AOn the occasion of Kenya’s 56th independence anniversary, the mood is hardly one of an energetic, happy and hopeful middle-aged citizen looking forward to passing on the mantle of leadership to the next generation. Rather, it is one of a grumpy, jaded fellow not sure about what tomorrow holds, one whose inheritors feel disenfranchised.
It is important not to be fooled by the pomp and pageant of colour and dance that marked celebrations across the country. The situation on the ground is dramatically different and unnerving.
Nairobi County is now the third not to have a substantive leader following the arrest and arraignment in court of its governor on charges of corruption. The arrest of Mr Mbuvi Sonko was the climax of a performance shocking in its excesses and lack of decorum.
That he found himself in office is itself a statement of the recklessness and frustration Kenyans are approaching the electoral process. It is no longer a sacred exercise through which deserving people are empowered and privileged to lead. Rather, it is a marketplace where votes are bought for the price of a packet of flour.
We celebrated as angry governors went to court to compel the Cabinet Secretary for Finance to release funds he is withholding because some counties have not provided clear plans on how they intend to clear huge debts they owe suppliers of goods and services. It is an interesting paradox that, as the national government is whipping the county governments to pay up debts, it is carrying a humongous log in its own eye!
In Pokot, desperate Kenyans were burying scores of their loved ones killed by raging floods as a result of rain that the country should be of age to harvest and use in a region that suffers water deficit. Instead, when it came, it smashed flimsy bridges, uprooted trees and carried away homes and their inhabitants.
Granted, disasters do kill but in better prepared environments, casualties are mitigated and the post-disaster response is fast, considerate and humane — not tardy and affected.
Corruption still stalks the country, exacting a heavy toll on public resources. Many are now resigned to it and believe that it is going nowhere. Billions are being looted in public agencies, state corporations, county governments, etc. Lower down the rungs, wananchi are still paying police, clerks, and officers of all ranks to access services that should be free. We know what has been happening at the Registration of Births, for example, despite signs of: “This is a Corruption Free Zone.”
And the youth are hungry and angry — learned but not employed, willing to work but disabled by lack of opportunities.
The government will, of course, want to look at this picture as representing a glass half-full. After all, we are an economic powerhouse in the Eastern Africa region. We have invested billions to build infrastructure — look at the highways and the railways and the planned ports. We have the best human resource capacity in the region. Our army is a darling of the peace-keeping missions because of its professionalism. But this is the glee of a child who has built a sand castle on a beach at low tide!
The powerhouse tag is fading fast as Tanzania and Ethiopia take over. Rwanda too is chipping away at the block and is steadily taking over as the conferencing destination of the region. Our infrastructure has put us in a debt trap we know not how to get out of. So we dig deeper and ask the Chinese for more. Our human resources may be the best but of what use is the best if it cannot be deployed fully?
The grumpy frustrated middle aged citizen that Kenya is can hand over to a sprightly optimistic successor if we stopped living in a past that may have been glorious because our needs and ambitions were relatively modest.
Pussy-footing around serious matters like corruption, indiscipline in public service, and historical injustices by introducing diversionary and benign wands like BBI will not hack it.
History teaches that if those that should hand over will not manage the character and pace of that change, the angry and restless successor certainly will.
Mshindi is the former editor-in-chief of NMG and is now consulting. [email protected], @tmshindi