[Documents menu] Documents menu

When Sucking Blood Became a Social Need

By Mutuma Mathiu, The Nation (Nairobi), Personal opinion, 22 April 2001

From a roadside tea kiosk at Nairobi's Karen to the deep reaches of the seamier parts of the city, I have, in the past two weeks, come face to face with street-level political opinion I find absolutely surprising.

It is desperate cynicism stemming from the belief that the Government has destroyed the people's lives and that, though change in political leadership would automatically improve things, cunning people are standing in its way to ultimately ensure that the status quo is maintained.

The belief that we would at least be jumping from the fire to the frying pan, as one wag would have it, is, of course, not entirely valid. It is quite possible to have a government more incompetent that the current one. But the people seem to have the same type of blind optimism Kenyans had at independence. All we need, they seem to say, is jump the chasm of transition and ours will become a land of milk and money.

On the economy, the view goes like this: Huu uchumi umefungana kabisa kwa kuwa pesa zote zinazunguka kwa group moja. The more articulate professionals and traders, who are in the minority, are able to make the jump between economic mismanagement and the bedraggled state of their own pockets. I have also been lectured on the theory that Kanu has pursued a deliberate policy of impoverishing the people, because "hungry people are easier to control".

And that is why, so the lecture went, the Kamba, who inhabit an environment in which food is at times hard to come by, are won over more easily than, say, the Kikuyu or the Luo.

Thus, the single most dangerous factor against Kanu's re-election next year is the weather, according to this school of political economics. If there are sufficient rains throughout the country, Kanu is cooked. If there is drought in the marginal areas, then that will be the party's electoral salvation.

The dismantling of the Dream Team is explained within the same paradigm. Kanu wanted to be rid of Dr Richard Leakey because it would have been impossible to steal the money to buy the election while he was in charge.

It was also part of a scheme, this street analysis goes, to aggravate the donors so much that they would quit in disgust, leading to economic chaos and even more poverty, a situation from which Kanu, the supposed master of the impoverish-and-buy tactics, would derive utmost satisfaction (and electoral triumph).

As to the succession, I didn't meet many people who thought that President Moi would retire next year. The most interesting conspiracy theory I have heard is that the part about not naming a successor is evidence of a grand plot to create a post-Moi vacuum and, therefore, chaos, naturally necessitating a return of the "old man" to restore order, peace, love and unity.

On corruption, I was shocked to hear the monster justified. Our economy, I was told, does not run on efficiency and productivity but on corruption. It has mutated to a state where corruption is its blood. To remove corruption is to kill the economy. I came away with a horrible sense of failure, a feeling that we, in the Press, have failed terribly. It is true that the Government is a closed shop.

Not many of us have an idea what goes on behind the roadside announcements and sackings over the radio. But it would appear that the public's analysis of the political and economic habitat is a little like Hitler's intellectual accomplishment - spotty. The individual parts might have merit, but the whole does not hang together. It is disjointed, awkward and incongruous. Could it be that we have failed to inform the people, explain the facts of the matter, as it were?

The next government will have a difficult job. It must not only repair a seriously damaged economy but also rebuild the people's trust. I'm not about to argue, though, that the popular cynicism is misconceived. If one looks at the casual corruption of virtually every member of the ruling curia, the machinations to defeat an honest review of the Constitution and other crimes against the people, it is impossible not to share in the cynicism.

In a sense, the ruling party seems to suffer from the KGB syndrome. The KGB was formed to, first and foremost, protect the Stalinist aristocracy. Secondly, it was given a carte blanche to bludgeon the Soviet masses and the whole wide world towards the path to Stalin's version communism. To achieve these aims, it was given a licence to be ruthless. During the forced collectivisation of peasant farms in the 1930s, more than 30 million Soviet kulaks were butchered.

That might be a capitalist exaggeration but it brings home the point that the KGB, and its predecessor, had the licence to kill with impunity. After killing for decades on behalf of the ruling clique, and enjoying immense power and privilege, the KGB mission slowly mutated. Finally, it was killing and detaining in its own service: To preserve and extend its power rather than that of the Communist Party or that of the Soviet Union.

Similarly, at independence, Kanu took dictatorial powers to protect and build the nation. Somewhere along the way, serving the nation became an irrelevance. The party now pursues the interests of a narrow elite. Quite often, those interests and the national good are antithetical. The man in the street is all too aware of this. Hence the cynicism. But where will it end?

This columnist may be reached at mutuma@nation.co.ke

Copyright 2001 The Nation. Distributed by AllAfrica Global Media (allAfrica.com).