Many seeds were planted at the birth of our nation, and in the presidential eras since. Some were seeds of wholesome grain but many were seeds of virulent weeds. In fact some were not seeds at all, but rather the eggs of various venomous reptiles and stinging insects.
Over these last fifty years, those seeds have germinated and those eggs have hatched – and we have harvested the products of both; but our harvests of hatred, division, inequality, corruption, incompetence, xenophobia and bare-faced lies have exceeded, one hundred fold, our harvests of nationhood, equity, progress and integrity in public life. The progeny of the seeds of weeds and the eggs of snakes and toxic insect plagues have come to define us as a nation!
The Lancaster House Conferences that preceded our independence were not an exercise in constitution-making – they were an exercise in ethnic brinkmanship that we see to this day, and that we have refused to outgrow. It was a battle between the ‘big tribes’ and the ‘small tribes’, a battle that the small tribes appeared to win – at least for a while – with the writing of ‘majimbo’ into the Independence Constitution. The virulent weed of tribalism was planted and well-watered.
Dead at birth…
But as we now know from the writings of insiders, that Constitution was dead even before it lived. The ‘big tribes’ accepted majimbo to move the independence process forward – with the intention of killing it the moment they were in power as their superior numbers guaranteed that they would be. And this they proceeded to do – under the guise of consolidating national unity, enabling the new nation to move forward ‘as one’. BUT that national unity was never the intention of killing majimbo, or creating a de facto one party state. An Imperial Presidency, sitting cozy above the law, subject to no checks or balances was the goal – and this goal was resoundingly achieved. The egg that would hatch into the viper of dictatorship was laid!
In that first fifteen years, the nation enjoyed great economic progress – President Jomo Kenyatta having wisely looked West rather than East: hence nurturing entrepreneurship and innovation, and individual rewards for individual hard work. Africanisation of both the civil service and the mid- to low level economy progressed apace, while the upper-level economy was slowly transformed through parastatals. But with these seeds of wholesome grain, were also planted various weeds and eggs. Africanisation of the retail business was really ‘tribalisation’ of the same, while Africanisation of the public service was really creation of jobs for loyal ‘home boys’. The unholy union of these two begat the monster-child of ‘crony capitalism’ which fed and sustained the corruption industry, which rapidly became the pre-eminent sector of the economy.
Our new-found capitalism was particularly generously applied to matters of land, creating the community disaffections that continue to haunt the nation today; nurturing deep resentments across generations on the one hand, and on the other hand subjecting other ordinary citizens to periodic intense pain and suffering because they are ‘aliens’ and ‘outsiders’ in property that they legitimately acquired and paid for! ‘Extra-ordinary’ citizens that acquired property by the same legitimate means, and just as often by nefarious means, are of course not subjected to the same grief and agony!
With Sessional Paper No. 10 of 1965 – African Socialism and its Application to Planning in Kenya, we laid yet another viper egg: state-sanctioned skewed development of the nation. We classified some parts of the country as marginal and unproductive, while others were classified as productive and high potential. We resolved that ‘limited’ state resources would be invested in the productive and high potential parts of the country – and God would take care of the rest! We institutionalised a tiered citizenship, depending on whether one was from a marginal or a high potential region! The toxic tree of regional inequalities was strategically planted, sheltering the weeds of tribalism.
In that first fifteen years, political assassination, banning of political parties, detention without trial, expedient amendments to the Constitution, and use of state machinery for narrow political ends were established as ‘legitimate’ means of governance. The pleasure and/or displeasure of the head of state with the political direction and preferences of any given ‘community’ or ‘region’ determined the distribution of state resources – and the application of often brutal state sanctions!
And the pupil surpassed the master…
Then came the transition, from the Founding Father to his mentee of many years – and for 25 years, the pupil surpassed the master! The politics of personality, sycophancy, praise-singing and ‘unswerving loyalty’ were elevated to new levels. Those that were seen as the ethnic beneficiaries of the previous era were collectively punished for the sins of that era, the only discernible sin often just being that they were of THAT ethnicity; for their seven years of fat cows, real and imagined, they would now suffer many years of deliberately-starved thin cows. The message was clear: the tribe had a single mouth, and that mouth was represented by the Head of State and hence ‘it is our turn to eat’ hatched and matured as a national political tenet. Repression extended beyond political figures and troublesome scholars and meddlesome media right into the homes of ordinary citizens. All aspects of state and governance became an extension of the head of state, and any law that even purported to limit his reach was quickly repealed or amended. Loyalty became the primary qualification for any job, not competence. And the nation paid a heavy price!
In 2002 we sung ‘yote yawezekana’. And the nation appeared rejuvenated, and there was new hope and world-beating optimism. And a president-elect in a wheel-chair took the oath of office in a powerful voice, and made an inspiring speech. And we knew it would no longer be business as usual; we even made citizen arrests of corrupt traffic policemen, and led by a new minister we declared KICC ‘mali yetu’ and took possession of it! But that was just a delusional respite from the tedium of the life we were used to! Whereas we would no longer be detained for holding a different political view, we would not be invited to the feeding trough either! As for that new constitution that should have been in place within a few days, it was no longer a priority! A Memorandum of Understanding? What MoU? And the stinging insect of deceit and double-speak hatched in overwhelming inglory! There was remarkable economic progress, but in the toxic political environment we did not see this. As is naturally human in these circumstances, we did not see the village beauty’s dimples but only the pimple on the tip of her nose!
And the tree of bitterness and betrayal was liberally showered with the waters of disillusionment, a volatile mix that catastrophically exploded in 2007, consuming over one thousand lives and hundreds of thousands of livelihoods. The blood-letting culminated in a National Accord, which however created even more discord! Even the brief look into the horror-some abyss of bloody genocidal anarchy did not knock us back to our senses – we hugged the pain, we nurtured the anger, we nourished the bitterness, and we cynically mined and exploited the tragedy for political capital. And from this has emerged a digital nation with a great divide; a nation of the young that are saddled with problems of the old; a nation that is stable, but neither calm nor peaceful; a nation with immense prospects, but little hope.
Wealthy but infirm at 50…
At 50 we are a nation in need of inspirational leadership. We are in need of a leader that shall resolutely reach across the divide even as his hand may be repeatedly slapped aside. We are in need of a leader who knows he may have won the election, but he must now win all the people; a leader that will submit his personal and political ego to the good of the nation. We are in need of a leader that will do what needs doing to pull the nation together, whatever the price.
We are in need of a jubilee leader – one that will make a clean break with the past; one that will reject the old ethnic rivalries; who will dismantle and scatter the established retrogressive power structures; who will do things a different way, not just with the public relations and the window dressing, but with the fundamentals that determine whether or not the nation actually changes direction and truly heads for the stars. A leader that will show us that indeed the old is gone and we are truly a new nation.
At 50, Kenya is in need of a revolutionary, an asymmetrical thinker, a confident captain, a brave pioneer; a president that we can admire even if we do not agree with. Do we have such a leader, do we?