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Our sorry state of affairs is down to clueless leaders

Friday August 9 2019


This is an image of polluted Nairobi River taken on August 4, 2019. Our cities collect taxes but can’t do basic things like collecting garbage and cleaning polluted rivers. PHOTO | DENNIS ONSONGO | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

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A new report by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has got me thinking.

Written by 107 scientists, it says that if humanity, especially in the West, eats less meat, it will be easier to save the earth.

Producing meat uses more land, reduces its ability to hold carbon dioxide and therefore its capacity to moderate global warming.

What impressed me is that people are worrying about things at that level while in Kenya, Tanga Tanga and Kieleweke appear to be our only major concerns.

It also touches on something that has been keeping us awake here at Nation.

There are existential issues facing our country, but as a country, we are doing little about them.


There are no proper studies, no passionate debate, no resolute decision-making, no implacable execution. We are merely gliding along, hoping for the best.


I’m sure that some thinking goes into the management of Kenya’s public affairs. I do know that there are many civil servants who work hard, long hours — longer than their colleagues in the private sector.

But that thinking does not always manifest itself in the way Kenya runs its affairs. The government is the least innovative institution that I know.

For example, how materially different is Kenyan policing from what it was in 1963? We still hire mainly high school drop-outs; take them through the same course; arm them with the same rifles; house them mainly in the same stations and take them through the same job routines.

Where is our Quantico? How many SWAT teams does the GSU have? Where are our profilers and criminal psychologists? Are we dealing with 21st century crime with 19th century tools?

Land is our most important and dangerous possession. How we use it determines the fortunes of our country.


How we own it determines the stability of the nation and the peaceful co-existence of communities.

But other than stealing it, what reforms have we done to the land tenure and land use systems in the last 60 years?

Have we planned carefully the evolution of these land tenure systems to ensure that our country can support its population and sell produce to the rest of the world? Does anyone know how the land question will look like in 2050?

Kenya is an extremely water-poor country. Compared to Uganda, DRC and Zambia, we are virtually a desert.

One would have expected that by now a public education campaign would be part of our culture to teach Kenyans how to preserve water and its purity.

I’m willing to bet that many Kenyans do not know that we have a problem with water, that our rivers are almost all gone and that keeping public water sources clean is a matter of life and death.


Currently, we have a system that allows people to do as they please: You can dump waste in rivers; you can abstract water; you can sink a borehole where your fancy strikes.

Yet, we need to know how much water we have and plan how we are going to use it for the next 100 years and get people to behave accordingly.

We live in a city where our governor believes that the most important part of his job is to give money to the poor.

Our urban spaces are hostile to comfortable, wholesome living. Our cities collect taxes but can’t do basic things like collecting garbage.

Our infrastructure is unplanned. Emergency and civil services are woefully inadequate and security is a touch-and-go affair. Our cities are full of skyscrapers.

Can any of our fire services put out a fire in one of our very tall buildings? Do any of our fire teams have a helicopter? Does any have a plan to acquire one?

What is their rescue game plan if there is an emergency on the 30th floor of one of our buildings?


In the morning on Thika Superhighway, the sky above us looks like Guangzhou on a bad day; it is black.

Nobody gives a hoot about air quality and they will not until Nairobi and other cities begin to look like New Delhi.

Then our response will be inadequate, hampered by corruption and incompetence and therefore incapable of making the least difference. Yet, if we acted today, there would be no crisis tomorrow.

We all know that our levels of unemployment are just unfair to our children. But we are happy to run a corrupt and wasteful government, which is sucking life out of the economy, if the arrests by the DCI are anything to go by.

I’m good at breaking addictions. After many years of two-pack-a day smoking, I realised that my lungs were so clogged, there was no space for air. I called myself for a meeting, debated and took a decision.


I picked a day beyond which I’ll never touch a cigarette again. I puffed away happily until that day and from then on, I have never smoked and I will never smoke again. That was 10 years ago.

Why can’t we approach our collective addiction to stolen wealth in the same way? Resolve that henceforth we will not tolerate theft and stick to that decision?

Our fate lies in thinking long and hard about our future, making the right choices and sticking to them.

I fear that the poor state of our affairs is in some respects down to the fact that we are not picking clever people and putting them in charge of our important business.

That’s fatal.

Mr Mathiu is Nation Media Group's Editorial Director; [email protected]