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President’s trimming of motorcade could be just the beginning

Nov 08, 2009 Leadership, Sunday Nation

It’s not easy to be optimistic in Kenya these days, and most conversations about the future are laced with gloom. But last week brought us probably the most positive development seen in Kenya in recent times. You may have missed it, though.

President Kibaki, when he left to attend a conference in Nigeria, reportedly travelled to the airport in a convey of just five chase cars. Yes, you read that right. Not thirty-five, not twenty-five – just five. The presidential motorcade did not block the traffic, and went almost unnoticed to the airport. Why is that big news? Because if the President is serious, this could mark a sea-change in the governance of the land.

Mr President, allow me to address you personally here and congratulate you. That was an excellent thing you did. In the past, your ridiculously long motorcades and the eagerness of the police to block every major road on your route created untold mayhem. Nairobi, not exactly a city of free-flowing traffic even on the best of days, used to come virtually to a halt whenever you deemed it necessary to go out for a spin. And the resultant gridlock would usually take hours to unravel.

I congratulate you unreservedly for noticing this and taking the requisite action. You have no doubt discerned that in the twenty-first century a huge motorcade is not a sign of status or power, but of its opposite. You have realised that those assorted cronies, acolytes, sycophants, wastrels, idlers and time-wasters who used to pile into thirty-odd state-of-the-art vehicles just to accompany you to the airport were adding nothing to the national product. The economist in you no doubt fulminated against the egregious waste of resources involved in so ludicrous an outing. And calculated the loss to the productivity of the people who actually drive the economy, who are forced to sit still for hours.

Mr President, you are a well-travelled and cultured man. You have no doubt observed that they don’t do motorcades in the rest of world. I was once standing on a street in London, and watched a relatively nondescript Jaguar race by, with a chase car in front and one behind. Hardly a ripple passed through the traffic, and if I had blinked I would have missed it. It was only later that I realised that I had just seen Britain’s Prime Minister drive past. In the same country, the shadow chancellor takes the underground railway to work, and the leader of the opposition rides a bicycle.

Big motorcades are an African thing, and it is time Africa left them behind. They were designed by leaders from the past plagued by inferiority complexes, to amaze and astound the rural multitudes and create the myth of the Big Man leader. Those days are behind us now, and we are delighted that you have stopped the nonsense at State House.

But Mr President, since you appear to be in a progressive and reformist mood, may I impress some other much-needed changes on you? I have no doubt that the issue of your legacy is weighing heavily on your mind these days. You are in a unique position to make a real impact on the future of this country. You have only two or three years to go as our President, after which you must step down. You have nothing to lose. Yet you could use the time left to do all the things that Kenya really needs.

Since you’re in the mood, you could REALLY leave a legacy for Kenya now. You could singlehandedly make the first telling assault on the problem that really plagues us: corruption. It must disappoint you deeply to see what your senior people are up to, for nothing is sacred anymore. Reports assail us of scams in all directions. Everything is being pillaged: money intended for IDPs, AIDS victims, starving drought-stricken Kenyans, the young and unemployed. It must make you very sad to see how leaders are impoverishing this country.

Your friend Jacob Zuma is facing a similar situation in his country. Unlikely though it seems given his past, the president of South Africa has made a great start on the war against corruption. In recent months, the heads of his country’s national airline and public broadcaster and various other bigwigs have bitten the dust. The president’s people say more bureaucrats have been suspended in his first hundred days than in the past ten years. That is remarkable.

Mr President, you could do even more. You could really make a difference. You could order investigations and issue no-holds-barred directives. You could personally oversee a complete overhaul of all the law-enforcing organs. You could be ruthless with those who steal from orphans and widows. Your people will applaud you. Your legacy will be assured. Your term as our leader has not yet hit the heights, but could do so with great impact as you leave. Do it for us, sir.

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