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This political matatu race retards our progress

Let’s have a history lesson for the youngsters this Sunday.

In the 1980s, Daniel arap Moi and Mwai Kibaki led the same government. In the 1990s and in 2002, they were on opposite sides, and vociferously so. In 2007, they are together again, praising each other’s statesmanship.

In the 1980s, Moi and Kibaki were leading the government that was routinely locking up Raila Odinga. In the 1990s, Moi, Kibaki and Raila were all on different sides. Before 2002, Raila was with Moi against Kibaki. In 2002, Raila was with Kibaki against Moi, endorsing him with his famous ‘Tosha’ cry against Moi’s chosen successor, Uhuru Kenyatta. In 2005 Raila led the constitutional referendum vote against Kibaki, with Moi’s support. In 2007, Raila is Kibaki’s main challenger for the presidency. Moi is on Kibaki’s side.

In 2002, Uhuru Kenyatta was pitted against Kibaki and Raila. In 2005, he was with Raila but against Kibaki. In 2007 he has left Raila and looks set to join the Kibaki camp.

In the 1990s, Kalonzo Musyoka was firmly with Moi and Uhuru, fighting Raila and Kibaki. In 2002, he was with Raila and Kibaki, fighting Moi and Uhuru. In 2005, he was with Moi, Raila, and Uhuru, fighting Kibaki. In 2007, he appears to be fighting Raila, Kibaki, Uhuru and Moi.

In the 1990s, Musalia Mudavadi was firmly with Moi, Kalonzo and Uhuru, fighting Raila and Kibaki. In 2002 he was with Moi and Uhuru against Raila, Kalonzo and Kibaki. In 2005 he was with Raila, Kalonzo, Uhuru and Moi, fighting Kibaki. In 2007, he is with Raila, fighting Kalonzo, Kibaki, Uhuru and Moi.

Do I need to carry on? You get the picture, young ones. This is the matatu race called Kenyan politics. Every so often, a few leaders climb aboard a matatu together and paint it in bright colours. They join other equally loud and garish matatus in a race around a circular race track. The music begins. After some time, the matatus come back round. Race viewers now note that some leaders have jumped to a different matatu with different fellow passengers. Nevertheless, they are waving at you with great gusto, and you are waving back.

Why should they be doing this? There is one reason, and one reason only. There is no principle at work here. The only thing driving every one of these people is the need to take power. Why do you pull other people onto the matatu with you? Only because they can help you win the race. If they can’t, you push them off, or jump onto another matatu yourself.

When you are thrown off, you run alongside, throwing stones until you get tired. Then you sit down and wait. Another matatu will be along soon.

I wrote last year: “Our parties cannot even be called institutions in any sense. They have no structures, no procedures that anyone respects, no elections that they bother to hold, and no vibrant membership that puts any pressure on them. They are matatus, decrepit vehicles that carry the ambitions of a few bigwigs whilst not caring two hoots for legality.

…The people on the party political matatu do not own it and do not care for it. They do not invest money in it, and they do not maintain it. They have no idea whether its engine is sound, or if the electricals are working. They couldn’t care less. It’s a mere vehicle, a quick ride to riches.”

If ordinary human beings behaved like this, we would consider them fickle and lacking in character. Do you make friends, drop them, befriend them, dump them when it suits you? If you did that, you would get no respect at all from society. When politicians do it, we say “that’s politics” and accept it as normal behaviour.

It’s time we set our standards higher. It’s time we began judging politicians by their strength of character and adherence to principle. Who has said the same thing, had the same allies, stood on the same platform and upheld the same agenda?

The development race, which is not the same as the political race, is not won by loud people in loud matatus. It is won by preparing sleek and sturdy vehicles that are kept well-oiled and are maintained by the same people. Different race-cars may take the lead at different times; but all are serious contenders and are in for the long race, not the individual lap.

We can’t do much about the quality of our contenders, but we can do something about the way we judge and reward them. Stop applauding when a matatu is resprayed and appears with different passengers. Stop laughing when you see a collision in the race. Take your eyes off the political free-for-all run on the cow-field. Focus instead on the race that will take the country to second- and first-world status.

The race that improves our education, our health, our livelihoods and our knowledge base is the only one worth cheering. Everything else is an irrelevant side-show. The sooner we realise it, the better.

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