We must strive to make honesty the cornerstone of national life

Thursday December 12 2019

The Dedan Kimathi statue on Kimathi Street, Nairobi County, on March 14, 2019. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP


There are 9,482 dollar millionaires in Kenya today, and counting.

Their wealth is nothing compared to the 125 whose net worth is more than Sh3 billion. People might have been wondering: what did we do with 60 years of independence? We have been breeding millionaires.

Which would have been ok, were it not for two reasons. First, many Kenyans do not become millionaires by trading, inventing, designing or otherwise working hard or smart.

They are thieves — or sons of thieves. Their wealth comes at the expense of the health, education and welfare of the majority.

Secondly, it’s ok to have many millionaires, but not in a country where the Gross Domestic Product per capita is a paltry $1,705 (Sh173,398). In Denmark it is $60,000.

Apart from the usual (African) basket cases, you have to travel very far indeed to find a country with lower average income or wider income disparities.



Some things are better: we are better educated, better access to health and other services, though their quality may not be that good and the average income was only about $150 in 1963.

I don’t want to be ungrateful or needlessly negative, but the conclusion is inescapable: Kenya’s biggest achievement is in the breeding of thieves.

And there lies the generational curse and the big opportunity, how to make honesty the cornerstone of national life.

Unfortunately, corruption is not just tolerated, it is accepted, institutionalised and protected. To run a presidential campaign in Kenya, you need billions of shillings.

These billions are usually stolen from the Treasury and channelled through some ministries and agencies or through cooked tenders.

The marriage of high politics and corruption is the reason Kenya is a land of 9,000 millionaires and 48 million paupers.

The day the two are divorced we will take the first step on the road to the economic greatness we all believe we deserve.

Curiously, Kenya always plays down and has no regard for the qualities which make nations great.


There is really no respect for true patriotism and sacrifice. It took us 49 years to decriminalise the Mau Mau, the movement of peasants and World War II veterans, which sought to violently overthrow the colonial government.

There are many ignorant Kenyans who today airily dismiss the Mau Mau, claiming they were not fighting for independence but for land.

A statue of Dedan Kimathi went up after 50 years of paying lip service to the independence struggle.

When Nelson Mandela, released after nearly 30 years in prison, came to Kenya, what he most wanted was to meet Kimathi’s wife. I suspect what most ungrateful Kenyans wished was to avoid her.

Which shouldn’t surprise anyone; this kingdom wasn’t inherited by the meek and righteous, but by the knifemen and women of the collaborationist element.

The soldiers of the independence struggle came from detention camps and found that their land had been taken away and given to the collaborationists.

To this day, independent Kenya never did enough to right that wrong. Some got land in the former White Highlands, but that depended on where you came from.

The loyal servants of the colonial state, the chiefs, castrators and their sons got way more.


The patriots bore the brunt of the British Empire’s fury and the disdain of the collaborationist independent Kenyan State: 71,046 were imprisoned, more than one million confined in concentration camps and possibly thousands were hanged after sham trials.

One day we will build a tall memorial and on it we will write the name of every man, woman and child hanged, killed, died of starvation, or disease, or wrongfully incarcerated for asking to be free.

And we shall give them all the highest honours because they deserve them and most of us don’t.

As they are now, national honours are not really a big deal. They are sometimes given not for what one has achieved, but for what one has eaten (remember Githeri man?).

They are mainly the preserve of civil servants and are conferred on appointment, not on achievement.

They, like the furniture, are part of the office. Since they are handed out in this way, they do not spur effort and sacrifice.


Ours is a land without institutionalised charity. The wealthy are not really expected to give back to the society and those who do are not necessarily recognised and honoured for it.

I start every year with the pledge to drink more whisky and do more for charity targets I never achieve.

My personal view is that we have let ourselves down. We have so many gifts: we are self-critical and can learn and improve; we are ambitious and our capacity for work is a lot better than most.

Our country does not have many minerals, but we are good farmers, good traders, generally good workers. Why is it taking us so long to get organised?

Happy independence anniversary and try not to be part of the problem.

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