Kenya is reaping from the side effects of curious politics of ‘State capture’

Wednesday June 6 2012


Kenyans often question why hordes of impoverished people rush to scoop fuel from an overturned truck despite the history of catastrophic fires associated with such dangerous quests.

Similar analysis should address the enthusiasm by the political elite for avoiding a pluralistic approach to the management of State affairs. After all, it is clear that disenfranchised groups and those whose quality of life deteriorates amidst plenty will prefer to perish or seek autonomy.

Kenya is reaping from the side effects of the politics of “State capture”: A husband butchers his family after a dispute over food; residents in northern Kenya cannot name four towns on the railway belt; the Mombasa Republican Council declares that Coast is not part of Kenya; Several bomb blasts rock the country; and the post-election violence issues of 2007/08 hold the country hostage.

Powerful groups are controlling the Kenyan State for their own advantage and to the disadvantage of the entire country. The attitude to “capture the State” by a clan, tribe or ethnic group is exhibited right from the constituency level.

The German ambassador to Kenya, Ms Margit Hellwig-Boette, points out that during the last three years she has been in Kenya, she has observed that politicians not only use political parties as “vehicles” to ascend to power, they also use their ethnic communities for the same purpose.

“This also works the other way,” she says. “An ethnic community puts pressure on ‘their area MP to work for them but neglect the other communities in the constituency. Ironically, the expectation is that a leader has to represent the plurality of a constituency.”

A recent Lake Turkana Festival 2012 meant to promote harmonious co-existence of the nomadic El Molo, Rendille, Samburu, Turkana, Dassanach, Gabra, Borana, Konso, Wata and Burji exposed great inter-ethnic relation challenges that mirror the state of affairs in Kenya.

Participating in the forum, Dr Hassan Wario (director of Museums and Sites, National Museums of Kenya) argued that Kenyans not only fear focused and honest debate on issues, they also run away from themselves.

In a panel discussion dubbed “Heritage and Sustainable Development in the Lake Turkana Basin,” Dr Ekuru Aukot asked why the government was showing a belated interest in the historically neglected northern region only after the oil and water find in Turkana.

The north of Kenya has no road infrastructure. For example, Ms Lokolio from Lodwar (a town that is five hours away from Loiyangalani across Lake Turkana by boat) spent two days trying to access the Lake Turkana Festival via Kitale-Eldoret.

Nairobians keen to take part in the same festival spent three days and had to be given armed security to navigate through difficult terrain!

The “State capture” culture does not tolerate discussion on issues of national importance. Instead of progressive issues, citizens debate individual’s ability to hunt their way to capturing the State.

When a pupil in a dingy El Molo firewood-lit hut competes with colleagues in electricity-lit homes in Nairobi; when Kenya’s northern region institutionalises food aid as a drought-coping mechanism; when Kenyans commit suicide or kill in agriculturally productive regions due to lack of food, does this not raise concern about the country’s management of food security?

When parts of the country start calling for autonomy, does this not raise concern over the need for pluralism in the management of State affairs?

It is urgent that Kenya embraces realism and nurtures a culture where citizens discuss and debate the issues that affects them. It is through discussions of national issues that Kenyans will own the narrative of their predicament.

The new constitutional dispensation that was designed to liberate Kenya from “State capture” will not liberate Kenyans.

Each Kenyan must endeavour to steer the country away from personality worship and address the cause and effect relationship of the predicament facing the country and its citizenry.

Mr Shikwati is the director, Inter-Region Economic Network ([email protected]).