Sunday, February 06, 2022

Kizuri chajiuza

There is something unseemly about civil servants seeking praise for their work from the hosts of TV shows. I don't know if children are still taught the Kiswahili saying, "Kizuri chajiuza, kibaya chajitembeza", which I always thought to mean that if one does good, praises will come unbidden but the poor worker always tries to tell a better story (about himself) than there is to be told. If they aren't, I hope the Kiswahili teachers will bring back the saying and emphasise the moral value of doing good without expecting praise.

When a senior civil servant says "We work until 5 a.m.", one has to wonder how badly he and his colleagues do their work to justify routinely working till the wee hours of the morning and "Operating on one or two hours of sleep". Or why he would say it with that tone of false modesty that is obviously calculated to elicit a bit of praise.

The affairs of State (and government) are difficult to manage at the best of times. They require a certain measure of dedication and sacrifice at the highest levels. The efforts of the diligent public servant are rarely praised and quite often misrepresented. If one went into publics vice for fame and glory, they should have chosen the elected route and not the career one (though career elected officials are to be expected, every now and then). The affairs of State require one to know what they want to do, how they want to do it, and whom they need in their corner to get it done. In Kenya, Mwai Kibaki satisfied all three requirements to various degrees of success and his achievements are truly, his achievements. Even with the albatross of the Post-Election Violence hanging around his neck, he could creditably demonstrate what he had achieved in what turned out to be a thankless job.

His successor will not be remembered with fondness by posterity. He may have known what he wanted to achieve, but it is plain as the nose on your face that he didn't know how to go about it or whom he needed to get it done. The Big Four Agenda is a pale imitation of Kenya Vision 2030. Its Universal Health Care is notable for the fiasco that was the Medical Equipment Leasing Scheme and a cruel reminder of "Mafia House". Food security has been shown to be a sham in every year of his reign by the spectre of famine that has stalked the former Northern Frontier and the hardship areas of the former Coast Province. The unremitting high cost of electricity (because of ill-conceived power purchase agreements with well-connected buccaneers and brigands) has undermined the goal of manufacturing and job creation. The "10,000 affordable housing units" he has promised time and again has been greatly undershot.

The men and women labouring on his administrative agenda till 5 a.m. don't seem to have achieved much as they burn the candle at both ends. And those among them seeking elective office are the ones most interested in telling tall tales about how hard they work. They must be deathly afraid of being labelled "failures" by the people from whom they will seek votes.

This shouldn't come as a surprise. We all have to manage our press to minimise bad stories and emphasise good ones. But when we substitute good work with good press, work inevitably suffers. These people are obsessed with PR and it shows. The work they do is guided by eliciting positive PR, rather than positive outcomes. They are very good at branding, but the branding is mere camouflage for projects that have not been fully thought through at a policy level. They are the true manifestation of "kizuri chajiuza, kibaya chajitembeza".


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