Once upon a time, long before the Kenya Television Networks Channel 2 went live, if you wanted anything, you had to be a member of the ruling party KANU. If you wanted a promotion at work, you had to be a member. If you wanted a transfer to a new job, you had to be a member. If you wanted a loan, you had to be a member. In the words of the Nyayo Philosophy's truest sycophants, JJ Kamotho and Sharif Nassir, KANU was "baba na mama." And KANU became the only way for dedicated party apparatchiks to be rewarded.
The system of patronage that KANU established has survived the NARC revolution, the PEV and Kenya's second Constitution. You can see the deleterious effects of KANUism by the sclerosis that afflicts sports administration, especially now that the World Anti-Doping Agency, WADA, has trained its eyes on Kenya's feeble shows of anti-doping measures. More and more stories are emerging of Kenyan athletes failing doping tests, in and out of competition.
This should not come as a surprise, really. KANU-ism established a system of graft in all walks of life that it is surprising that Kenyans haven't found a way of extorting foetuses before they are born for the privilege of breathing free Kenyan air! State agencies became fiefdoms because of the system KANU built. Once you were appointed to a cushy job in a state agency, it was more or less understood to be a job for life. This appointment became the basis for great perfidy if one lost their way or got greedy. Athletics Kenya, AK, the body responsible for overseeing athletes and athletic competition in Kenya, has not been immune from this.
AK is one of the last dinosaurs from the KANU era and in the recent revelations about bribery and doping, it seems quite true to type. AK and, by extension, the Government of Kenya, have had years to establish an anti-doping regime but they did not move with alacrity until WADA threatened to blacklist Kenya and Kenyan athletes from global competition. One of the reasons Kenya was so sanguine about anti-doping measure is the seemingly set-in-stone nature of AK management; the current chairman has been in office since 1992. In his heydays he was a formidable long distance runner. Today, he presides over a system that is in dire need of a total overhaul.
Kenyans have lived long under the illusion that its truest exemplars of integrity are the men and women who dominate, at the global level, in the middle-distance, long-distance and marathon races. A common joke is that when competitors get to the starting line and see a Kenyan, they start praying that he won't beat them so badly that their nation will start looking for a new runner. That cozy illusion is being threatened by the drip-drip-drip of doping stories from inside and outside Riadha House, AK's headquarters, and Kenya's pussy-footing with WADA over its unconvincing anti-doping arrangements. If Kenyans lose their last true heroes, I don't know where we will turn to next for integrity and the value of hard work.
AK and similar sports' dinosaurs must realise that it is no longer the KANU way of doing business any more. It is a harsh new dawn. Transparency, accountability, good governance, integrity and human dignity are now constitutional requirements for all Kenyans, including sports administrators. KANU-ism may still enamour some lost souls, but Kenyans have resoundingly adopted a new code and it is not KANU-ism. The KANU-ists in the system must shape up or ship out, previous valiant service notwithstanding. KANU is no longer baba na mama.