Tuesday, May 09, 2017

You cannot have your cake and eat it

Wazungu know their way around methali: You cannot have your cake and eat it. Take heed, dear outraged middle-class-or-something Kenyan: you can't simultaneously declare the Government to be an incompetent, wasteful and corrupt institution and at the same time demand that it meets the highest degrees of competence, efficiency and probity when it comes to the management of this latest famine.

Every Kenyan has the right to bitch about how bad things are and every adult Kenyan can pretend that they had nothing to do with how things got this bad. Regardless of the pretense, however, every adult Kenyan must be held to account for allowing their Government, whether or not they support its political leadership, for allowing a bountiful nation to approach world powers with a begging bowl in hand as its people slowly starve to death.

This indictment begins with the men and women who call themselves "the media": news reporters, journalists, news editors. They used to be known as the "fourth estate" and, as they have reminded us again and again since the liberalisation of media, a democracy functions best when a free press holds the Government to account. Our "media" has allowed the political leadership of this Government to get away with a lot; it can no longer consider itself fearless, free, independent or credible. Its sole reasons for existence, it seems, is to sell advertisement at the highest rate possible and pay as little as it can get away with in taxes. News (political) reporters have done precious little -- beyond their morbid fixation with which political personality has been "implicated in "corruption" -- to meet the other aspects of their mandate to educate and inform the people about their Government, what it has done and what it has failed to do.

Take, for example, the case of the Galana-Kulalu irrigation project. It boggles the mind that all news reporters repeated almost verbatim the press releases from the agriculture and irrigation ministries about progress on the project. Those of us with a curious bent have searched for and failed to find relevant data on pertinent things: how much was spent; how much land was put under irrigation; what crops were grown; how many bags of produce were produced per acre; what was the cost to produce (per bag and per acre) and how do these costs compare with commercial and subsistence agriculture; how much did it cost to bring produce from the farm to the market; what was the quality of produce from the project; how much of the project is mechanised and how much is still manual; and similar questions. The news reporters -- journalists -- have reported what the Government sold them; they haven't provided context. This relates to thousands of political questions that a free media is supposed to help the people understand.

But we, the people, must bear our fair share of the blame too. Take Nairobians for example. For three months, the majority of residents finally discovered what it feels like to have to buy water by the jerrican, something that is routine in Nairobi's "informal settlements". Many Nairobians are rate-payers; quite a few pay land rent too. Yet, despite their investment in their properties and their city, these Nairobians not only failed to hold the City fathers to account over the water situation, they did not raise the issue at all. No matter how bizarre the statements from the Nairobi water company got, Nairobians were content to grumble as is their wont but do nothing more to put the company's bosses' feet to the fire.

Our political leaders are not chosen in a vacuum except the vacuum of public education and information that is fomented by a media sector made up of preening, profit-hungry narcissists and an adult population full of whingers, whiners and armchair activists who prefer the dirty work of politics to be done by someone else, preferably someone from the working classes who lives in Kibera, Mathare Valley or Korogocho. Children, you simply can't have your cake and it eat too.

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