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Why things may get worse before they get better

What on earth has happened to India? That country, one of the huge economic success stories of recent times, is resembling a banana republic again.

Witness the astonishing spectacle of “saints” and “godmen” holding “hunger fasts,” supposedly to end corruption. At first I wanted to applaud, thinking: now there’s a way to make a stand and create popular pressure against an entrenched problem.

Subsequent events led me to hold my head. One of the “godmen” in question, Baba Ramdev (a gentleman with a following numbering tens of millions) embarked on an astonishing series of antics, first trying to cut a deal with the Indian government to not hold his fast, then backtracking. Furious politicians sent in riot police to disperse Ramdev’s huge gathering. Mayhem ensued, in which Ramdev, rather than give himself up with dignity, tried to escape dressed as a woman…

He subsequently issued threats to form a private armed force to take on the government…before going to hospital weak from his hunger fast. You couldn’t make this stuff up. Sadly, officials in the Congress Party-led government behaved no better, tear-gassing innocents and making belligerent statements about political manoeuvres by opposition politicians, in the language of street fighters.

This, by the way, is a country aspiring to sit on the elite UN Security Council.

Why am I telling you all this about another country this fine Sunday? Because I fear we too are going to get worse before we get better.

Like us, India has great potential, but also some serious issues. It is struggling to translate runaway economic growth into betterment for the mass of its people. Most Indians are still hidebound by poor education, ignorance and superstition – making them ideal cannon-fodder for both politicos and padres. And India’s corrupt traditions in business and politics are deeply embedded. Sound familiar?

So we, too, should expect to descend into comic disarray before we get serious. We are also going to encounter absurd resistance to change. Once our new constitution is implemented, this country will change forever. We will look back and laugh at the dark days. But meanwhile, the darkness is all around and the joke is on us.

Take the new public vetting processes that we have observed for the first time in recent weeks. The questions put to aspirants to high office verged on the asinine – were they ever questioned on matters of substance? Nevertheless, the new public scrutiny is a fine thing. It will cause a genuine sea-change in the quality of the people steering the good ship Kenya. Of course, we need to strengthen the process and improve the quality of the questioners – but we must give it time.

Meanwhile, Old Kenya, like Old India, will bite back. Those who benefit from decades of patronage will not give up without a fight. Malevolent politicians will assemble ignorant hordes to win numerical battles. Misguided souls will dress up in tribal regalia to mutter warnings about their favoured sons. None of that is going away any time soon.

This is a slow-burn war. We will make small, uncertain steps – but we will keep going. The combination of constitutional change, economic upheaval and demographic shifts will ensure that we get to a better Kenya. A younger, more educated, more irreverent, more open-minded population will eventually deliver a different country. Already, the outrage over scrutiny of public funds and the performance of state agencies is building. Kenyans are finally beginning to say: we won’t take it any more. Stop all the posturing, deliver results.

The final act of this play will have a happy ending. We may have to put with both tragedy and farce before we get there, however.

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