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The Sunshine Awards 2009 – highs and lows of the year

It is time for “A Sunny Day” to announce its annual Sunshine Awards, to honour those individuals and organisations that excelled, and to slate those who brought dismay to the world and disgrace to themselves. Recall two things about these awards: one, that we use the word “sunshine” to evoke both good cheer and the shedding of light in dark places; and two, that these awards are personal, quirky and idiosyncratic, and have no auditing process.

2009’s Pointless Argument of the Year is undoubtedly the one between Raila Odinga and William Ruto. Why anyone in the world has the faintest interest in this spat is beyond me. So two cunning politicians came together before the last general election in a marriage of convenience; so they parted after it no longer suited them to be together. So what? Why does that surprise anyone? Of what importance is it to the future of Kenya what any of these self-absorbed political schemers do? Why do the media put them on our front pages and TV screens day after day? And when will we the people learn to look beyond vapid personality battles? Please, people of Kenya, get a life (and a country).

The Idiotic Utterances of the Year were made by assorted Rift Valley politicians who were protesting the reclamation of the Mau Forest. While pretending to care about the rights of lowly squatters, these politicians have been on a crusade to protect their own illegal and immoral allocations of land excised from the country’s main water-tower. This charade reached a low point when they were heard asking their constituents whether rain comes from trees or from the sky, and proclaiming the ecological efficacy of tea bushes. Children, pay heed: this is why going to school and paying attention is a good thing.

Kenya’s Institution of the Year was the International Criminal Court (ICC) at the Hague. This is apparently the only functioning institution in Kenya – and it’s not even in the country. Certainly, it has put the fear of God in our politicians and has sent them scampering for safety in all directions and mouthing contradictory utterances every other day. For once, and for the first time in half a century, those who engage in impunity in Kenya may get a comeuppance. This historic achievement can only be made by relying on a foreign institution. That is to our shame. But having watched our own institutions crumble to dust before our eyes, the shame is fully deserved.

Yet the ICC can only help us sort out a handful of individuals. Those things that rely on local justice are spinning in the mud. The Survivor of the Year in Kenya is therefore impunity, rumours of whose impending demise are much exaggerated. Think about it: you can be caught doing pretty much anything in Kenya and get away with it. In 2009 we have witnessed pyramid schemes, companies that scam their customers, organised duty evasion rackets, collapsing buildings, seizure of arms caches, sale of examination papers and pretty much every other evil practice under the sun. Now, do you want to count with me how many people we jailed (or even fined) for doing those things?

The Prefect of the Year was Kofi Annan. Remember those prefects from your school days, the ones who came periodically to rap your knuckles and tell you to behave yourself, using the backing of unspecified and mysterious powers? Well, it seems grown-ups need them too. Or at least, the pretend grown-ups who pretend to lead the country certainly do. Every few months we are treated to the spectacle of “Kofi’s in town”, when our politicians turn pious and show the prefect all the homework they have done since he was away. They are then told off in scathing terms, and given a report card that says “must behave better and try harder.” After the prefect leaves, the delinquents go back to throwing mudballs at each other.

And finally, let’s end with something hopeful. It is apparently still possible to do the right thing in Kenya. The Gesture of the Year was made by a head-teacher I came across, who shall remain anonymous. This gentleman placed his own child at the back of a waiting list to join the school he heads. He did not give his own offspring any special status and refused to countenance any jumping of the queue. In a country where using positions of power to promote entire villages is the norm, I am filled with admiration for this man’s adherence to principle. Long may he, and his daughter, reap the fruits of his rectitude. No one will honour this teacher or give him any accolades. But he has a deeper satisfaction inside him, one that few encounter: the warm glow of knowing you have done what is right.

I wish you all a 2010 in which more of us become willing to do the right thing.

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