By Robert Omulo
Still fresh from taking the bronze medal in the “World Corruption Championship”, you have to admit that has never been tougher being Kenyan. Once upon a time, while abroad, we used to take offense when we were asked by other citizens whether we were Nigerians.
Being the most populous country in the continent, whenever you meet a black man abroad, chances are that most likely he’s a Nigerian. But come on! We were Kenyans, not from some God forsaken banana republic where children starve with flies n their faces while gun totting, menacing, undisciplined vagabonds run riot while calling themselves guerrillas or even worse, soldiers. That is the Kenya of the 80s to the 90s, we hosted refugees from other war torn countries in our relatively peaceful and prosperous island of peace.
However, the peace we enjoyed then was just a facade that Archbishop Desmond Tutu accurately unmasked back in the late 80s when he visited Kenya while his native South Africa was still under the loathed Apartheid regime. At the time, the man of cloth observed that there was more freedom under Apartheid than there was in Kenya. He could sense an air of intimidation in the city despite almost 3 decades of independence in Kenya.
That facade came crumbling down two years later with the rise of multi party politics, as leaders locked out of the gravy train that the government was, mingled with reformers to give as a false start of a second liberation. The Optimism that greeted the return to multi party politics, soon gave way to the despondence of the reality that Moi had just bought himself an extra decade in power. The next liberation mirage came when Kibaki took power in 2002, but he soon reminded us of the rude, crude reality that is tribal politics in Kenya.
He simply replaced Moi’s Kalenjin Mafia with his Mount Kenya Mafia. He even kicked out his coalition partners and invited the head of the opposition, his fellow tribesman into the cabinet, proving that ideology was never a factor in his politics, only genealogy mattered. With a majority of the 42 Kenyan communities locked out of the national pie-sharing, the system was bound to start cracking, and in 2007, Kenya officially gave up any pretensions of being an island of peace as citizens took machetes and guns against each other.
Ever since 2007, being referred to as Nigerian has ceased to be an insult. We are now a dangerous place to live in, Nigeria has Boko Haram, but we also have our Al Shabab, Nigeria has its corruption infamy, but we now join them on the podium for the “accolades” too, we now watch Naija movies and dance to their music, heck, some of our youth have even started talking like them, and what about our women? Well, let’s leave that for another day.
These are difficult days to be a proud Kenyan, we have a president who is routinely humiliated abroad on quasi official trips and a deputy president who is a suspect at the International Criminal Court, a man who is linked to a plethora of scandals but who is living proof that in Kenya, the only thing that matters is how much money you have. Even the church will give you the front pew as long as you’re generously contributing to the till.
The youth have become rabid tribal animals on social media where many seem to have the whole day to spend insulting other communities while extolling mythical virtues of their tribes. The government has official warmongers who speak in language that a decent man wouldn’t use even on a drunken rant, and to add insult to injury, these professional insulters are paid with taxpayer’s money.
Lately the government has taken to nakedly intimidating and harassing members of the opposition using state machinery, abusing the rule of law and making it clear that Kenya has gone a full circle, from pretending to be on a path to reform, back to the intimidation that Tutu deciphered in ’87.
This demoralising reality makes one want to seek solace in some escapist preoccupation. Music often helps in such circumstances, but there is no artist worth his or her salt that is producing any revolutionary or inspiring music. How about sports? Well, Harambee Stars are the only thing in soccer more disappointing than Man U right now.
Maybe we should go back to our traditional marathon, but oops, the IAF is threatening to suspend Kenya after it emerged that our new era champions, unlike Kipchoge and his peers, have been doping and demystifying the tales of Kenyan invincibility on the tracks. Maybe as the NGOs preach, we should just bury our heads in books and education shall be our emancipation, but is that true? We have a nation of graduates walking unemployed and criminals laughing boisterously in parliament, is there any escape for Kenyans that doesn’t involve crime or rotten politics?