Friday, January 16, 2009



By Jerry Okungu
Nairobi, Kenya
January 16, 2009

Teachers are threatening to go on strike. Farmers in Kitale are protesting maize prices being offered by the government. Women are crying foul over continued marginalization by political parties and the Central Government in the appointment to positions of authority. They argue that the coalition government is violating the 30% rule of allocation of appointments to the public service. The Law Society of Kenya chairman Okongo’ Mogeni thinks Kibaki and Raila are an embarrassment to Kenyans.

Meanwhile, there are even more grumbles within the ODM circles that since the accord was signed, most of the appointments have always gone to relatives and friends of Pentagon members. They are citing the latest ambassadorial appointments where not a single woman was appointed. They are wondering aloud why they supported ODM in the first place. Interestingly, Pentagon members do not see it this way. For them it is business as usual. They see nothing wrong with the trend of things.
Meanwhile, the wrangles within the coalition partners goes on unabated despite public appearance by the two principals that belies deep rooted suspicions and behind the scenes struggles.

In the middle of all these verbal war fares, acute famine is ravaging the country side. Pictures relayed by local television stations would make one be forgiven for thinking that some parts of this tourist paradise still lingers in Stone Age era. For how else can anyone explain the dehumanizing images that the media has brought to our living rooms of late? What is worse, the YouTube technology does not allow us to hide the pictures within the confines of our villages and borders. The internet has made our borders too porous for our comfort.

Over ten years ago, I organized a world media conference in Nairobi whose theme was to create a borderless continent as our 21st century challenge. I didn’t know that within a span of just twelve years, my dream would be realized beyond my wildest imaginations and that we would truly have a borderless world.

My dream twelve years ago has today become my embarrassment. Now I cannot travel around the globe without being confronted with contradictions and paradoxes of my country Kenya.

My tormentors who have daily if not minute by minute updates of what goes in my country wonder how a country that has links with America’s first black president can be so vicious, violent, and corrupt and have 50% of its populace living in abject poverty. They tell me that Kenya is truly a land of contrasts. In the same country, one can find some of the smartest thieves that would put Italian mafiasos to shame.
In this land of beautiful valleys, hills and rivers; in this Roger Whitaker’s home where birds would wake a tourists in the serene forests of Ngulia and Masai Mara lodges, you don’t have to go far to find near naked barefoot villagers who for all practical purposes can hardly find water to drink , let alone bathe.

Don’t tell me about the wrong political leadership; tell me something else. Don’t tell that Kibaki and Raila have failed us; tell me something else. Don’t tell that MPs and judges are to blame because their greed and corrupt ways have stood between them and the people. Don’t tell me that we are suffering because my namesake George Okungu has left Kenya Pipe Line Ks 7 Billion poorer and that his colleague from Rarieda , Achieng’ Ongonga’ also got away with Ks 70 million; therefore we are suffering.

The time for scape-goating may soon come to an end. May be it is time to go into the mirror and have a good look at ourselves and ask one fundamental question: what exactly is wrong with us Kenyans? How come when we have famine, the people at the frontline to speak for the starving and plead for international aid are all round-faced, well dressed and seem to be bursting at the waist?

If Kenyans are dying of hunger in Kitui, Rachuonyo, West Pokot and Turkana, where do their MPs get enough food to overfeed themselves? Are we robbing our people then run to the top of the hill to claim that somebody else has impoverished our people?
The other day MPs from the Coast and Ukambani showed a rare gesture of supporting the efforts of the current famine disaster. As Coast MPs pledged Ks 200,000 a month from their salaries, Kitui MPs decided to better that figure. They pledged Ks 250, 000 until famine is over.

Now look at it this way. There has been famine in Ukambani since time immemorial. Kalonzo Musyoka remembers it since his childhood in 1965. He narrates it with the authority of a son of the soil. He remembers vividly what it was like that year.
Kalonzo’s testimony is not an isolated case. Many disasters that rob us of our food crops and livestock have been with us all along from our childhood. The first flood I can remember to have hit my village was in 1961 when for the first time, I saw yellow maize from America. Since then, Nyando my home has had floods each passing year.

Ho w many times have Masais, Samburus and Pokots lost their livestock due to annual drought? Have we ever fully explained the influx of young people into our urban slums? Aren’t they running away from the vicious cycle that is village deprivation? The few that remain there drown their sorrows in the readily available local brews and end their lives in their prime.

The tragedy of all this shame is that we the people of Kenya; poor as we are, some educated as I am, continue season after season to elect visionless leaders whose only priority once in office is to satisfy their base instincts- primitive accumulation of wealth by any means necessary. Because they cannot amass enough of it legitimately in the period they are in office, they resort to diverting public taxes to their personal use. You may call it corruption. I call it violent robbery.

Why would Kibaki beg for Ks 30 Billion to help Kenya fight famine when in just under one week, the same government can lose close to Ks 15 Billion to just a handful of protected thieves? If only we could recover billions of our cash stashed away by Golden Berg, Anglo Leasing, Kenya Pipe Line and National Cereals Board, Kenya would not shamelessly beg for food from our foreign masters.

Is it possible in this day and age for the present government to stop transferring, firing and suspending thieves from their positions of power and start prosecuting, jailing and even executing some of them as an example to prove to Kenyans and the world that abuse of office and theft by servant do not pay?
Is it possible to start sacrificing sacred cows in our midst?