Tuesday, October 20, 2009



By Jerry Okungu
Nairobi, Kenya
October 20, 2009

As Kenyans celebrated the day Jomo Kenyatta was arrested and detained by the British government on allegations that he masterminded the Mau Mau uprising, we remember with nostalgia the euphoria than engulfed East Africa at that time. In those heady days, one could not think of Kenyatta without mentioning Milton Obote and Julius Nyerere. They were the champions that fate had bestowed upon the responsibility of liberating our three countries from foreign domination.

Now all that is in the past. The three leaders are dead and long gone. Yet their memory still lingers on, to remind the younger generation that we indeed have a common past and a common history.

Listening to speeches made in Kampala, Dar es Salaam and Nairobi in those days, thanks to Google technology, one gets the feeling that at one time the true spirit of brotherhood indeed lived among us. We genuinely strove to move together into the unknown future for better or for worse. If Nyerere and Obote were ready to delay their independence for the sake of Kenya, then indeed the spirit of nationhood lived on in our midst.

Now, many years later, we are still struggling to realize a dream that was so near and so real then. It would appear like the true dream died and dissipated with our own Uhuru. In our new found freedom we drifted apart and betrayed our people that stood by us in those dark days of colonial brutality.

Instead of selfless service to our people as we promised them; instead of taking care of their well being and prosperity as we promised our people, we have delivered more wars, deaths, poverty and hunger. Instead of fighting poverty, hunger and disease, we have delivered the same afflictions with gusto in abundance. Today, our leaders revel in luxury and opulence when their people languish in ghettos, slums and refugee camps exposed to the biting elements of nature. They have left their people to the mercies of nature to devour at will. If draught comes, they are ravaged by hunger. If rains come, they are swept away by predictable floods.

In East Africa today, the story is almost the same. Leadership has taken a new meaning. It is no longer selfless service as we were brought up to believe. Today, our leaders are in it for themselves and their families. This is the reason Ugandan MPs can afford to emulate the bad manners of their Kenyan counterparts without batting an eyelid. If they realize that Kenyan MPs can raise their salaries to US $ 10,000 a month without paying taxes, they will do the same as they did last week. Very soon, we shall not be surprised if Tanzanian MPs emulate their brothers in Nairobi and Kampala.

However bad leadership aside, what galls most of us in this region is the impunity with which corrupt practices are nurtured by the public and corporate powers that be. A month never passes without a major public scandal erupting in our region.

If US $ 800,000 can disappear from under a mattress in a Kampala bedroom as relief food is stolen from starving Kenyans in arid Northern Kenya, then we know we have lost the moral authority to manage our nations.

If a company like BIDCO can be allowed to destroy Uganda’s ecosystem for corporate gain, if this company can be allowed in less than a decade to destroy and degrade Uganda’s richest tropical rainforests and replace them with palm oil trees, then it is time we reexamined our priorities.

The BIDCO story is even more painful when one realizes that at this point in time, the whole world is grappling with conservation issues due to global warming. Our lakes and rivers are drying up due to water towers being destroyed. Yet we turn a blind eye to profiteers like BIDCO that have no respect nor regard for natural national resources. Yet, this is the company that has for many years prided itself as a model company in the area of corporate social responsibility.

However, it was refreshing to learn that Museveni had at last read the riot act to corrupt individuals in Uganda. As he announced that the dance with corrupt individuals was over, one hoped that he would walk the talk and emulate Paul Kagame next door.

As for Kenya, the war on corruption is far from over. With the anti- corruption body in tatters and a possible abolition by Parliament looming large, we have yet to see the worst of our graft cases that will make Anglo Leasing and Golden Berg kindergarten stuff.

Where will we get a benevolent dictator to lead the war against corruption the way Kagame has done for Rwanda and Jerry Rawlings did for Ghana? This region badly needs such a man.