ARE THE POLITICIANS PHILANTHROPISTS OR OPPORTUNISTS?
By Fredrick Okango
Before March 13, 2020 Kenyan media was awash with sound bites from the politicians attacking their perceived opponents in a stinging rebuke. One would imagine that the general elections are ten days away. You remember the rhetorics of Mganga, priest of corruption, reggae, Kitoweo and all forms of propaganda designed to persuade and impress the voter? They have been enjoying the media attention since the last elections in 2017 till COVID-19 happened in Kenya, then all of a sudden they disappeared into quarantine without a word.You never knew that they were planning for a comeback after identifying the opportunity.
You see,corruption studies evaluate behaviour by a combination of legal and normative standards. The two are mutually re-enforcing; when a public official takes or gives a bribe in whatever form (food or money), it is both illegal and wrong to do so. Isn’t it? When social scientists write about political behaviour it is characterized in ethically neutral terms; for example, it is assumed that winning an election is better than losing an election, but wait a minute when politicians take advantage of the people’s misfortunes and donate towards them with the hope of retaining the seat or winning in the coming elections, aren’t they opportunists? or philanthropists?
While the COVID-19 pandemic remains a worrying global situation, mojority of the Kenyan politicians have chosen to turn this problem into exciting advantages for their electorates. They have grabbed the ‘COVID-19 opportunity’ to deliver food stuff, water and sanitizers to their people at a time when the government has put stringent measures on movement to ensure that the spread of the deadly virus is contained at all cost.
Majority of Kenyans who live from hand to mouth have been urged to stay at home but guess what, it is an opportunity for Mr and Mrs politician who has now woken up with food packages and sanitizers bearing their image brandings. They are going door to door in the slums distributing a ‘stimulus package’ of 2 Kg Unga, 1litre Mafuta and 1Kg Sukari. Never mind they will not sustain it in the coming days. Are they Philanthropist or opportunist?
Robert Chambers, in his book Challenging the Professions (1993), argues that there are two main disadvantages to thinking of a situation as a problem rather than as an opportunity. First, it has negative connotations, and second, it can lead to misallocation of resources if we think in terms of problem solving rather than seeking out new opportunities. Philanthropist or Opportunists? I really dont know.
Our politicians tend to believe that they have a moral and fiduciary responsibility to their constituents. They will always examine the long and short game in government then look beyond the immediate passions of voters, to what is going to serve them best down the line. When the voters are nearsighted, they focus further out by taking advantage of the situation at hand. Let me ask again, are they Philanthropist or opportunist?
We are also reminded of the warrior and the statesman, like the skillful gambler, do not make their luck but prepare for it, attract it, and seem almost to determine their luck. Not only are they, unlike the fool and the coward, adept at making use of opportunities when these occur; they know furthermore how to take advantage, by means of precautions and wise measures, of such and such an opportunity, or of several at once. If one thing happens, they win; if another, they are still the winners; the same circumstance often makes them win in a variety of ways. These prudent men may be praised for their good fortune as well as their good management, and rewarded for their luck as well as for their merits.
Let me end it here tonight before I am fundamentally conflicted on this matter of PHILANTHROPY vs OPPOTUNISM. Yes I am a politician and I submit to you that, we the politicians pursue our own interest first and will naturally frame any problem into a political opportunity. Indeed a politician thinks of the next election; a statesman thinks of the next generation ( James Freeman Clerk)
I will be back before long. Enjoy your mandatory curfew and a voluntary quarantine. It shall be well folks.
Fredrick Okango is the Secretary General – Thirdway Alliance Kenya