Sunday, January 25, 2009



JANUARY 20, 2009
By Edward Kisiang’ani

Last week, Foreign Affairs Minister Moses Wetang’ula led a Government delegation to the sidelines of President Obama’s inauguration ceremony in Washington DC. Wetang’ula’s entourage included Medical Services Minister Anyang’ Nyong’o, his Tourism counterpart Najib Balala and MPs Eugene Wamalwa and Hassan Joho.

To complete the list of prominent Kenyans who rushed to America to join the festivities was Cotu Secretary General Francis Atwoli. Given that Obama’s father was a Kenyan, a Government delegation to the celebrations was not necessarily a bad idea. Under normal circumstances, all of us in Kenya should have bought America’s First Family a gift or two.

But looking at the current situation in the country, we can hardly say that our circumstances are normal. In virtually every field, we are performing disastrously. Most public institutions are either terminally ill or in the intensive care unit. That is why I have a lot of problems with the delegation to the US.

Expensive trips

Does it make sense that a Government that cannot feed its people can sanction an expensive foreign trip for officials who are already living comfortably? It is estimated that the US delegation cost the taxpayer more than Sh14.8 million. This is despite the fact the legislators who made the trip on the taxpayer’s account will not themselves accept to pay taxes. At the cost of Sh2,000 a bag, this money would purchase 7,400 bags of maize that would have saved lives in Mwingi, Kwale or Turkana.

Former Kibwezi MP Kalembe Ndile demonstrated a rare wisdom when he visited the offices of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to persuade the minister to cancel his trip.

Ndile argued that since the US government had not invited Wetang’ula, he should spare taxpayer’s money by opting to watch the inauguration proceedings from his Nairobi office. He donated his television set to Wetang’ula. The minister neither cancelled the trip nor accepted Ndile’s television.

We have been told that the Kenyan delegation was mandated to seize the Obama Moment to market the country. But this also raises two fundamental questions. What type of Kenya did these leaders market to the world? Is it a Kenya, which only exists in the mind of this Coalition Government or the real Kenya which ordinary citizens experience daily?

My guess is that the Government delegation talked about the beautiful wildlife in the parks where most Kenyans can hardly afford to access. Balala and company might also have spoken about our nonexistent peace and tranquillity, our exemplary democracy, our development, our unity in diversity and our wise leadership. But that is the Kenya which nobody else, except the political class, knows about. Before Narc came to power, the Kanu regime conducted the affairs of this country upon the immoral foundation of corruption. It was under the Kanu leadership that the Goldenberg scandal was conceived and executed. When Narc took power in 2003, everybody hoped that this immoral foundation would be dismantled.

Corrupt cartels

But what we have seen since then is the systematic strengthening of corrupt cartels that have now become bolder and more ruthless. First, it was the Anglo-Leasing scam, then came the NSSF rip-off, followed by the mysterious sale of the Grand Regency Hotel, the fuel crisis and now the disappearance of maize. Those who stole public resources during the Kanu and Narc administrations are still powerful people in the present Government. Thus, corrupt leaders who have refused to step aside have caused our present misery.

In the Ministry of Tourism headed by Balala, a recent financial impropriety involving millions of shillings forced the managing director of the Kenya Tourist Board to quit. But everything else remains intact. On the other hand, Nyong’o’s Health Ministry is also overwhelmed by corruption. The problems at Afya House range from the failure by ministry officials to observe procurement procedures to diversion of Government drugs to private medical facilities. The net effect is that more and more people are now dying of preventable and treatable diseases. Is this the Kenya the delegation went to market?

The Ministry of Agriculture, which Mr William Ruto heads, has been implicated in a maize scandal that runs into billions of shillings. Thousands of bags of maize have mysteriously disappeared from the safe storage of the National Cereals and Produce Board. Reports indicate that the maize might have found its way to a neighbouring country with the full knowledge and participation of some of our legislators. It is difficult to understand why this should happen when citizens are starving.

Kiraitu Murungi’s Energy Ministry is at the centre of a fuel scandal involving the Kenya Pipeline Company and the proprietor of the Triton Petroleum . In this scam, fuel worth Sh7.6 billion mysteriously vanished and chief suspect Mr Yagnesh Devan fled the country. Should Murungi and his Permanent Secretary Patrick Nyoike still be in office?

In the Ministry of Education, there have been all sorts of scandals involving national examinations. Now, teachers have also gone on strike because of poor pay. As pupils continue to suffer, minister Sam Ongeri appears dazed and indecisive. Although the Government insists it is unable to pay the new salaries in one financial year, citizens know that the financial situation might have been better if MPs had undertaken to pay taxes.

Transport Minister Chirau Mwakwere is still serving despite the fact that his presence at the ministry has not resulted in any meaningful change in the delivery of services.

The lethargy with which the minister performs his duties has, regrettably, enhanced corruption in the traffic police department and increased road carnage. I sometimes wonder why President Kibaki has found it difficult to sack Mwakwere.

In July last year, a barrel of oil on the world market was going at $147. But now the same quantity is going at less than $40.

World market

Yet this drastic drop has not been reflected in the local pump prices. Did the US delegation market a Kenya in which local fuel prices tend to vary inversely as those on the world market?

Despite what the Wetang’ula delegation might have attempted to sell, the whole world, including President Obama, knows that Kenya is a nation in despair and on its knees. It does not matter how much we pretend about this.

But as we wait to be told which variant of Kenya was marketed, we should not forget what President Obama said in his acceptance speech to the nation.

The President observed that those who cling to power through corruption and deceit should now realise they are on the wrong side of history.

He cautioned the enemies of democracy to understand that they will eventually be judged, not by what they destroy but by what they build.

Since our Government can no longer guarantee our life, liberty and pursuit for happiness, we should use all the available constitutional mechanisms to change it by placing our destiny in new hands that will facilitate the urgent re-conception and rebirth of this great motherland.