Friday, September 19, 2008



By Lucy Oriang'
Daily Nation
Nairobi, Kenya

September 18 2008 at 20:54

The abrupt departure of Jacinta Mwatela from public service is probably one of the saddest milestones in modern Kenya. The worst part of it is that it need never have happened.

When this episode is documented in our history, future generations will marvel at our self-inflicted pain and infinite capacity to shoot ourselves in the foot.

It is rare to find such forthright and committed managers in public places.

Many of us grew up with the conventional wisdom that anything that belonged to the Government belonged to everyone and, therefore, no one in particular. It was a cynical excuse for looting public resources.

The value of public appointments was judged by the opportunities to “eat”. I have no idea whether all this performance contracting has put paid to that attitude. Eating can be such a great temptation that Kenya can just go to the dogs, credibility be damned.

Mrs Mwatela did not ascribe to that philosophy. She jealously guarded her integrity. Kenyans just loved it that she was so sassy, and that she could speak her mind with total disregard for power and privilege.

But it was probably the wry humour in her comments to the media that blew me away. Anyone who can find something funny to say in the midst of a crisis, cannot be anything but inspiring.

At a time when playing by the rules was sneered at, she stood on behalf of that faceless entity called the public.

You can crucify me for saying this, but only a woman could do what the former deputy governor of the Central Bank of Kenya did. She fought in her corner in much the same way as a mother hen protects her chicks from the hawk.

In the strictest sense, she did not have a monopoly of this particular gift. There have been strong and fierce critics of government policy and practice. The difference is that Mrs Mwatela stood her ground and fought from within.

I can understand the pressure that she worked under at the Central Bank. I can appreciate that she would feel hounded out of office, even perhaps agree that her neck was always going to be on the chopping block from the time she blew the whistle on Goldenberg.

Faithful servants do not air the dirty linen of those who pay them. They cover the tracks and become a stumbling block to anyone who seeks to unearth the truth.

You see a lot of that at all these inquiries, where top public servants hedge and duck when they are asked questions that would likely compromise their positions if they were to give honest answers.

Yet, with all due respect to my heroine, she must have known from the beginning that this was a battle she was never going to win.

A good general runs a tactical war. You review your chances, check the state of your artillery and plan your moves with care and precision. You know when to show your hand, when to walk away and when to run.

The Jacinta Wanjala Mwatela I saw in her last press interview was far from the soldier I have come to admire.

It pained me to witness the crushed spirit and, even worse, to decipher the messages she was sending — unconsciously, perhaps, but with devastating effect.

Citing her 31 years at the bank, she appeared to be suggesting that this was good enough reason not to try anything new — in this case permanent secretary in the Development of Northern Kenya and Other Arid Lands Ministry.