- Our development as a democracy has been dependent on our ability and resolve to fight an intransigent regime at different eras of our history. Not surprisingly, we have come to identify our government as the single stumbling block to our self-realisation as a nation.
So entrenched has this become in our psyche that the Government is no longer viewed as a Kenyan institution but an alien intrusion. When the current one came to power, we saw the baffling and often comical instances of Cabinet ministers calling on the Government to act on social problems, or criticizing the Government for those problems.
A second phenomenon that has arisen from decades of having our governments as stumbling blocks is that we have developed a messiah dependency syndrome. Because the enemy was always without, we needed a leader to organise and unify us in pressuring the government. Dedan Kimathi, Jomo Kenyatta, Jaramogi Oginga and Kenneth Matiba are some of the people who over the years have acted as our messiahs.
This syndrome is today the single most powerful driving force of our political system. The only way to get national support as a politician is to be a messiah: you must deliver the people from something. If you want the unwavering support of Kenyans, you must be at loggerheads with the Government.
New challenges we face
That is why even Cabinet ministers who have presidential ambitions must maintain a posture of opposition to the Government to be accepted as presidential material. While the messiah/disciple between us and our leaders has worked well in the past, it may not see us through the new challenges we face as a nation.
One example of the dangers we face is the HIV-Aids epidemic. When the magnitude of the threat we were facing became apparent, we turned to our Government and demanded that it does something to save us. We expected the Government to come up with some magical solution that would remove the threat of this disease from our lives.
Of course we were the problem and the solution lay with us. All the Government did was to keep reminding us to change our behaviour. Luckily for us, we have been listening and definite progress can be seen today in the rates of infection.
Corruption presents a similar challenge. We want the Government to come up with some magical solution that will not.
A good example is the good lady from Transparency International. She rejected a payment because she believed it was corrupt, but that did not stop her from assuming proprietary rights over the money and to donate it to a charity of her choice. She should have returned it to its rightful owner – the taxpayer. Legally, her fault was as grave as that of the ministry she had been urging not to waste taxpayer’s money.
You can imagine how many lesser mortals in public life do not yet understand their ethical obligations to Kenyans. How many today understand what a conflict of interest is? How many public procurement officers have ever read the new rules on procurement? Is corruption something we complain about only when it is done to us or do we reject it in our lives?
These are the issues that we as a society are not dealing with. We cry against corruption but it is those who amass great wealth through corruption that are our role models. The churches criticise the Government for not dealing with corruption, but they continue to fellowship with the thieves.
We want our public officers to live an honest life, but we are the ones who load them with demands that require the misuse of power to fulfil. We demand that the President fire his ministers if they are mentioned in any scandal, but at the same time we demand promulgation of a constitution that will make it impossible for him to do that.
It is a fair assessment of the situation to say that we do not know what we want other than wish for a messiah to take all the problems away without requiring any effort from us.
Former German Ambassador Bernd Mutzelburg, in an address on 11th July 1995, observed: “If in a given society those who have become rich overnight by improper practices are allowed to become heroes, then I would not be surprised if moral standards are falling. The task of the press in that respect is to create and promote positive role models. I do not think that a Kenyan, German, Italian or Scandinavian man or woman would be less inclined to steal if that could be done without sanction. This is where the critical role of the media comes in.”
There is no messiah who will come to remove this ill from our society. We shall have to do it ourselves and it must begin with a change in the way we conduct our affairs. Corruption as a phenomenon may be unacceptable in the Kenyan society but it remains ingrained in our social fabric. Our demands from the society around us are so irrational that they can only be fulfilled illegally.
We still admire the billionaire
We must be ready to pay the price of fighting corruption. Shall we for instance accept it when our favourite politicians are fired because we have a preconceived idea of who will go and we secretly long for the political benefits of the fallout? Are we honestly ready to support the President in whatever decision he makes?
I am not sure that we are. We still secretly admire the businessman who pulls a fast one and becomes a billionaire. We want the politician who exerts the power of his office and gets jobs for the boys. Our role models are not those who give us exemplary service but those who have enriched themselves.
Until the day every Kenyan becomes a soldier to the war against corruption, no government will ever conquer this vice.