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We’re not going anywhere if we keep fighting on the streets

So we’re back on the streets again, hurling rocks and breaking each other’s skulls. The teargas returns – coordinated via helicopter and supported by water cannon this time. Kenyan is turning on Kenyan. Tribal positions are more entrenched than ever. Shots are being fired in anger. The state has turned on its citizens, and the citizens have decided to uproot all that they see before them. And we’re told there’s more to come.

What a sad, sad tale. For those of us who took an over-generous dose of the deadly gas called euphoria early last year, the hangover is painful indeed. We imagined that the dark days of street battles where clouds of hatred mingled with teargas were finally behind us. A “kinder, gentler” Kenya was here, we were told. A new dawn, a new beginning, a reason to sing again and plan for the future.

Well, the dream is over. We’re wide awake, and as we rub our eyes and look around, what do we see? Rubble strewn on the streets. Phone booths lying on their sides. Shop windows shattered, the contents looted. Phalanxes of armed policemen, guns and rungus at the ready.

As we look up from street level and at the top offices of government, we wonder what year it is. We can see ministers and permanent secretaries implicated in massive scandals. We can see furtive and shadowy wheeler-dealers lurking around in the corridors. We see politicians who have joined the world’s rich list after just 18 months in power. We see major donor nations up in arms, threatening to withhold aid if Kenyans have no use for it other than to line the pockets of the greedy. And we see that nothing is going to be done about it – the perpetrators are, as ever, a protected species.

Same old Kenya. Same old problems. Same old despair. Did we wake up in the past, or is this really 2004? Hard to say. But I’ll tell you one thing, folks, we can plan and prepare all we want – we ain’t going anywhere if we’re still on the streets fighting each other.

Every tourist caught up in the recent fracas will never return, and will tell the hundred people he meets back home to do likewise. Every businessman whose premises were looted will, yet again, sit on any investment he planned to make to grow his business. Every qualified professional with great prospects will start sending her CV to South Africa, Australia and Canada again. Every foreign investor wondering whether this is the time to make that major move into Kenya will have the decision made for him. Every unemployed youth who’s waiting for a change to his life’s prospects will look at the billboards and beautified roundabouts and at the smug people in snug clothes, and will burn with anger.

As the country burns, its leaders play the fiddle. In all senses of the word. Oh children of Africa, are we the victims of a virulent curse, issued from the heavens aeons ago, condemning us to always destroy whatever we build? Always finding leaders who will denude us? Finding a hundred reasons to stay divided and not one to unite? Watching from the margins as the rest of world develops and gets richer while we wait for the scraps?

Shame on you, NAK, as you fight to protect your newfound power and newly minted riches. Shame on you, LDP, as you refuse to build and seek only to bring down. Shame on you, Ford Kenya, as you seek only the well being of your supporting tribesmen in all your moves. Shame on you, Kanu, as you shift your alliances without a single noble principle to guide you. Shame on you all, and long may you pay the karmic price for your actions in keeping Kenyans in eternal misery. We have no leaders, only misleaders sitting pretty in a government of national disunity.

Until we change our model of leadership, we haven’t a hope in hell. Until we understand that good and sensible governance is the mark of civilisation, we’ll stay right here. Until we understand that there is absolutely nothing wrong with a bunch of people wishing to gather in public in order to lodge a protest, we will keep sending out the troops to kick in their skulls. Until we understand that a police force that keeps operating on ‘orders from above’ can never have the trust of the public, we are doomed to keep repeating our mistakes. Until we can envisage a constitution for the good of Kenyans, not for the good of our own miserable, selfish and petty selves, we will keep meeting on the streets of shame rather than on the road to progress.

In the meantime, a brooding class of malcontents is growing. This class first emerged like an ugly storm during the 1982 coup attempt. We saw its members again during the recent disturbances. In this class are those who pick up boulders and throw them into shop windows. Those who break the little booths that give a meagre livelihood to their fellow strugglers. Those who strip anyone who tries to stand with them to offer a helping hand. Some of the members of this class are outright criminals. Most have just lost hope. They are disenfranchised from a society that leaves them out and asks them to smile at the wealth of others. The owners of capital, who ask them to wait for a ‘trickle-down’ as they amass ever more riches, arouse only violent anger in them.

This economic model has not taken us anywhere. It is time to think afresh about our economic priorities. The poor of Kenya are a bomb waiting to be ignited. And as our leaders engage in silly firefights, they would do well to heed where the sparks are landing.

The first step is to learn to take responsibility. Few Kenyans do. We go about our business in the face of all this misery as though it’s all somebody else’s problem. We didn’t cancel the political meetings, someone else did. We didn’t loot shops, someone else did. We didn’t play politics with people’s lives, someone else did.

So who votes these maladroit leaders into positions of power? Who walks past beggars and street children every day without stopping to think where it’s all going? Who works solely for his own family’s fortunes without a higher thought in his head? Who fails to see that everything in this world is interconnected, that no one can stay aloof from the fray? Who thinks that her tribe’s development should come first, even if it means the rest of the country stagnates? Who invests in dodgy ventures and secretly admires the criminal minds that pull off major scams? Who teaches their children the value of silly brands and mindless consumption? Who drinks away his money and patronises harlots? Who causes society to be the way it is? Leaders? Foreigners? Evil people?

No, dear reader. That would be you. And me. And until we also learn to be ashamed of ourselves, nothing will change.

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