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Obama only saying what we know to be true

Jul 19, 2009 Leadership, Sunday Nation

“No country is going to create wealth if its leaders exploit the economy to enrich themselves, or police can be bought off by drug traffickers. No business wants to invest in a place where the government skims 20 percent off the top, or the head of the port authority is corrupt. No person wants to live in a society where the rule of law gives way to the rule of brutality and bribery. That is not democracy, that is tyranny, and now is the time for it to end…Africa doesn’t need strongmen. It needs strong institutions.”

Who said those words? It was, of course, Barack Obama during his recent tour of Ghana. Was he referring to any particular country, do you think? You can send me answers on a postcard if you like, but I won’t be dishing out any prizes. Not for so easy a question.

I sense some easing of ‘Obama-mania’ amongst a certain class of Kenyans. Our political leaders have always maintained a thunderous silence on the subject of Obama from the outset, for a simple reason: he makes them look so bad that the simplest strategy is to look the other way and pretend he doesn’t exist.

But now a different bunch of people, previously adorers of our young homeboy Barack, are grumbling about the man in the White House. There seem to be two reasons for this. One, that despite being ‘one of our own’, Obama shunned us and went off to visit a prettier neighbour instead. Well that one we can kick out of court without too much ado. As president of the US, Mr Obama decides who he visits and why. Full marks to him for picking a country that also experienced a contentious election and managed to resolve it without resorting to crude tit-for-tat violence and ugly ethnic posturing.

The second reason for rumbling dissent, however, is more interesting. Apparently, some of us are getting tired of Obama’s hectoring tone. By talking openly and repeatedly about how bad a country we are, he is showing us up in the front of the whole world. He is picking us out unfairly in terms of corruption, we say; the whole world is corrupt, so why keep harping on about Kenya?

So we don’t really want to know how Barack’s dad and cousins were hindered by corruption in Kenya; we all are, every day, and we just get on with it. And that, fellow Kenyans, is precisely the problem. We just get on with it.

Just take a look at what we have learned about ourselves in recent weeks. Transparency International told us that our police force is the most corrupt institution in East Africa. How many eyebrows were raised at that shocking bit of information? Simultaneously, we are experiencing the worst crime wave that I can remember, and no one is making the connection.

We have had revelation after revelation about our parastatal bodies. Boards have been dissolved and entire management teams shown the door. Accusations fly everywhere about how something as basic as water is sold corruptly, about diversion of relief food, about mismanagement of funds meant for youth enterprise, about how our key transport and telecommunications entities are handed over to dubious, shadowy entities.

We have had revelations about how goods enter the country without duty being paid through Eldoret Airport, a facility that was possibly constructed for that very purpose. We know that public examination papers are sold routinely, and that candidates can pay to come in to exam rooms with notes. Every other week or so, a building collapses somewhere and people are killed.

The point about all those ‘revelations’? They are not revelations at all. They are part of business as usual in Kenya. They are our daily drip-feed of news about ourselves. We just ingest all this toxic material, and we carry on. We don’t expect, far less demand, that anyone is ever arrested in connection with these crimes. We are content that the most that will happen is some lowly set of scapegoats will be ‘sent home’, or merely transferred. We know more than we need to about our two biggest scams, Goldenberg and Anglo Leasing, but we just sit on the knowledge.

Perhaps all Kenyans should be flown to Mars so that they can look down and see the reality about themselves. We are not just corrupt, we are obscenely, grotesquely corrupt. Some of us may not be, but we are silent partners in the crime. By acquiescing, we are holding our own development by the throat in a death-grip and refusing to let go.

So, Barack Obama, there may be little you can do for us but please do carry on shouting about your father’s infested country. Do tell the world, and do keep shunning us. You are only saying what we should be saying ourselves. Do it until we understand that we must end our own rottenness for our own sakes.

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