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Olympic shenanigans mirror what our country has become

Tuesday September 13 2016

From left: legendary athlete Catherine Ndereba, Team Kenya Chef de Mission Stephen arap Soi, National Olympic Committee of Kenya (NOC-K) chairman Kipchoge Keino and NOC-K secretary General Francis Kanyili Paul when they appeared before National Assembly Labour and Social Welfare Committee on September 6, 2016.PHOTO | JEFF ANGOTE | NATION MEDIA GROUP

From left: legendary athlete Catherine Ndereba, Team Kenya Chef de Mission Stephen arap Soi, National Olympic Committee of Kenya (NOC-K) chairman Kipchoge Keino and NOC-K secretary General Francis Kanyili Paul when they appeared before National Assembly Labour and Social Welfare Committee on September 6, 2016.PHOTO | JEFF ANGOTE | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

ROBERT SHAW
By ROBERT SHAW
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It is important to rise above the various sagas and analyse the bigger picture as the Rio Olympics dust settles.

To this extent, I would argue that what took place on the Kenyan side was very much a microcosm of Kenya today.

First and foremost, Kenya has an impressive athletic history. Our men and women representing Kenya at Rio lived up to that history. They performed commendably: six gold and six silver medals as well as a credible performance all round.

That is definitely a reflection of Kenyans per se. Kenyans are go getters. Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg made that abundantly clear when he visited Kenya recently. We have a very strong entrepreneurial spirit and an impressive will to get things done.

This is always starkly glaring to me every time I return from a visit to neighbouring countries. Yes, we have our issues with officialdom and bureaucracy, but the country moves with an impressive momentum.

I am usually actually relieved to see Kenyan Immigration officials, Customs officers, and even traffic policemen. Imagine.

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So what is wrong? Unfortunately, we have a track record and a history of doping, lousy organisation, and outright corruption. The first and third I would put together as symbiotic twins.

In the run-up to the Rio Olympics, we worked hard to clean house regarding doping. It was a close call as there were still some lingering doubts internationally that we had not completely walked the talk.

Then our organisation was shambolic to the extent that the National Olympic Committee of Kenya (Nock) was being compared to some parastatal run by a closet of geriatrics.

In tandem with this, there have been allegations of misallocation of funds and even outright loss of money as well as inadequate and insufficient equipment, although it is clear that the whole exercise is patently underfunded.

DOPING TESTS

Then we saw international media reports about how some Kenyan official offered to doctor the doping tests, for a fee of course. The fact that this was aired by credible media outlets in the UK and Germany makes one believe there is substance to the reports.

Then there was another one where another Kenyan official was accused of standing in for an athlete for a urine test.

Four people have so far been charged in court with offences relating to the Rio Olympics. Where this will lead to is anybody’s guess at the moment.

Certainly, Nock comes out looking as if it is in need of a major overhaul. It appears to not have the administrative capacity to oversee or run the outfit it has been mandated to manage. That, in turn, casts a dark cloud over the whole body.

What has been interesting this time round is that while most Kenyans are annoyed and even ashamed of the Rio shenanigans, they appear not to be shocked by the saga. In this particular case we have received huge, indeed embarrassing, international exposure and that has helped give Kenyan athletes a slightly tarnished reputation.

It is as if we are so used to it in our daily lives that it is par for the course. But it should not be. This underlines yet again that the pledges by President Uhuru Kenyatta to tackle, or at least stem, corruption, still have a long way to go.

There is a lot of trumpet-blowing on the need to tackle corruption, but as long as most Kenyans are experiencing it, it lacks actual implementation.

It is worth reminding all and sundry again that corruption and its bedfellow, mismanagement, are not just serious ills, they are akin to a plague that gets to the very heart of the country and severely debilitates it. It erodes every person’s standard and quality of life.

Considering how many people scrape by on the bare minimum, this is a major criminal act against Kenyans. The Rio saga is just the latest reminder of this.

Mr Shaw is a public policy and economic analyst. [email protected]

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