Some people say hope is a prison, but compared to the prison of despair, maybe hope is a better prison after all. For the most part, Kenyans are a hopeful lot, and as 2019 sets forth — despite the difficulties associated with January — one gets a sense that there still abounds the ever present belief that things will get better, somehow.
That is until our politicians open their mouths, soiling the national mood and reminding us all that we’re still stuck in the political abyss of eternal campaigns. For them, nothing is more urgent than self-preservation, partly characterised by their jostling to succeed each other — never mind it being a whole four years before the next General Election. It is nauseating, to say the least, to imagine that this will be the country’s default position for the next many months, leaving one wondering where they can run and hide in a bid to preserve their sanity.
Of course everyone is entitled to pursue his or her political ambition, but at what cost? The politics of seeking power by-all-means-necessary — in Kenya’s present scenario bombarding the country with nonstop political campaigns — raises the critical question as to whether the country can afford to sustain such, and for how long. On one hand, leading figures within government have embarked on early campaigns disguised as disbursement of development projects. On the other hand, their opposition counterparts are hiding behind the preaching national unity veil, readying themselves for what's promising to be the mother of all political duels.
This state of paralysis — of being eternally quarantined in an electioneering spot — prompts one to wonder what the national mood would be were the political class to be muted for a minute, allowing the country to introspect, to think through its more pressing needs and concerns.
Let’s examine the sort of politics that’s ushering in 2019.
In his characteristic rubble-rousing way, Gatundu South MP Moses Kuria grabbed national headlines through sensational pronouncements on New Year’s Eve, ruffling feathers in some quarters by asking Central Kenya voters to think, claiming that for the last many elections, residents of the region have been urged to vote en masse for presidential candidates from the area, which they do, after which development projects are gifted to other parts of the country.
Kuria has earned a reputation for saying in public what many like him may be saying in private, betraying what some of his Central Kenya colleagues may be murmuring about behind closed doors.
In the last quarter of 2018, President Uhuru Kenyatta read the riot act to Central Kenya MPs during a meeting in Nyeri, haranguing them against their claim that the region had stood by the President yet the Head of State was not reciprocating in terms of handing goodies to the region as was being perceived to be the case in the rest of the country — what with the Deputy President being on a nonstop launching spree — whether the projects are real or imaginary.
It must be said that this is a primitive politics to start the year with — the politics of regionalism and development as a reward for loyalty — yet here we are. It is a politics which takes us decades back, where we have to define the role of the President, and whether he or his government personally owe regions or individuals a debt of development away from what is prescribed in government policy, which should be informed by principles of fairness, equity and equality.
In the traditional Kenyan assertion of it is our turn to eat, Kuria’s lamentations hold water. But as we reimagine a new Kenya — where the President should not make policy decisions informed by who voted for him and who didn’t, and where devolution, among other interventions, is meant to ensure fairness, equity and equality — the politics of our man at the top has no place.
Kuria’s politics of development as a political reward may be supported by the widely criticised actions of the Deputy President — where every other day he is in one or another part of the country gifting regions with development — making the point that this may be a good time for the President’s principal assistant to re-evaluate his modus operandi, in being aware that as he moves around peddling projects, some regions — mostly those he isn’t keen to seduce as regards 2022 — may feel marginalised by the State.
As Kenyans wallow in the prison of hope — that a better politics will sprout out of the prevailing chaos — they must put meaning into their optimism by taking up Kuria’s challenge to think seriously before the next election, but not do so in Kuria’s terms. Kuria, after all, is part and parcel of the existing political paradigm, which he has now fallen victim to.
As Steve Biko famously remarked, ‘‘Black man, you are on your own.’’ Kenyan voters must similarly wake up to the reality that no matter what today’s politicians say, they too are on their own.