Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Foreigners have no business telling us how to run our polls and other affairs

By JOYCE NYAIRO

The next time I find myself teaching Kenyan Fiction and History, I will use a photograph that appeared on the back page of the Sunday Nation of December 15 to demonstrate what is meant by irony and by reality imitating fiction.

That photograph of Mr Isaack Hassan sandwiched between foreign envoys looked like a mirror image of one of those allegorical feasts in a Ngugi wa Thiong’o novel.

The caption said “From Left: Danish ambassador Geert Aagaard, British High Commissioner Christian Turner, IEBC chairperson Isaack Hassan and US Embassy chargé d’affaires Robert F. Godec in Thika yesterday”.

The story explained that “the three had accompanied Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission chairman Isaack Hassan on a tour of voter registration centres in Thika municipality”. 

Through marathons and road shows, the IEBC employed commendable ingenuity in getting thousands of Kenyans to register as voters.

But what does the word “independent” usually mean? Is it that we are guilty in this country of naming things incorrectly or do we totally lack a sense of irony? Is it possible that our electoral commission is daily shepherded and watched over by foreign envoys? Where is its independence?

When we said we wanted an electoral commission that was free of Executive interference, were we saying that it should, instead, be ordered around by foreign governments? Why do we mock our own sovereignty? Why do we keep displaying such distrust of ourselves, such unfailing lack of faith in anything made in Kenya by Kenyans?

We live in a global world where nations are their brothers’ keepers in matters of democracy and human rights. Fair enough.

Did Ambassador Elkana Odembo monitor voter suppression in Florida? Did the loquacious poet, the Rev Al Sharpton, complain to our ambassador about inept polling clerks? Where is the report of the AU observer mission at the US elections?

I certainly didn’t hear that Kenya’s Foreign Affairs minister had issued a statement saying that Kenyans “will respect the will of the [Americans] when they elect the country’s [forty] fourth president”.

So why do we allow foreign envoys to tell us with such smug condescension that they will accept our choices? Why do we care whether or not they will do so? Are we not financing 95 per cent of our annual budget from our own local sources?

What is it exactly that we need from these countries that we must stand at attention and be inspected at every turn without us ever mentioning the atrocities of Guantanamo Bay and Iraq?

International relations are unfair and unequal, yes, but when will Kenya learn to call the bluff of international bullies in the eloquent way Julius Nyerere and Nelson Mandela used to?

Our last election ended in the pain of fratricidal blood. But if we learnt nothing from it, if the spectacle of IDPs and the number left dead has taught us nothing, then a coterie of imported nannies will not succeed in wiping our noses clean.

We need to decide on our own that we are tired of sniffling, choking on mucus and being unsightly. We must learn the pain of drudging gobbles of mucus from our own nostrils; practise how to fetch water and to scrub thoroughly.

That is the only way we will keep a clean face. Continued nannying can only turn us into sly rebels, shuffling about and hiding mucus under the bed whenever the maids are not looking.

The issue at hand is not whether foreign envoys will be pleased or welcoming; it is whether we Kenyans have the foresight to reject unworthy candidates.

Can a people with an impaired sense of irony separate vengeful reformers from selfless messiahs? If we can’t recognise the paradox of our existence as a former colony, will we ever master the art of using foreign relations to serve our true needs?

The challenge for our leaders and our relations with the rest of the world is this: when do we own our story, craft it with confidence and care and tell it at the global assembly of nations; and when do we allow the (sub)versions of others to define us?

If we keep inviting “strangers” to stand over our shoulders, we will remain stooped and lowly — a people lacking in knowledge, faith, grace, dignity and courage.

Come on, Kenyans. It’s nearly 50 years since we raised our own flag. Time for us to own our narrative and to write it without such crippling irony!

Dr Nyairo, a former university lecturer, is a cultural analyst (jnyairo@gmail.com)