Tuesday, February 17, 2009



By Jerry Okungu
Nairobi, Kenya
February 17, 2009

A few years ago a Japanese girl who was my wife’s classmate in Long Beach California came over to visit in Kenya. As I drove to work with her in morning along Mombasa Road, she noticed something near Nyayo Stadium that suddenly excited her. She saw so many people walking along the road all the way from Madaraka Estate past the Uhuru Highway where we were all the way to Enterprise Road. It was one long column of people determined to get to their destination.

However, instead of asking me why these many people were walking; she wondered aloud why they were demonstrating! When informed that those were people walking to work; she was shocked. I then explained to her that those people walked every morning because they could not afford every morning bus fare; implying that the majority of them though lucky to find a job to do, were too poor to afford the luxury of travelling by bus every morning.

Incidentally, this category of Kenyans is always the base support of every political party during elections. They are the same people that attend huge rallies, fight for political leaders every five years and soon get forgotten every time. These are the same people that politicians promise better schools, hospitals, electricity, clean drinking water, better housing and jobs. However, as soon as the votes are counted they are left on their own.

Instead, the political class begins to cut deals that can only benefit them. In Kenya if there is any big scam whether it is on maize, oil or military contracts, the same politicians that were elected on a platform of anti- corruption find themselves right in the middle of those scandals.

In Kenya, one can starve to death right next door to a very wealthy cabinet minister. Much as the minister may not lift a finger while you are alive, you can be sure he will be the first person to talk loudest at your funeral and eulogize your virtues while you lived.

The other day I read an article in the Sunday Times of South Africa and wondered aloud how alike we are in this continent in our politics of betrayal. The ANC sounded so much like our KANU, NARC or even the current Grand Coalition that I thought it necessary to quote sections of columnist Barry Ronge’s article to drive my point home.

Here is what the writer said of the ANC and South African politics of wealth:
“Just look around at almost any time of day, and you will see many people carrying a plastic bag or two, walking purposefully to or from their workplace. These are “the poorest of the poor” about whom ANC majority drone on endlessly whenever they are looking for support, or trying to introduce another tax hike under the guise of high-minded civic responsibility.

The irony is that the current turmoil in the party and, by extension, in the country, is not about poverty at all, it’s about wealth. It’s about that pernicious arms deal that was designed to put so many bags of cash into so few complicit hands.
It’s about bad decisions at Eskom, which cost the country, the mines and the consumer, plenty.

It’s about the even worse decisions by the former health minister, who — if she had put her money where her busy mouth was — would have created subsidies to farmers in all regions, especially the smaller subsistence farmers, to grow vast quantities of garlic, potatoes and whatever vegetable she believed would cure or prevent HIV/Aids, at low cost to high risk communities. Perhaps she didn’t because she knew it would not work.

It’s about corrupt politicians and officials who gain the cash for a luxury car, or a time share at a deluxe game lodge from property builders who want to bypass zoning laws either to build on wetlands or to build hundreds of townhouses, most of them now standing empty and often only half-built, courtesy of the global recession.

The story of the ANC since it came to power has not been about adequate housing, schools, hospitals and the welfare of the poorest of the poor. It has been about wealth, about creating an exclusive, high-living Wabenzi culture with its “black diamonds” maintaining the social structure that is not about democracy and equal access, but about being the top dog, and winning — by any means possible.”
Has our story with KANU, NARC or the Grand Coalition been any different? The jury is still out there to judge.