Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Put the people first

An enduring image of Kenyan Government officials whenever they appear at a public event is grey-haired men and matronly women arrayed behind cloth-covered tables, dozens of bottles of water or fresh drinks within reach, under a tent or a covered dais - and the wananchi standing in front of them - or seated on the bare ground - in the open air, whether the weather is inclement or not - and hawkers offering them refreshments at a steep markup, especially for those not foresighted enough to bring their own bottled water or soft drink. The image is always of the watu wakubwa behind an impenetrable, protected barrier and the umma with their noses pressed hard in the window hoping for a glance of power and its trappings.

It is why the image of Gov Kivutha Kibwana on one knee at some ECD event is so shocking, especially remembering he was a Kibaki-Government Minister who at times let ministerial power overwhelm him leading to ridiculous actions. It is also why it is not surprising to see Gov John Lonyangapuo sitting, with his mawaziri, at another ECD event while the children on whose behalf the even was t be held, are either standing or sitting in the dirt. Mr Lonyangapuo is a died-in-the-wool serikali type. Mr Kibwana hopes to shatter the barrier between serikali and the people it serves.

It still shocks my visitors that when they knock and enter, I will stand up from my desk, come round and shake them by the hand - even when I have royally screwed them over regarding their needs. But I see no benefit in treating them as little people when their needs, if addressed, will make things better all around for their underlings, their friends, their families and the like. I can't offer them tea - I don't have a catering allowance - but I will take my time to listen and understand their needs, I will take written notes, and I will ask questions to clarify their points. I will not tell them what to do but offer them advise on how to best solve whatever problem brought them to my office. Most don't notice the effort and that is fine - I still have a salary for doing my job. But the ones who do are discombobulated because in the same building - hell, the same floor - the ukubwa syndrome will leave them with tonnes of anxiety and great feeling of disrespect.

The still-stalled prosecution of the deputy chief justice, the ongoing prosecution of Gov Sospeter Ojaamong and the impending murder trial of Gov Okoth Obado have revealed the deep roots of the ukubwa syndrome in Kenya. Government, in all its manifestations, still resists the centering of people in the manner that it conducts its affairs. The people are to be seen and not to be heard. Government will tell them what they need - and they will like it come hell or high water. When Government does something wrong - when governors steal or commit murder - the people must wait for Government to decide whether or not to investigate the offence, arrest the offenders, try them in courts of law, convict and sentence them, and jail them for their crimes. Th people's vies are not important; the "impact on Government operations" is the be all and end all of it.

Centering humans in public service is the first step to cracking this nut of impunity. Put people at the heart of the work of Government, the actions of Government, the behaviour of Government, and the crimes of Government. If people are the focus, then how the people are affected is vital to designing Government and Government processes. So what of Gov Anne Waiguru wishes for the EACC to "clear" her name over NYS Season 1? Will her cleared name benefit the people? If not, then her fulminations are unimportant - nay, irrelevant. So what that Gov Obado slept on the floor and ate sukuma wiki? Would an a'la carte menu from the Kempinski have benefitted the alleged victims of his crimes? If not, akule mboga na awache kisirani ndogo ndogo.

Gov Kibwana may yet end up as the the exception that proves the rule but so far, in his second incarnation as governor, and the culmination of a long public service career, he has taken humility to depths never seen before by any other public officer. Humility almost always presumes that other people's feelings, needs, experiences, and the like are more important than ones own. Gov Waiguru and the rest of her odious class simply don't think about the people as humans but as targets of political activity, sources of public revenue, victims of Government action and worshipful beneficiaries of Government largesse. They are wrong, of course, and soon enough, Gov Ojamoong and his perfidious colleagues will be out on their ears - for good - and the new Kibwanas will be in charge. That, anyway, is my hope.

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