The 2018 world sports calendar is packed.
It includes the biggest of all draws, the Fifa World Cup in Russia in June and July.
Other major events are the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea and the Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast, Australia.
Going by past experience, the organisation of these events that bring dozens of countries and millions of tourists to the host country will aim for perfection. Nothing will be left to chance.
It is a moving experience when one reads of stories of people aiming to do the perfect job. Great accomplishments have been made by very ordinary people. And the thread that runs through all these people from different corners of the globe is an attitude of mind, a self-driven desire to be good.
As we bid farewell to 2017, the year when as usual, people died because we couldn’t be able to count votes, this is as good a time as can be to ask the questions: why can’t we be able to host an event like the Fifa World Cup?
What do other people have that we don’t?
What is this millstone around our neck that holds us permanently down? Who is our enemy; is it “them” whoever those are or could it be “us?”
Whereas it is good to have grand ambitions and make sweeping New Year resolutions, perhaps we could do with a little brutal inward look and examine the effect of small things that cost no money but make the worst negative differences in our lives.
Here are some of them:
Organisers of world class sports events calculate time in minutes and seconds.
But we have a mindset that still defines time like our ancestors did: we think of it in terms of “in the morning” or “after lunch” or “in the evening.”
Meetings can start even two hours after the specified time for no good reason and without any apologies and by the time the mandatory opening “word of prayer” is said, the people who mistakenly kept time are exhausted and upset.
This is especially common when the presiding officer is a very important government official.
Kenya is a “me-first” society. When you are late, your overriding priority is to jump the queue.
Whether in traffic or in a government office, your attitude is that the people who came before have time to waste, unlike you.
The higher your status in society, the more likely you are to engage in this conduct. Have you noticed that VIPs are almost always late and drive at breakneck speed, throwing off other road users?
Citizens of societies that organise major sporting activities display a high degree of orderliness. For them, a traffic red light means you stop.
They wait for lights to turn green before proceeding. In Kenya, red, amber and green lights are meaningless despite the considerable knowledge and application that went into developing and making them operational.
People all over the world have it but in Kenya it boggles the mind.
To host a major international sports event, a myriad of big and small contracts are awarded.
They range from multi-billion construction projects to modest ones like supplying a few dozen rims of stationery.
With Kenya’s “eating culture” many people are willing to pocket the money and disappear.
It is now a stale joke that Kenyan buccaneers eat 100 per cent of the money in exchange for zero per cent of work done. Any Kenyan attempt to host a world event like the Olympics would likely fail at the contracting stage.
Not paying for services rendered:
This is the opposite of the aforementioned one. There are service providers who do work for the government and soon embark on a costly, draining and highly demeaning exercise of begging for their payments.
When the government contracts you, it can be mightily overbearing in its demands.
It expects you to be available on a 24-hour basis. But once the service has been rendered or goods supplied, it evaporates. It becomes faceless.
Now it is time for you to dig up your old geography lessons with some help from Google and master all the contours connecting a plethora of accounts offices.
And all this time, people will be telling you that you are lucky if you have been chasing payment for six months because others have been at it for two years and counting.
And there is, of course, no shortage of brokers who offer to “push” your invoice for a cut of your hard-earned money. If you decide to sue the government, the case could last you the rest of your life.
And if you win, be prepared to surrender almost all your winnings to brokers otherwise they will make sure your file is always missing. It is not advisable to go that route; begging has better chances.
Meanwhile, don’t allow all those mission and vision and core values and “this is a corruption-free zone” statements to get at you. They are not intended to be taken seriously.
Kenya is a last-minute country:
When in February 2013 the Confederation of Africa Football (Caf) awarded Kenya the hosting rights for the 2018 Africa Football Championships (Chan), they didn’t know that earthmovers would be moving into site to construct venues barely six months to the opening of the tournament.
How Kenya hoped to be ready within that time, only heaven knows.
Caf snatched their tournament back and gave it to Morocco. The government’s conduct was typically Kenyan: waiting until the very last minute before running helter-skelter to beat the clock.
Extremely weak moral backbone:
Kenya is one of the world’s most intensely religious societies. It is also one of the most corrupt.
A friend of mine who works for the government tells me how every meeting must start and end with prayers but, in his words, “the most evil, the unfettered robbery of the public, takes place in between those prayers.”
He added: “It is not that we don’t have the know-how to build a stadium like Kasarani. It is just that we have no morals. To do anything of substance requires a certain self-restraint and compassion for others that we lack.”
This lack of a moral backbone has created a culture of impunity aptly expressed in new words in our vocabulary like “mtado?” (“What will you do?”)
And sure enough, nobody goes to jail despite their excesses being in the public domain. The thieves of the 1987 All Africa Games in Nairobi enjoyed their loot into old age. The thieves of Rio de Janeiro 2016 also went scot-free.
Big Man syndrome:
There was a time in this country when public servants regarded themselves as such.
In the 1960s, correspondence from them was always signed “Your Obedient Servant.” I think the turning point came in 1971 when they were allowed to engage in business.
They became masters of the people. Now it can be quiet unnerving being in the presence of a billionaire public servant/businessman who has milked his position to the fullest and who may be wondering if you could be his tenant in one of Nairobi’s skyscrapers.
Not being in his position to serve the public but to exploit it, he would look at any proposal to stage a major Games in Kenya only from a selfish point of view.
While earnestly appearing to make an objective evaluation of such a project and its benefits or lack thereof to the country, he would in fact be asking himself what is in it for him.
These are the bosses who drive you off the road because they are always late and whose entire raison d’être is to live in opulence off the state.
A love affair with mediocrity:
Kenya is a society of low expectations.
People can watch their public services either disappear completely or become stripped to their skeletons and bear it all with hardly a complaint. Some are forced to wake up at 4am to make it to school or work time of 8 am every day because of traffic jams but they will not organize a protest.
It is unclear what they expect of the people for whom they spend long hours queuing to vote for. A World Cup or a Commonwealth Games is organized to a very high standard. But in Kenya, if a meeting starts one hour after the scheduled time, people say “at least it took place.”
If competitors are not met at the airport and have to find their way into their hotels where they check themselves in, people will say “at least they arrived safely.”
If a road is built without pedestrian crossings, walkways and bus stops, people will say “at least they have built a road.” And if you are paid one year after goods were delivered in good order and condition, you are expected to be thankful that “at least you have been paid.” Compare this with the attitude of Peter Ueberroth, the man whose privately-funded 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Games turned a surplus. He was described as “demanding and self-demanding,” a character trait that made people working for him try as hard as they could.
Writing for the Time magazine edition that made Ueberroth its 1984 Man of the Year, Robert Ajemian described him thus: “Ueberroth has a way of trying to turn whatever he touches into a cause. To be involved in difficult problems with difficult goals lifts him up. He is a promoter with a global mission, a throwback to the kind of American entrepreneurial zealot who believes unblushingly that his product is a force for good in the world.”
It is an incontestable fact that within Kenya people like Peter Ueberroth exist.
But what is the likelihood that we shall ever build a meritocracy that would allow their talents to flourish unhindered for our common good?