While on a visit to the White House recently, my attention was drawn to a photograph among the myriad images that decorate the East Wing walls of this political seat of American might.
It is a photograph of President Kibaki and US President George W. Bush posing on the manicured lawns of the White House. Taken during Kibaki’s historic state visit to Washington in 2003, the image oozes the splendour and majesty of the US. But this is not what captivated my attention. That image poignantly reminded me of the shattered Kenyan dream.
I realised just how much the incompetence of this regime has cost our nation. As I turned away, my belly was seething with fury.
I am angry at how a cynical pack of wolves draped in sheepskin conned their way to power by mouthing cliches they never believed in.
When the ordinary Kenyans in Budalang’i, Kuria, Namanga, Mweiga, and Wajir and beyond sang “Yote yawezekana”, they were genuine. They believed in the dream of a second liberation – a new dawn. The dawn of a new Kenya in which national interest reigned over tribal allegiance, merit over cronyism. Where openness and accountability were not just empty rhetoric akin to what became of glasnost and perestroika amidst the collapse of the Soviet bloc.
The Yote yawezekana spirit never envisaged replacing a gang of robbers with a band of pirates, or reincarnation of tribalism, or rebirth of sycophancy, or institutionalisation of incompetence, or shameless assault on democracy, or opulent lifestyles for a few amidst a sea of wretchedness.
I am angry at our soiled international image. A nation ranked the most optimistic in the world only three years ago is today just another African false glimmer of hope.
The Economist now classifies Kenya alongside the likes of Liberia, way behind Botswana, South Africa, Namibia and Mauritius, the beacons of hope on the continent. Kibaki standing shoulder to shoulder with Bush symbolised the re-admission of Kenya into the international community of respectable nations.
When development partners rushed to oil Kenya’s renaissance, it was a gesture of well-meaning friends weary of African failure. Kenya was touted as an African success story in political transition and coalition democracy.
When in April 2003 I visited the European Union Parliament to argue Kenya’s case for debt relief, I was overwhelmed by the goodwill our land enjoyed. In a meeting with then Dutch representative and vice-chairman of the development and cooperation committee, Marx van den Berg, he lavishly praised Kenya, and said a team he was leading to monitor the Nigerian elections that year would urge emulation of Kenyans.
This goodwill has since dissipated like dew receding fast in the early morning African sunshine.
When last Wednesday I addressed the Capital Hill Rotary Club here in Washington DC, I was stung by the view of Kenya that now pervades Western capitals: a banana republic toying with collapse.
The Western media are having a love fest! Washington Post, New York Times, the Economist, BBC … have splashed acres of space on our woes. Our image out here is in tatters. What galls even more is the cavalier attitude of those responsible for this debacle. It is laughable to hear ministers in this ill-fated regime argue that if the West doesn’t play ball, we will simply turn east. What a pile of twaddle!
The world is now enmeshed in a neat global political-economic web. What happens in Nairobi matters as much in Seoul, Tokyo and Beijing as it does in London, Brussels and Washington. Why would Tokyo waste taxes of Japanese citizens to turn corrupt ministers into overnight billionaires enjoying car models that even the Japanese Premier does not drive? And, dummy, the problem is not in the West.
It is in Nairobi! The problem is Mwai Kibaki who is stuck in inertia, who has taken tribalism to new heights by turning the seat of power for a nation of 42 communities into the exclusive fiefdom of his homeboys, who thinks Kenyans are such nincompoops – you throw the Goldenberg bone and they stop barking at Anglo Leasing, who believes Kenyans eat the hot-air of imaginary economic growth rates, who chairs a Cabinet meeting not to respond to public expectations but to hoodwink the nation.
The problem is the entire leadership steering this incompetent and larcenous regime that has reversed the promise of a bright new dawn into the disillusionment of a misty dusk.
This piece first appeared in Kenya Times and was penned by Ababu Namwamba.