SOME RANTS ON NATIONHOOD AS KENYA MARKS HER 54TH JAMUHURI DAY CELEBRATIONS.
I woke up today, thought about the state of our nationhood and couldn’t help but feel a striking sense of déjà vu. We’ve been here before – called by a calendar date to a commemoration that doesn’t capture our collective consciousness of the significance of the date.
But how did we get here?
Nowadays, I often think of occurrences from the dimension of the Law of Inevitable Eventuality, postulated by Dr. Mike Murdock. The sense is that whatever we are doing now is producing an inevitable future – for instance, if you’re smoking two packs of cigarettes every day, why would you get surprised 10 years later if you check into a hospital and the doctor told you that your lungs are collapsing?
But our national character as Kenyans shows little evidence that we’re properly seized of this truth.
They say that if you continue sweeping things under the carpet, one day the dirt will smell and show. Yet, our idea as a nation is to buy a new carpet, at an inflated price, to cover the rotten, smelly one. Our experiment of nationhood is a mirage – unemployment numbers are growing meteorically, our wealth generation is stagnating, our capital-intensive investments in some mega infrastructure projects are showing a strange sense of economic illiteracy and our concept of democracy is standing on stilts, what with electoral fraud that we’ve allowed over the past 10 years and now increasingly looks acceptable and excusable?
But we still believe, counterintuitively, that Kenya’s future is bright and the promise of nationhood will be delivered, irrespective. That’s faith on steroids.
Today’s Jamhuri Day celebrations will be led by a president elected by a gnawing minority, limping into his second term with an embarrassing crisis of legitimacy. True to form, he obstinately insisted on proceeding with a repeat election on 26/10/2017 which drove the country through a washed-out bridge. The debris is clear for all to see – in his hands, he holds the state by the grip of his fingers but in his heart, he wishes he had the nation with him. Well, beyond his undeniably affable personality, he represents a system of servitude that perpetuates itself through state capture. For the clear-headed, Kenya is not a state. It is an estate owned by the sons of slave owners whose rule, unfortunately, is sustained by our bizarre sense of Stockholm Syndrome. Last week, the ever-erudite constitutional lawyer, Mr. Wachira Maina posited wrongly, in the East African, that the problem with Kenya is that the old order has died but the new one hasn’t been born. Matter of fact, the old order hasn’t/didn’t die. It only mutated. And the new strain is deadlier, lethal and unforgiving. The current leadership is its poster child.
It was Will Spencer who wittingly said that when power is concentrated into few hands, wealth will be concentrated into fewer pockets. That was as clairvoyant as it gets with respect to Kenya. Last week, while on a 4-day monitoring and evaluation team assignment for Emerging Leaders Foundation, our itinerary took us through 12 counties: Kiambu, Nakuru, Kericho, Kisii, Nyamira, Migori, Homabay, Kisumu, Vihiga, Kakamega, Bungoma and Uasin Gishu. Although we stayed on the main arteries linking these counties, I could see how the road infrastructure took crests and deeps as we moved from one system pliant county to the next anti-system pliant one, with a few outliers. That is the story of Kenya – that there is a border within the bigger, geopolitical border drawn by the white imperialists at the Berlin Conference. But why should resource distribution be based on political malleability?
The unschooled will argue that devolution is supposed to flaggingly correct the systemic error of unequal allocation of resources. Nothing could be further from the truth. Keen students of devolution will tell you that in the next 5 cycles of devolution (about 25 years), all that will be achieved will be rural renaissance (70%+ of Kenya is quintessentially rural and the functions of devolved units in Schedule Four of the constitution, coupled with the resources that they receive, cannot upset the applecart) and not fundamental shifts in the thresholds of inequality that have been on lock, stock and barrel for nearly 50 years. For instance, look at the model of the Equalisation Fund and its fumbling implementation to appreciate how bad an experiment this is. Further, in spite of the buzz around devolution, a bulk of Kenya’s resource envelope is still concentrated at the center. In 2017/8, only circa KSh 345 billion will go to the counties, against a revenue target by KRA of KSh 1.4 trillion. Of course, our resource allocation model is reverse engineered, usually based on the last audited accounts and not on projected revenue expansion/constriction. Nevertheless, the vicious fight for control of the presidency should give us a sneak preview of this. But this is a story for another day.
The colonial system was based on and sustained by a clear and deliberate policy of exclusion. Racial segregation was overt because it was the anchor of their governance model. Yet presently, we pretend to be pursuing inclusive growth and shared prosperity while deviously skewing allocations to different areas. This strategy is too clever by half. The fact that all the 47 counties receive some semblance of resources every year is a thin veneer on the deep-seated inequalities and inequities pervading Kenya, even within counties that score impressively on the grid of human development indices.
How do we move forward from here? There are no easy answers, no silver bullet, and no magic wand.
For those who elect impartiality in interpreting the state of the nation, the picture is grim and dire. Still, we keep pussyfooting around on the need for a more perfect union. We must remind ourselves that a society at war with its disadvantaged groups cannot be at peace with its advantaged enclaves. Put differently, if a society closes its eyes on the misfortune of the disadvantaged, it will be led into a hole by its one-eyed, advantaged lot.
Today, the country is not cohesive, heavily saddled with shylock loans from China, and internally melting from egregious graft that is patronized by the presidency. Quietly, the office of Auditor General, the single most data-driven advocacy outlet, is working under duress and threat from the Executive and Legislature.
We owe it to incoming generations to reboot our nation-state. I believe a good country is not an inheritance that we received from our forefathers, rather, it is a loan given to us by our children and grandchildren.
Those who in their own judgment believe that the state is not serving their interests must continue to SPEAK UP. Indeed, if there is one thing we’ve learned in the past 54 years is that democracy dies in silence. To oppressors, silence is acquiescence. We must transform our silent fury and frustration into language and action. What is needed is not for us to rethink our voice but to reverberate it. Audre Lorde, the famous black poet, put it more succinctly thus: “I have come to believe over and over again that what is most important to me must be spoken, made verbal, and shared even at the risk of having it bruised or misunderstood.” And Zora Neale Hurston enriched this thought further by saying that if you are silent about your pain, they’ll kill you and say you enjoyed it.
In the arduous task of nation-building, never has so much been left by so many to so few. Yet, our generation must subvert the pedagogy of the oppressors. If we fail, let it be said that we tried, that in the most critical hour, we did not shrink back. Everyone has to pick up the sledgehammer and deconstruct what’s wrong or the hoe and till their side of this soil called Kenya.
In solving the seemingly intractable problems of today, we’ll be giving our children a fresh chance to deal with a different set of problems, not to regurgitate their energies in dealing with the mess we generated or lived through as our years on earth waned. Happy Jamuhuri Day!
CRY, BELOVED MOTHERLAND!