Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Jicho pevu, blinded


On the evening of 27 April 1993, a DHC-5 Buffalo transport aircraft of the Zambian Air Force crashed into the Atlantic Ocean shortly after taking off from Libreville, Gabon. The flight was  carrying most of the Zambian national football team to a FIFA World Cup Qualifier against Senegal in Dakar. Kenya's energy cabinet secretary, seemingly reeling in shock at the arrest and arraignment of senior officers of the Kenya Power company, compared the arrests to one of the most devastating air disasters in Zambian history. The waziri, oblivious to the incredible insensitivity of his words or sentiments, epitomises the ukubwa syndrome that afflicts senior public officers like nothing else ever will.

Every single day, indignities are visited on Kenyans by the Big People in Government, business, academia, religious ministries, and civil society. To be in command of vast sums of money and to employs large numbers of Kenyans s to give you power and to have power in Kenya is often to blind oneself to everything else except the retention and expansion of that power, even if it means forgetting a cardinal truth: even a cat may stare at a king.

It has been an incredible month of insensitivity, especially from our political masters. A governor surrendered himself to the anticorruption commission, was taken into custody, detained and had his bail application determined while he was in custody. The governors' association was unhappy with this and demanded the same executive immunity enjoyed by the president while in office. Meanwhile, a group of twenty parliamentarians were sponsored by Parliament to attend the World Cup finals in Russia. All their expenses were catered for by Parliament. When challenged on their seemingly valueless junket, Parliament's officials first attempted to justify it by saying that these parliamentarian were "benchmarking" so that Kenya could see how to host major tourneys like the World Cup in the future. But soon enough the parliamentarians set aside all pretense and one of them declared shamelessly that he was not about to spend his money to attend the World Cup when Government was there to do so for him.

We are used to Government functionaries being treated like royalty, with access to every kind of luxury an privilege while millions of Kenyans suffer poverty on a scale that has to be seen to be believed. We have never strongly questioned the iniquity and inequity of taxes being spent for the comfort of a political class that has consistently failed to ameliorate the suffering of the masses. And every time we are shocked that a hitherto champion of the downtrodden will enter the citadel and, while promising to bring it all crumbling down, joins in the acquisitive avarice of the rest of the class. What was once billed as the "grim eye", it turns out, was nothing more than the green-eyed monster rearing its ugly head. It is a story that repeats itself over and over. And so whenever they find themselves on the wrong side of things, having gotten used to privilege in all things, they will demand further privileges to ameliorate their suffering. And their colleagues and friends will rend their clothes in the streets, pour ash over their hair and wear sackcloth until the unfairness ends. It is why Charles Keter does not see the offensive irony of equating the arrest of Ben Chumo and his colleagues to the death of twenty-five Zambians.

Sooner or later, we keep telling ourselves, the music will stop and we will build a more equitable society. I fear that our famed optimism blinds us to a harsh reality: so long as the society we dream off is to be erected on the foundation of the society we have today, with the structures of power that keep it in place, we will never succeed in that ambition. The power structure we have now is designed to exploit the majority. It is not built for national ambitions. It is the manifestation of elitist greed. In the end, it will consume us all.

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