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Today’s Kenya: A Shakespearean tragedy?

Justice Aaron Ringera, erstwhile head of the Kenya Anti-Corruption Commission, quoted Shakespeare extensively during his tenure and elaborately during his prolonged departure. He is a lifelong devotee of the Great Bard, and with good reason: any lover of English must of necessity be a lover of the works of William Shakespeare. Such is his influence that many of the finer phrases in the language that we commonly use come from him.

So I thought I should join forces with the good judge and share some of those phrases with Kenyans, especially younger ones, whose appreciation of great literature is not, I fear, what it once was.

He draweth out the thread of his verbosity finer than the staple of his argument.
Justice Ringera gave us many a fine speech during his five years as the country’s top anti-corruption official. He recounted eloquently his tales of fish of all sizes and how he would fry them. He asked us to watch and wait, and many dramatic things would happen to those who bleed Kenyans dry. We’re still waiting. The thread of verbosity was indeed fine; the staple of the argument was proved to be feeble indeed.

There is a tide in the affairs of men / Which taken at the flood, leads on to fortune; / Omitted, all the voyage of their life / Is bound in shallows and in miseries.
I quoted that one in 2006, when the Anglo Leasing scam was on all the front pages, and when John Githongo was forced into exile. It was Kenya’s “moment of truth”. Well, we blew it. Justice Ringera has much to ponder in retirement. History chose him to head the anti-corruption battle at a unique time in Kenya’s history, when a corrupt regime had been bundled out and when public support to fight high-level graft was at its strongest. Any number of big fish could have been fried at this special time, and Kenyans would only have applauded. Instead, we spent our time trading accusations and talking about corruption instead of acting on it. We listened to speeches. We didn’t take advantage of the tide, and so we reap the miseries.

And thus I clothe my naked villainy / With old odd ends, stol’n forth of holy writ; / And seem a saint, / when most I play the devil.
The past few years have seen the rise of a very bad trend in political discourse: the rise of the sweet-talking, story-spinning leader. Once our leaders were bad and they made little pretence about it: they were surly men of few words who growled if challenged. Today, we have the spin-doctors and the holier-than-thou rascals, whose villainy is indeed clothed in the language of deceit. In today’s Kenya, everyone is vying to seem saintly. If you listened to our leaders and their spokesmen, you would imagine that there is no corruption in Kenya and no real problems at all, and that all our efforts deserve a resounding ‘A’ mark.

Virtue and genuine graces in themselves speak what no words can utter.
We don’t need silver-tongued devils; we need people who have no need to speak, no need to brand, no need to deploy spinmeisters and wordsmiths. Genuine virtue speaks for itself, and speaks louder than any speech or advertisement or manifesto or strategic plan. But genuine virtue is in short supply around here these days, and so we are deafened by the cacophonies emitted by pretend-leaders.

Action is eloquence.
This, more than anything else, should have been KACC’s motto and Justice Ringera’s clarion call. We did not pay the good judge Sh 150 million for fine words and lofty intentions; we paid for results. It matters not a jot how many files were prepared and how many cases investigated; what matters is what happened. And the answer to that is sweet nothing. Are the grandmasters of grand corruption behind bars? It is no use blaming this on terms of reference and the ecosystem of justice. Action is what is needed in Kenya, nothing more, nothing less. The time for talking is now long gone. Results will provide all the eloquence we need.

I wasted time, and now doth time waste me.
We wasted time, Kenyans, and it is wasting us. We are listening to endless claptrap about the war on corruption when the evidence of our own eyes and ears tells us that this is a joke war, a puppet show, a fable for children. Only the people can demand action, for the leaders will never provide it. It is time for you to ask yourself where you are in the battle for the soul of Kenya, and what your contribution will be. It’s your money and your problem and your nation. You decide how lightly you want to take this.

Brevity is the soul of wit.
And with that final urging from the Bard, it is time for me to sign off.

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