Kenya: A ship without a captain

Its interesting living in a country whose leadership is unwilling to guide developments in the social, political, cultural and economic institutions of the state.

asleep at the wheel

President Mwai Kibaki: asleep at the wheel

Of course, most people would be scared at living in a country whose leadership has taken a leave of absence. For the political scientist, the unravelling of a state provides interesting study opportunities comparable to observing the birth of a state.

Most Kenyans are familiar with author George Orwell because of his book, “Animal Farm,” widely used in English literature. Few Kenyans, however, have read the book, “1984,” also by Orwell. 1984 was written in the 1940s, in the aftermath of World War 2 but many of the things Orwell predicted are becoming reality.

In his book, Orwell explains the four ways in which states collapse. The first, and most obvious, is an invasion by another state with greater military power. The second is when a ruling class governs so inefficiently that the masses are stirred to revolt. The third is when a ruler allows a strong and discontented middle class to come into being.

The fourth way in which a state can collapse, and which is relevant to Kenya, is when the ruling classes lose their own self confidence and willingness to govern. Ultimately the determining factor as to whether a state survives or collapses is the mental attitude of the ruling class itself.

Coming back (or is it down?) to our beloved country, we are very unlikely to be invaded by another state. Most of our neighbours have their own problems and such an invasion would not be recognized by the international community. Considering the conduct of our so-called leaders, the three other factors written by Orwell are cause for worry.

The Kenyan state is governed so inefficiently that its a wonder it has lasted so long. There are no priorities other than the short-term gratification of the political class. Billions of shillings are spent in propping up a bloated government filled with ethnic warlords whose academic qualifications are in doubt. Cabinet ministers appoint their poorly educated relatives and tribesfolk into positions that demand technical expertise. Not surprisingly, such appointees spend more time thinking of ways to earn money than in improving service delivery.

New districts are being created left, right and centre. Most of the new districts are created as personal fiefdoms for prominent families and powerful politicians. For example, Thika District for the Kenyatta family, Mbeere for the Nyagas, Vihiga for the Mudavadis, Bondo for the Odingas and Ijara for Defence Minister Yussuf Haji. Transmara was created for Sunkuli, Bomet for the late Kipkalya Kones and Mwingi for Kalonzo Musyoka.

By 1990, Kenya had 42 administrative districts. Today, the country’s provincial administration does not know the exact number of districts but the figure is close to 200. While campaigning for a second term in 2007, President Kibaki created districts for almost every sub-tribe in Kenya. During the same campaigns, Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka promised to turn every constituency into a district.

The railway system, built by the British Empire a century ago, has all but collapsed after years of neglect. The education system suffers from under-investment in new facilities and teacher training. Kenya’s cities are receiving less water today than was the case a decade ago. Electricity supply, which is normally erratic, has become extremely expensive.

Inefficient administration coupled with blatant opportunism has made Kenya’s middle class greatly disenchanted. According to Orwell, this is a factor that could bring down the rotting edifice of Kenya’s statehood. The middle class is made up of educated young and middle-aged citizens more interested in globalization than in the antics of tribal politics.

The middle class want Kenya to play its rightful role in the international community by contributing towards a technologically driven society with equal opportunities for every body. The values of individual rights, justice, democracy and liberty are of significant importance to the middle class, as indeed, they should be for everybody. As matters currently stand, Kenya in its present form is unlikely to make these achievements.

It is clear that Kenya’s leadership is no longer confident about itself and has lost the willingness to govern. Quite frankly, we at the Nairobi Chronicle, confidently state that Kenya’s leaders are an utter failure. The country is suffering from a vacuum in leadership – we live in a leadership desert. This statement is not meant to criticize Kibaki alone, but it applies across the entire spectrum of Kenya’s political leaders. In all sincerity, who among the political chest-thumping classes can we trust with the task of achieving Vision 2030?

Is it Kibaki? What about Raila and Kalonzo? Can William Ruto, Martha Karua, Mudavadi, Balala or Mungatana do it? We don’t think so and most Kenyans privately agree with us.

