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All we want is a decent and honest Kenya

I was supposed to roast our restaurants this week. But the state of the nation demands that our eating-out joints will have to wait a little before they receive their basting. At a time when the air is thick with the stench of burning Kenyans and high-level scams, and when starvation stalks the land, perhaps my ruminations on restaurants should come another day.

We had another of the big conferences we so love this week: the “Kenya We Want” jamboree. Whether or not we know what we want for Kenya, we certainly know what we want in our conferences: thousands of limousined delegates; flowery, noble-sounding speeches; international luminaries; wall-to-wall media coverage. We love these events, and we all want to attend.

“What Kenya do we want?” is a more difficult question than meets the eye. And we have a national propensity to avoid the difficult questions. We are far more comfortable wallowing in superficial inquiries and desultory responses. Consider the situation surrounding the Molo tanker fire. This is a truly appalling event, one that should give us all deep pause. Instead, we are engaging in the usual fake lamentations, loud condolences and finger-pointing that are the hallmarks of stunted maturity.

If we want to ask the hard questions about Molo, let us ask the following five. The First Hard Question: Why do we have so many petroleum tankers on the roads in the first place? The answer to that should be given by the people running the national oil pipeline, and the national railway network. But it won’t be.

Second Hard Question: Why do so many of these petroleum tankers keep overturning? That question lies with the traffic police and the Ministry of Transport. We have one of the worst road accident rates in the world, and it has only gone up since I was a little boy. Everyone knows this is true; no one does anything about it. The licensing of drivers, the regulation of hauliers and the policing of roads are all national jokes. So let’s just all laugh rather than answer the question.

Third Hard Question: Why, as reported by eye-witnesses and survivors, did policemen start charging the public a fee to scoop up the spilt oil? That one act tells us all we need to know about the rottenness of our society, but we are not even beginning to address it. If those charged with applying laws and regulations facilitate criminal acts, then we are on the verge of anarchy. And let us not focus on those law-keepers who allow some peasant to scoop up a debe of oil; the same disease manifests itself in those law-keepers who charge a fee for the lords of the land to empty out the national grain reserves, the national petroleum stocks and the national treasury. For all the so-called efforts at reform, our legal and regulatory systems are world-class in their ineffectiveness.

Fourth Hard Question: Why do the ordinary people rush to gather petroleum that has spilled onto the roads, a patently wrong and dangerous act? The easy answer is the one we all accept: they are desperately poor, turned stupidly reckless by their impoverishment and lack of hope. Well, if that’s the answer, then what are we really saying about ourselves? That we have turned our ordinary people – people who should be decent, upright, God-fearing – into vagabonds? Look at what happens in road accidents these days: instead of assisting victims, onlookers rush to empty their pockets. Hello – is that fine by us?

Fifth Hard Question: Why does every bigwig and every panjandrum in the land show up at sites of disasters and tragedies (as though viewing exhibits), mouth platitudes, express outrage, point fingers – and then disappear? When did we start to imagine that leadership is all about public relations, and has nothing to do with results, with delivery, with changing the lives of followers?

Events like the Molo and Nakumatt fires, like the plundering of our grain reserves and oil stocks, would lead to sweeping changes in the way in which we run our society. They would be a wake-up call for all Kenyans, not just those who saw their relatives immolated or those who are fighting daily hunger. But are they? As subsequent events have shown, tanker incidents are going to keep happening. The only coffee our leaders are going to smell is the one served to them in the “Kenya We Want” conference.

Back to that question. The “Kenya We Want” is so obvious that it needs not even a bar-room discussion, let alone an international conference. We want an honest and decent Kenya, where those who lead lives of virtue, hard work and application are rewarded and extolled, and those who lead lives of venality, crime and immorality are punished and shunned. It is as simple as that. If we could create this one condition, all the other conditions of rapid and widespread development would be fulfilled.

But is that the Kenya THEY want?

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