Thursday, August 08, 2013

Still sunny; more shady people, though.

[Kenya] is a sunny place for shady people. - Gen George "Bobby" Erskine, 1953

When one casts their eye over the events of the past five months, one cannot help but notice the carnage taking place in Kenyan society. The inept National Police Service, even after the merger of the Kenya Police Force and the much-reviled Administration Police, has failed to stem the tide of violence against vulnerable Kenyans. The perpetrators of vicious violence in Busia and Bungoma still walk free, the suspected al Shabaab bombers of Garissa and Mandera are still yet to be apprehended and, ironically, policemen are turning their weapons on their fellow officers with increasing regularity. Teachers have already been on one strike and it is a toss-up whether the inept Cabinet Secretary for Education will fuck it all up and send them back on the streets again. If Kazungu Kambi doesn't get his act together, university lecturers, nurses and doctors will soon be singing "Bado Mapambano" before the month is over. Then yesterday a mysterious fire razed through Units 1 and 2 of the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport prompting the President and Nairobi's Governor to "rush to the scene to oversee operations." This too coming a few days after one of Kenya's shadiest sons proclaimed that God would fight his battles for him regarding the "unfairness" of the treatment being meted against him in his battle to retain his duty free shops at the ill-fated airport.

Kamlesh Pattni, who nowadays dons the mantle of a man of the cloth, is simply Kenya's most brazen shady character. He has to contend with the title for the shadiest with Kenya's legions of politicians and politically-connected entrepreneurs. To return to the burnt out husk of JKIA, few Kenyans doubt that the tender to refurbish the terminal will be left to a properly qualified contractor; without a shred of doubt, we all know that only shady contractors with dodgy credentials will get beyond the tender-qualifications stage and only the dodgiest of them will win the tender. This is the legacy of Britain's civilising mission in Kenya.

This has been the story of Kenya since the British decided to hand over the place, kit and caboodle, to the "natives" back in 1963. As we celebrate the fiftieth year of Independence, it is time we came to contend with the men and women who have consistently stymied our efforts to overcome our colonial past and our inherent suspicions about the motives of our fellow-Kenyans. Regardless of how we define it, corruption has been the single string that runs right through the fifty years, uniting disparate characters with disparate personalities but all united in profiting where they did not sow.

Looking at the administration of land in Kenya, the reason why Kenyans fought the British throughout the Emergency, one cannot help but wonder whether the freedom struggle was worth the blood. Even as late as 2008, Kenyans were still losing their land violently and at the hands of men and women connected to the political establishment, just like the Kikuyu of the White Highlands lost theirs. An examination of the relationship between the State and Kenyans, one is struck by the similarities with the relationship between the colonial government and the "natives": the hated kipande (national identity cards), the provincial administration and the iniquitously biased application of the rule of law to protect the rich and powerful. Modern day Home Guards and loyalists are everywhere to be seen, using their positions of power and authority to subdue and subjugate the silent majority too afraid to speak up for fear of ever greater retribution.

Public discourse on matters of national importance are coloured by allusions to loyalty and trust; it is, in some quarters, considered treasonous to criticise the Jubilee State. In some quarters, it is considered ethnic hatred to consider that some politicians should call it a day after a frustrated run at the top seat. It is impossible to have an impartial political discourse in Kenya today and it seems it is going to remain the same for the foreseeable future. This jubilee year is set to be grand disappointment. Kenya remains a sunny land, give or take climate-change-induced sunniness. It's just that there seems to be ever greater numbers f shady characters than before.

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