According to world standards, one of the signs of a failed state is infighting within the ruling classes. For this alone, Kenya has earned a right of place among the galaxy of failed states which include Somalia, Pakistan, Nigeria, Haiti, Sudan, among others. The formation of the Grand Coalition was a sign of failure. The Grand Coalition is driven by foreign powers because our Kenyan leaders wanted to sacrifice the country for selfish ends. A government driven by foreign diplomats is a clear indicator of non-existent leadership.

To paraphrase Nigerian writer Wole Soyinka (or was it Chinua Achebe?), the trouble with Kenya is first and foremost a failure in leadership. A country without an assertive leader is like a ship without a captain. Everybody does whatever they feel like doing. Decisions cannot be made in time and when action is finally taken, its usually irrelevant. Middlemen and conwomen emerge within government circles claiming to represent the ever-absent chief executive.

The Kenyan government reaction to the capture of 33 tanks by Somali pirates is a case in point. Nobody knows where the tanks were going. Kenya’s military was caught unawares amidst infighting in the top command over promotions and recruitment. The US military based in Doha, Qatar, seems to have more information about the incident than our own government.

Kenya’s ruling elite is largely composed of individuals who inherited power and wealth from departing British colonialists. In a bid to keep wealth within the family tree, there has been a great deal of political inheritance, with power handed down from father to son and mother to daughter. The rest of Kenyans are relegated to spectators and pawns in the power games of the rulers.

5 Responses

  1. This is a really good insightful article. It fills me with sadness that our leadership is so…..missing in action!
    What can we do about it though? Your post prompted me to write n what Kibaki & Co. can do.

    What do you think the average Kenyan can do?

  2. The average Kenyan should make informed decisions when voting. Lets forget about ethnicity and ethnic blocs because Kenya belongs to all of us. Let us stop believing everything politicians say because they can promise anything in order to win votes.

    People should vote on the basis of practical manifestos as well as track record of performance. Its easy enough writing a manifesto but its not easy to find people who are achievers. People with a record of achievement are the kind of leaders Kenya needs. We need people who have excelled in academics, business, military, science or even religion. If you look at successful countries, those are the kind of people who become leaders. Just an example:

    India – Manmohan Singh – Economics expert
    South Africa – Nelson Mandela – Freedom fighter and Human Rights activist
    Germany – President Hoechst Koehler – former MD, IMF
    Uganda – Museveni – Revolutionary leader
    Rwanda – Kagame – Army General and Revolutionary

    It has been said that the problem with Kenya is professional politicians. Unlike other countries, Kenyan politicians exist solely for politics. No wonder they campaign on weekdays when people should be working.

  3. Oh I completely agree with that bit about our Professional politicians. How sad 😦

    One thing though. It would be great if we got leaders who are excellent in other disciplines but where are such people going to come from? Of course there are many qualified Kenyans. But it is not clear how successful they are as Politicians.
    Are we in some sort of vicious cycle in which there shall never be good leaders?

  4. Its the people stupid! We have lousy politicians because, well … we vote them in, repeatedly. Kenya is a miraculous feat of blinkered leadership always coming back to haunt us because of our incomprehensibly short memories (there are very few people in the Cabinet without scandals besides their names) virulent tribalism, lack of a collective vision as a people (Kenyans excel in the day to day, but cannot think beyond that), our permanent high on meaningless politics (before, during and after elections), worship of wealth, ill gotten or otherwise and sense of self-deceiving greatness (people dont seem to realise we are ranked near the bottom in all development indicators). Politicians do not come from Mars; we get what we deserve!

  5. I am not a Kenyan but having read so much about the rigging of votes,abuse of power ,the hunger for absolute power (which we all know corrupts) and on the other hand reading too about how stable Kenya is as a country in Africa.How it play a major role in aiding the rest of its neighbours and not to forget how beautiful it is,I must say as an onlooker that Kenya has it all,only, people should not allow a few crazy despots to use them as foot soldiers for their own selfish ends.Allow better sence to prevail,fight for your honour if you must ,but not for some power corrupted money hoarding politician.Your blood is worth much more.Heres to a unified Kenya.

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