Tuesday, August 29, 2023

Love in the age of graft

The ash-heap of presidential politics is not for the faint of heart. It takes grit, chutzpah, a shit-load of cash, and an overweening narcissism to get to the top, and once there, the people who loved you enough to elect you (whether or not there are stolen votes in there, somewhere) turn on you, with their hand out, for things you discover that you can't deliver, or don't even have the cash to deliver, all the while redoubling your efforts to stay at the top, come hell, high water or uchawi.

Jomo Kenyatta and Daniel Moi, once they captured the party, did not have to fear being replaced at the top. Jomo Kenyatta, so far Kenya's only president for life, died in office. Daniel Moi ruled of almost 25 years, he might as well have died in office. It didn't matter to them whether their voters loved them or loathed them. They would remain in power because Kenyans didn't have a viable alternative. Then Daniel Moi ordered his attorney-general and his parliament to repeal Section 2A, and then the race was on to find his replacement.

His project turned out to be an extremely wealthy political naif. A damp squib. Mwai Kibaki, Daniel Moi's eventual successor, had a plan when he took on the unhappy job of President and Commander-in-Chief of the Kenya Armed Forces. His plan was shot to hell three minutes after he took the oath of office and the fat men around him overworked in making sure Mwai Kibaki would have a blood-soaked second inaugural. To be fair to the gentlemen from Othaya, he didn't seem to hanker after praise. He didn't appear to be vainglorious. He did what he did to bring the national economy to an even keel. He cut a swathe in what Indians called the Licence Raj and, for the most part, unleashed Kenyans' economic instincts. And then he let it all slip away by allowing the graft that had germinated in the Jomo Kenyatta regime and festered in the Daniel Moi regime to be supercharged to untold, gargantuan scale.

The three years of Kenya's Second Promise (2003 to 2005) are lost to the sands of time. While we pray for a Third Promise, Uhuru Kenyatta postponed that day and the new man at the top isn't finding a lot of support on his way to Zion. The graft that Uhuru Kenyatta inherited grew wide, broad and deep. It is as if everyone who was anyone in the Government had his hand in the cookie jar. Mwai Kibaki may not have pulled every single Kenyan out of extreme poverty, but he left a healthy economic machine that had room to run. What Uhuru Kenyatta did was to take a perfectly adequate Toyota Hilux and drove it into total destruction, leaving an engine that had knocked, a gearbox that had no cogs, brakes that were a threat to life and limb, lights whose bulbs had long ago failed, and a suspension that, if the car ran, almost always required the driver and passengers to seek out chiropractors. William Ruto has to rebuild the engine, gearbox, brakes, lights, and suspension first, before he can even try to take a load of miraa to market.

The economic vandals who took root during Mwai Kibaki's and Uhuru Kenyatta's regimes have metastasised. Until they are dealt with, they will undermine every effort to restart the national economic machine. They will need to be uprooted and cast asunder from the health sector, basic education sector, energy sector, telecommunications sector, and even the civil society. So long as they know that it is business as usual, they will continue to walk the land barefaced and unafraid. Thieves should not be so bold. If the president fails to deal with them, no amount of salesmanship will reverse the animus the people will have for him when he next comes round begging to be re-elected.

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