Sunday, March 20, 2011



By Jerry Okungu

Nairobi, Kenya

March 17, 2011

The massive earthquake that rocked Japan last week has ignited more interest in the Far East County. And with the resultant tsunami that was felt as far as the West Coast of America, one was left in no doubt that indeed the world has become a global village.

Watching pictures of tsunami slides sweeping across the islands of Japan it was difficult to believe that so many people could survive such a massive natural calamity. Yet reports coming out of Japan have yet to put the casualty figures at more than 10,000 people at most with most confirmed figures in the region of 3000 deaths.

Just imagine that that kind of disaster hit Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania or Zimbabwe where our level of disaster preparedness is minimal, it would not be wrong to assume that such an earth quake would have wiped out an entire nation from the face of the earth.

The Japanese tragedy aside, I have been following some Chinese TV channels on coverage of this disaster and learnt a lot about Japanese politics that we have either ignored or simply not been exposed to.

Just days before the earth quake struck, a political tsunami was already in the offing in the Japanese ruling party, the DPJ currently headed by Prime Minister Naoto Kan, and the sixth prime minister of Japan since 2006. This means that in Japanese politics, no political party is guaranteed a fixed term in office. In other words, the Japanese are ready to go to the polls any time as long as the ruling party fails to deliver.

The current DPJ crisis was triggered by the resignation of one Mr. Maehera, then Foreign Minister. He was accused of receiving foreign donation in the tune of Yen 50,000, the equivalent of US $ 700.00. For this, Mr. Maehera resigned and apologized profusely to his family, political party and the entire nation. He took personal responsibility for breaking the law and embarrassing his county. One wonders how many such leaders in our midst would take that bold step to resign their positions for a 700 dollar donation.

As Japan jumps from a political crisis to a tsunami and now an imminent nuclear disaster, I looked at Kenyan politics and realized how closer we are to Japan politically. If you look at our politics, we have never really had a break since 2002; we have had an election or a referendum two years after an election.

Since the violent elections of 2007 we have remained in election mode permanently. The grand coalition arrangement has not made things any better. Each political party has been scheming, strategizing or maligning the other in readiness for next year’s elections.

And just like in Japan, our politics has been conducted despite our fermin disaster, failed rains that we knew were going to fail anyway and numerous scandals that we have continually swept under the carpet.

The only point of departure is that whereas the Japanese focus on national disasters such as the current one, we keep moving from one crisis to another with less pain completely indifferent to the suffering of many Kenyans.

Isn’t it ironical that at a time when Japan is doing everything in its powers to save the lives of its citizens, the Libyan forces are busy bombing their own people? Isn’t it disheartening to see what is going on in Ivory Coast when leaders refuse to concede defeat and instead are prepared to kill their own people if need be? When will life start having meaning and value in this continent?

In Kenya today, just six individuals are holding the country to ransom because they do not want to be tried for crimes they are alleged to have committed three years ago. Instead of seeing the court as an opportunity to clear their names, they have instead rallied their ethnic communities claiming that they are being targeted by such trials as far away as The Hague.

The beauty with Japan is that individuals in public offices take full responsibility for their actions or inactions while in office. There is no passing the blame on to others. They have learnt how to bear their own crosses. There is no group or communal crimes. All crimes are personal as are their consequences.

Perhaps this integrity thing should start at the family level. Families can force their errant members to own up and face the music rather than shield them. If we had started on this path, Golden Berg, Anglo Leasing, Laico Regency, Maize scandal and many others would not have followed in quick succession.

So much for Kenyan mega scams. I do hope the rest of East African countries have their fair share of such scams that go unpunished every day.