Kenya is a country in crisis; is it time we sought help from outside?

Wednesday March 18 2020

ODM leader Raila Odinga addresses a Building Bridges Initiative rally at Ole Ntimama Stadium in Narok on February 22, 2020. PHOTO | COURTESY


Western diplomats and development experts in Kenya must certainly be anxious about its dark future, which is likely to be marked by entrenched poverty, financial pain, social and ethnic tensions and resurgence of political chaos.

A good diplomat can tell that the ongoing shenanigans are choreographed to declare someone a danger to the nation with catastrophic outcome.

The Jubilee leadership articulated progressive policy views and even put forward pro-poor and pro-business programmes that earned them global accolades for innovativeness.

New possibilities were imagined in the restructured National Youth Service (NYS) and the technical and vocational education and training (TVET) institutions.

Like in Rwanda, the upgrading of classroom learner experience to digital platforms, including the use of laptops, along with paid internships and mobile clinics all seemed noble.



World leaders, including the Pope, American and other presidents, the UN Secretary-General, Nobel laureates, media and tech personalities such as Mark Zuckerberg all streamed to Nairobi to confer with the country’s leadership.

Despite their International Criminal Court baggage then, President Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy William Ruto were emerging as articulate leaders, who could easily communicate the long-standing challenges of the developing world and suggest sound and cost-effective solutions to them.

At the UN in New York, the country’s top diplomat, Macharia Kamau, rode the new crest, occupying a prominent position as the co-facilitator of the post-2015 development agenda and later co-chair of the Sustainable Development Goals.

Nairobi was hosting back-to-back international meetings and high-level summits and forums — including Unctad 14, Ticad VI and the 10 WTO conference.


World leaders no longer come to Nairobi and there are fewer international meetings. This is because the government has become inward-looking, obsessed with petty squabbles, name-calling and superiority contests.

There’s noticeable disinterest in regular consultations of the EAC, Igad, Nepad and the Northern Transport Corridor.

Attending Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) rallies, where bigoted leaders issue threats and preach ethnic hate and intolerance, has become the crowning moments of politicians and their jesters.

We no longer aspire for a place among the league of nations. And the public, fooled by media spin masters, is lost in the never-ending political noise, blinded to what lies ahead.

It’s no longer enough for diplomats to file their assessments of the country to the capitols. They can demand that suspects in corruption-fraught donor-supported programmes are prosecuted and their assets seized.

They could point out that the host government is wilfully negligent in weighty matters, like the locust invasion.


Let them stress that this doesn’t require external assistance like financing. It is not a question of cartels or corruption per se, but of a leadership shielded from the everyday struggles of farmers.

They could offer an assessment of organisations like AU, Igad and Unep that have invested in early warning systems.

We are witnessing the rise and consolidation of cartel networks controlled by ethnic, political and financial forces.

Prevalent in the national government, they are spreading their tentacles to the counties. They are newer, shallow-rooted, enabled and protected by the political elite.

Development partners could exert pressure on the government to dismantle them.

Diplomats could boost development cooperation effectiveness by embracing transparency, accountability and going beyond compliance audits to include performance assessments with clear targets on cartel and graft fighting.

They could name and shame, withhold assistance or nurture whistleblower programmes, grassroots voices and civil society and citizen participation in priority setting, budgeting, recruitment and implementation, review and follow-up of projects.

Mr Chesoli is a New York-based development economist and global policy expert. [email protected], @kenchesoli