. A close study of the French revolution reveals high levels of
treachery, betrayal, deceit, and greed in which the ideals of the revolution
were lost, and in which the result was a re-enactment of the old order as
depicted in George Orwell's "Animal Farm". The revolution that we should
desire and work towards is an intellectual revolution, where we revamp our
way of thinking.

Much of what we are encountering in Kenya today, has to do with the politics
of repression practised so assiduously by Kenya's first president Mzee Jomo
Kenyatta and his successor, Daniel arap Moi. The two men are replicas of
each other. Indeed a study of Jomo Kenyatta is a study of Daniel arap Moi
and vice versa. For instance, Mzee Kenyatta appointed the youthful Dr.
Zachary Onyonka to his cabinet at the tender age of 27 years to ensure
unswerving  loyalty, which is the same thing Daniel arap Moi did when
appointing the youthful Musalia Mudavadi to his cabinet at the tender age of
28 years. Machiavellian dictates have been applied by the regimes of both
men to perfection. With Daniel arap Moi however, it goes beyond politics and
is personal.

President Moi has never forgiven Kenyans for not according him the same kind
of recognition, honour and acceptance that we did Jomo Kenyatta. Having
closely worked with Kenyatta and having learned from him, he is fully aware
that Kenyatta was not the saint that many people see Kenyatta as having
been. To this day many people see Kenyatta as a visionary who would have led
this country to great heights had he lived. Many see Kenyatta as a hero
whose only crime was to allow Daniel arap Moi's ascent to the presidency.
The fact of the matter is that had Kenyatta been alive today and been
president, this country would be in the same state that it is today, if not
worse, and this is something that Daniel arap Moi is fully aware of.  To
this day people regard the power behind the throne as the feared Nicholas
Biwott. In earlier years it was Charles Njonjo. Daniel arap Moi is rarely
given credit for his actions and this is something that he is very bitter
about. During the Nairobi International Show in 1994 he let out part of his
feelings when he stated in kiswahili that "Kenyatta ali kuwa aki nituma hapa
na pale, na nilikuwa nikienda sababu Kenyatta alikuwa Mwongozi" ( "Kenyatta
used to send me up and about, and I obliged because he was the leader").
This is something he has not quite gotten in his 22 year presidency and
something that he is not pleased about. Kenyans still treat him with disdain
and ridicule, waiting "for the cloud to pass".

Daniel arap Moi is by all means the personification of a ruthless dictator,
but he is also shrewd and pragmatic. He has a firm grasp of world affairs
and is a master in the "Big Boys" games of world politics. It is for this
reason that he has systematically conceded to Western demands for reform in
Kenya over the last nine years, albeit reluctantly. Ten years ago for that
matter, this very writing would have been considered a seditious publication
and would have made me a guest of the dreaded Special Branch for the
notorious "assisting police with investigations". Nowadays, even the
moderately radical publications may consider it too mild for publication.
However any perceived threat to Moi's regime is dealt with swiftly. When in
1998 the Nation Media Group acquired the East African Television Network
(EATN), it was the Minister for Information himself who cancelled the EATN
broadcast frequencies, citing all manner of reasons.

Daniel arap Moi has succeeded where numerous others have failed, and for
this reason he has won the respect and admiration of many worldwide. The
Black Caucus in America recently hailed him as "a great African leader"
while Bill Clinton further hailed him as an "authority on African affairs",
adding to his prestige by stating that he might soon visit Kenya. Men with
more education and greater resources than himself such as Dr. Kamuzu Banda,
Dr. Kenneth Kaunda, and Mobutu Sese Seko, have been deposed but he still
reigns supreme. Right here in Kenya for that matter, he outwitted a retinue
of powerful and wealthy individuals to become and remain the president of
Kenya. All the odds were against him : he was from a small tribe regarded as
backward, his education was basic, he had no clout, and by the standards of
the Kiambu Mafia, he was an extremely poor man.

Despite all this, Kenyans still treat Moi as a menial figure. Even his own
Kalenjin community treat him with disdain, with little support forthcoming
from these quarters. He could quite easily reverse the economic recession
that has characterised this Nation for many years now, but he wants to teach
us a lesson that we shall not forget. He wants us to bring us to our knees
so that we will acknowledge, either publicly or privately, who the leader in
this country is, who the real power in this country is, indeed who Daniel
Toroitich arap Moi is. This forms another portion of our problems.

The youth are a barometer of a Nation's future and right now Kenyan youth
are a diverse mixture of brilliance and absurdity. In the first instance is
the category that has high flyers who attain top grades in high school and
join internationally renowned institutions such as Harvard University,
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and Cambridge University. On
graduation, such individuals secure employment with equally reputable
organisations such as Microsoft, IBM, Coca-Cola, Chicago Memorial Hospital,
Chrysler Daimler, Philips, Merrill Lynch, Sony and Yahoo. Below this
category are equally brilliant individuals who attend either local or
foreign colleges and who end up working for leading locally owned companies
or locally based Multi-Nationals. This category also consists of a growing
crop of individuals who are acquiring the prestigious Certified Public
Accountancy qualification ( the UK's equivalent of ACCA), while still at the
University and at the tender ages of 21, 22, 23, and 24. Some actually end
up acquiring doctorate degrees at the age of 27. Young upcoming
entrepreneurs with innovative ideas also characterise this category.

The third category consists of individuals who are in and out of work, who
have skills, but whose future is not that clearly defined. These are
individuals who are holding on and buying the most time that they can,
"survivors", as it were. This category consists of a substantial number of
Kenyans both at home and in the Diaspora, and it is where I personally place
myself. In this category can also be found professionals such as doctors,
lawyers and engineers, who supplement their income by selling stationery,
second hand clothes and by offering bureau services such as the sending and
receiving of E-mail.

The fourth category and which is the one that is of concern, is the category
that has in a sense given up on life and do anything and everything, legal
or illegal, to make a shilling which anyway ends up being wasted on alcohol
or drugs. These form the idlers in our towns, centres and estates across the
country. The barometer is therefore in a state of disrepair.

The future of this country is in a precarious balance. There is little
consolation in the anticipated resumption of donor funding because our
mentality has not changed. The problems in this country go beyond government
and are about a people with no direction and no will to change. Time has
stood still in Kenya. It must be re-stated that the problems in this country
are much deeper than we know and the sooner we come to terms with this the
better. Future generations of Kenyans will indeed judge us very harshly.

The road to recovery is going to be a slow painful process and entire
generations will spend their lives in the recovery process. What we done to
this country and continue to do with it, is unforgivable. We must however
move on. If we don't change now, then we never will. That's just how serious
our predicament is


Michael Mundia Kamau, Nairobi, Kenya

Transmitted: 13 May 2000

Date Uploaded 1/23/2008
Copyright Africa Economic Analysis 2005