If there is one thing that should be celebrated as we usher in 2006, it is that for the first time in about three decades, there is high expectation that things will get better. Only the most irrational critic or the incurable pessimist actually believes that we are getting worse off. Despite all the political crises, human failures and natural calamities, all indications are that we are going forward.
Looking at the last three years, there are many positive developments that should keep our spirits up. Our free primary education programme, one of the most ambitious for any government of a developing country, now successfully enters its fourth year. We continue to enjoy wide democratic space with freedom of expression not allowed in many developed countries. Though concern remains about the total eradication of corruption in the Judiciary, it has never been more independent from the Executive than it is today.
Economically, there is no doubt that activity in all the sectors is increasing. Tourism is back up in spite of travel advisories. Farmers are receiving unprecedented prices for their sugar, milk and cereals, with coffee prices set to also dramatically increase in the new year. The revival of the Kenya Meat Commission and establishment of a fund for pastoralists is hoped to lift the livestock sector.
One of the greatest successes we have achieved on the economic front is to immunise our economy from politics. All the noise, name-calling and threats that have characterised our politics in the last three years have made no significant dent in economic growth. Businessmen are increasingly ignoring politics and politicians when making decisions. This can only mean that we are becoming more stable and confident in our political maturity.
One can list many positive things that are happening to our country today, but there are negatives too. These are characterised by issues that should have been handled differently, and mistakes borne out of human failing and vanity. Some people have committed mistakes maliciously with the intention of hurting others, while other mistakes have been committed unwittingly. Some mistakes have been committed in arrogance and others in humility.
The sum total of the good and the bad over the last three years is, however, not a justification for the gloom that is increasingly enveloping our lives. There is a feeling coming from every other news and opinion piece in the newspapers and from political statements that we are headed for doom. The country is awash with negative messages and cynicism. Predicting failure is becoming fashionable.
Gloom will be the greatest challenge this new year. Our cynicism and pessimism, if allowed to continue, will become a self-fulfilling prophecy, and we shall fail precisely because we expect to. Because we keep believing that there is no job-creation, no one will go out looking for employment and most unemployed persons will remain so. Because we believe that you cannot win a tender without bribing your way, no one will compete for public business, and it will continue to be dominated by the few who have always done so.
Worse, though, is the gloom that exists without excuse. Farmers who are receiving dream returns for their produce are gloomy. Commuters who now take more comfortable and safer rides in public transport are also gloomy. Even businessmen whose commercial enterprises are recovering from near collapse are equally gloomy.
Dazzled and thrilled
The problem is that we are used to drama in our lives. We want to be continuously dazzled and thrilled by political theatrics and propaganda. We don’t want to face and solve our problems; we want to be distracted from them.
When the Government refuses to engage in political drama, we complain. We begin to ask for another government. It is as though we are in a theatre and trying to boo an act off the stage with the hope that the next one will make us laugh. But Government is not supposed to entertain us, or to keep us in a perpetual state of political excitement. We elect governments to help us solve our problems. In fact, entertainment and development are often mutually exclusive. Governments that concentrate on solving peoples’ problems seldom have the time to entertain them.
Our quest for drama, however, will keep distracting us from what we should be demanding from Government. Is it any wonder that in the midst of the referendum, we failed to notice that the short rains had failed and that relief efforts were necessary?
This year, we must ask ourselves what our expectations were when we elected this government. Did we really want change? If so, shouldn’t we be optimistic about the future, seeing what has been done so far? Are we set for another year of whining and complaining or shall we take stock of our achievements and demand that the Government does even better? What happened to the most optimistic people in the world?
What we must do is to stop responding to politicians and instead demand that politicians respond to us. Politicians are supposed to be pawns in our game, not us in theirs. We should therefore not allow them to mix their political problems with our development expectations. Just because they’re not happy doesn’t mean that we can’t be happy.
They are our masters
Our lives are too controlled by politicians and their whims. When they unite, we are united and when they conflict we are separated. When they are happy, we are patriotic to our country, and when they brooding, we hate the country. When they are taking advantage of our taxes they say it’s a good government but when they are not, they ask us to throw it out. We call politicians “public servants”, but clearly, they are our masters.
This position should be reversed. Without a reversal, politicians will never have to work for us. They shall have us continuing to work for them. We shall continue to pay fantastic salaries to Members of Parliament who in turn give us one of the lowest legislative outputs. We shall continue to fund Constituency Development Funds and then hand them over to MPs to fund their politics and enrich their kin. Our happiness is going to continue depending, not on our development as a country, but on the personal contentment of those we elected.
In the last three years, while citizens in other countries have been mourning civil wars, external military invasions, disease, hurricanes, earthquakes, tsunamis, droughts, famine, crime and bird flu, we have been mourning continued peace, political stability and economic development. One day, I fear, the Almighty God will give us a real reason to cry. Then, we shall remember the last three years as “The Golden Era”.
Mr Mwangi is a Nairobi-based advocate.