Kenyans angered by out of touch leaders

As the year 2008 draws to a close, the problems afflicting the Kenyan people continue to mount by the day, resulting in rising anger that could be a danger to stability.

There are alarmingly frequent shortages of basic consumer commodities, such as food, sugar and fuel. Price hikes are the natural result of shortages, further putting pressure on an economy that is still recovering from the post election violence.

The worst thing about the current shortages is that they are caused by politicians, a rapacious taxation regime and lack of co-ordination within government. The commodities are stockpiled in warehouses and depots but they simply cannot get to retail outlets.

Apart from scarcity in essential commodities, Kenyans are still reeling in shock at how they were manipulated by politicians into butchering their neighbours on ethnic grounds. Today, the same politicians are in bed with each other, sometimes in the strictest sense of the term.

A recent road accident involving Prime Minister Raila Odinga’s son and a grandson of founding president Jomo Kenyatta, opened Kenyan’s eyes to the treachery of politicians. While ethnic groups are up in arms against each other, the children of big-shots were busy partying at 3am on a week day.

The mishandling of internally displaced persons (IDPs) has contributed greatly to discontent with the Kenyan government. After the post elections violence and the formation of the Grand Coalition between President Mwai Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga, it was generally assumed that all efforts would be made into getting the displaced back to their homes. Unfortunately, divisions within the giant coalition prevent this from happening.

Prime Minister Raila Odinga and his ODM party is opposed to the return of mostly Kikuyu settlers into the Rift Valley. Whereas most of the Luo, Kalenjin and Luhya who fled the Kikuyu heartland are back to their old jobs, it is still too dangerous for the Kikuyu to return to ODM strongholds. Some have reportedly been killed in the Rift Valley when they went back to their homes. Others gave up and are resettling themselves elsewhere – with little government help.

One IDP committed suicide in Nairobi’s Dagoretti area after his meat hawking business was shut down by the National Environment Management Authority for alleged pollution of the environment. Another IDP took up a taxi business in Kerugoya but was shot by police who mistook him for a criminal. IDP women, frustrated at the government’s apathy, demonstrated in Nairobi and were clobbered by riot police. Many such tragic cases have been reported.

The indecision of the government over implementation of the Waki and Kriegler Reports has proved beyond doubt that Kenya is a ship without a captain. Though legislators are congratulating themselves for ‘sending’ the Electoral Commission of Kenya home, it still took almost a year to accomplish. Besides, serious constitutional challenges lie ahead in the wake of the last minute decision which, in reality, was meant to protect politicians from the International Criminal Court.

Indeed, Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka came to ECK’s defence. Could it be because the ECK’s Chair, Samuel Kivuitu, is from the same ethnic group as Kalonzo?

The refusal of government officials to pay tax has surprised both local and international observers, while the Kenya Communications Bill 2008 is an anachronism in the 21st century.

Meanwhile, the government is attacking private corporations for ‘exploiting’ consumers. This is seen as an attempt to deflect public anger over rising prices and shortages in commodities. However, private entreprise is being blamed for conditions not of its own making. Doing business in Kenya is extremely challenging as companies struggle to break even amidst poor infrastructure, corruption and arbitrary laws. It costs more to transport cargo between Nairobi and Mombasa than it costs to ship similar cargo between Japan and Mombasa.

Blaming private enterprise for exploiting Kenyans sounds more and more like the rumblings of a communist-style purge against ‘exploiters.’ Price controls will create worse shortages and spark off the rise of a black market. Unfortunately, Kenyan leaders will be the driving force in a brutal black market that will rival Zimbabwe’s. Members of Parliament have already been implicated in creating maize shortages.

The problems in Kenya, to paraphrase a Nigerian writer, are first and foremost a failure of leadership. Kenya’s leadership is disconnected from its people through the lack of ideology, short-sighted deeds and insulting words. Kenya’s leadership lacks the vision to drive the country forward and instead is regressing towards infantile politics of chest-thumping and group orgies.

The description of Kenya’s leadership used here should not be construed to mean a particular individual. The problems with Kenya’s leadership are bigger than the personalities involved for they all exhibit the same qualities. For instance, replacing President Kibaki with Raila Odinga will not bring about any changes. Removing Kibaki, Raila and Kalonzo then replacing them with Mudavadi, Ruto and Balala will simply be a game of musical chairs. All these people are part of the problem and can never be the solution.

Kenya’s leadership and its government has lost touch with its own people. The government does not know what the aspirations of the people are, it does not know the challenges that ordinary people face in daily life and neither does it care for the future. National leaders seem to think that increasing salaries, creating commissions and sub-dividing districts will placate the anger of Kenyans.

Already, the money for such tactics is running out. What then?

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