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Reasons to be hopeful in Kenya in 2010

2008 and 2009 were years of great gloom in Kenya. We kicked off 2008 with a bloodbath orchestrated by leaders and delivered by angry young men. Since then we have been on a tumultuous ride, facing a faltering economy, a hydra-headed leadership and a plethora of scams and scandals. The words “failed state” and “Kenya” are being used in the same sentence all too often, not least by Kenyans.

So it would be easy to kick off 2010 with a sense of foreboding. There is probably worse to come. We have not yet seen the worst of the economic recession. Our leaders and governance systems are no better. And moral collapse is evident throughout the nation.

And yet, I am strangely hopeful. I think 2010 might be the year in which we finally face and tame the beast. It might be the year that history records as the turning point, when we finally put aside our bad old ways and commence the new. I find a small set of reasons to be hopeful. In the coming weeks I will elaborate on these reasons, but for now let us consider the first of them.

The first reason is that I think the monster we call impunity is finally under concerted attack. This country has been run for far too long as though it is the personal plaything of a ruling class. The wadosi have got away with every damn thing over the years and never been called to account: fraud, looting, tribal warfare, negligence, murder, rape and general abuse of office. That may be about to end.

Consider what happened in 2009. The ramifications of 2008’s bold and inspired Waki Report started to be understood by Kenyans. The International Criminal Court became intimate with Kenya, much to our leaders’ chagrin. The ICC’s very real threat to prosecute some very big names caused much ululation and wailing. This was excellent stuff, and should the ICC manage to fulfil its intention in 2010, Kenya may never be the same again. For the very first time, shedding the blood of innocents may receive some measure of retribution and recompense.

In 2009, the president was unable to reappoint a close friend to head the Kenya Anti-Corruption Commission, due to a public outcry and a roadblock in parliament. And KACC seems to have grown some teeth in the process. 2010 holds out the promise of a new team at its head, hopefully leading the first, historic, meaningful assault against corruption in our history.

More generally, the legislature no longer plays ball with the executive; some parts of the media are increasingly emboldened to expose wrongdoing at the top; and the public are no longer willing to accept repeated theft of their tax money. We have become argumentative and testy, and for a nation long steeped in brainless acceptance of high-level wrongdoing that is a fine thing. A number of previously untouchable bigwigs found themselves squirming in increasingly hot seats as their antics were exposed and derided by the public.

As a backdrop to all this kelele is the promise of a new constitution for the country. As I write this, we are steeped in arguments about centres of power, devolution, religion and institutions. The last time we tried to enact a new constitution, those arguments derailed us. This time round there is genuine fatigue about constitutional matters, and a widespread emotion amongst the populace that we surely cannot reject another draft. This time, the arguments may lead to enhancements, and the enhancements to enactments. If 2010 yields a constitution that genuinely protects human rights and curtails the powers of the executive, we may be on the brink of a new age in Kenya.

The egregious examples of impunity we experienced throughout 2009 may cause you to doubt this. After all, we observed many a scam, various unsolved executions, and lots of crude and belligerent statements by politicians. But force your mind to take a longer-term view. Think back to the seventies and eighties. That was a time when people who asked questions just disappeared. Politicians who tried to fight for their people were detained without trial for years. Editors were on a tight leash from State House. The president was God, and appointed whomsoever he wished to whatever position. We had no infrastructure: no streetlights, no roads or telephony worth mentioning.

All of that, surely, is behind us. As Kenyans become more and more educated and exposed to the rest of the world through the media, they are beginning to understand that they are not passive bystanders in determining their own fate. They are turning away from the tribal overlords who have misled them for decades. They are ready for leadership made by the people. There will be plenty of commotion in 2010, and many a reversal in the battle for a new Kenya. But with any luck, the impunity ogre may just receive a couple of fatal blows.

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