Much of the credit and the blame for the things which are good and bad about modern Kenya can go to one man: Jomo Kenyatta.
Consider the good. Kenyatta made some early decisions that shaped the country’s economic fortunes.
He allowed the whites to stay. That call meant that unlike Zaire and Uganda where the Europeans were chased out and their property taken over by the governing elite, Kenya was able to retain an important source of foreign investment and expertise in those formative years.
Nairobi became a hub where you set up your headquarters if you wanted to do something in the region. It still is, with all the jobs and money for the local economy that entails.
Kenyatta and his chief ideologue Tom Mboya also chose capitalism over socialism. As the American journalist David Lamb demonstrates in The Africans, by 1980 the countries whose presidents guided them in the path of socialism or Marxism were much poorer than those that chose the opposite path, such as Ivory Coast and Malawi.
To illustrate, look no further than Tanzania, a country with vast natural resources – diamonds, gas, gold, plentiful land – but whose economy lags far behind Kenya, a nation which is comparatively much more resource poor.
Kenyatta must take the blame, too, for much that is wrong with modern Kenya. Tribalism. The first president was unquestionably a Kikuyu nationalist, and he did little to build national unity.
Corruption. As David Lamb (a big admirer of Kenyatta’s) admits, the Mzee basically encouraged graft within his inner circle and members of his wider family were involved in crooked acts from poaching to coffee theft.
Jaramogi Odinga was both right and wrong on many of these issues. Consider the economy. Kenya would probably be much poorer than it is today if it had opted for the path of socialism and a state run economy which Odinga favoured in the 60s.
Jaramogi was right on many other issues. If Kenyatta had listened to him, Kenya would be a more equal and more cohesive nation than it is today.
Jaramogi rejected the British attempts to divide the country by declining to take over the presidency before independence and demanding Kenyatta’s release.
He, together with others such as Bildad Kaggia, correctly told Mzee Kenyatta that the sacrifices of the freedom fighters were not geared at replacing an oppressive white elite with a greedy black bunch. Where was the land the Mau Mau fought for, they asked? It was in the hands of Kenyatta and his close friends.
If the heavens had been kinder to Kenya, they would have put the country in the hands of a fusion between Jaramogi and Kenyatta.
They did not. And as the country goes to the polls only two months shy of its 50th birthday next year, the choice, alas, remains between Kenyatta and Odinga. The polls indicate that all these being constant – and if the courts don’t bar Uhuru from running – the run-off will be contested by the sons of Jaramogi and Kenyatta.
That state of affairs shows we have not come very far from where we were in the 60s. Both contenders are reading from the scripts of their fathers. Forgive and forget, Kenyatta told Kenyans after independence. We must remember the sacrifices of the Mau Mau, Jaramogi and JM Kariuki countered.
Don’t look in the rearview mirror, Uhuru says. Side with the reformists; don’t forget the sacrifices of those who fought for change, is Raila’s battle cry.
The more things change …The ideal situation would be if we had a candidate with a realistic chance of winning who combined these contrasting viewpoints.
Or, think about it, what if the pair teamed up and ran on one ticket to unify the country and then they can have their policy battles once in office? It won’t happen. The omens point to a Kenyatta-Odinga grudge match on March 4.