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The sad saga of the Kenyan Ark

Dec 11, 2011 Humour, Sunday Nation

Once upon a time, it rained and rained and rained in Kenya. And then it rained some more. It began to look like the rain might never end. As the nation had never invested in proper drainage systems, the whole country looked like it might be lost underwater.

Someone came up with the bright idea of building a Kenyan Ark to leave all the myriad problems behind, escape and start the country afresh elsewhere. However, the government soon noticed this initiative and made it a political project. And then the problems began.

The first difficulty was to elect a captain. Leading politicians disagreed violently, even resorting to fisticuffs. Eventually, Kofi Annan flew in and announced a coalition captain at a press conference held on a decommissioned ferry.

The second difficulty related to the passenger list. Tribal chieftains clashed on proportional representation. After much thunder and lightning, it was agreed that all the tribes registered at the National Museum would send representatives in two by two. Briefly, some Kenyans started an SMS lottery to sell Ark tickets, but closed their offices overnight and disappeared after selling a million seats in a week.

The next problem was the cost of construction. The Chinese government offered to build the Kenyan Ark in exchange for exclusive rights to all the water resources in the country. This was readily agreed to and signed. However, vigilant activists filed a court injunction and the proposal had to be rethought.

MPs and ministers formed a fact-finding committee to tour Venice, Amsterdam and the Amazon Basin to learn international best practice in ark-building technology, for an outlay of just Sh 2 billion. They were accompanied by wives, concubines and offspring, both legitimate and illegitimate.

Eventually, tenders were issued and finally a contract was awarded to a new company called Uwongo Brothers for just Sh 50 billion. The company had been formed just a month prior, and its website contained photos of successful projects completed across the globe.

Many months and much waterlogging later, the Kenyan Ark was ready for launch. A sparkling function that cost just Sh 5 billion was arranged to say goodbye to the Kenyans setting off for a brave new world. However, this was delayed by the chief guest arriving five hours late. An activist who had chained himself to the side of the Ark also caused a brief commotion. Passengers failed to make an orderly queue, and overlapping led to further delays.

Finally, it was launched! The Ark set off to the resounding cacophony of a navy band. As Kenyans waved from the shore, however, disaster struck. The Ark did not even make it out of the Likoni channel before it capsized, killing all on board. The Kenyan Red Cross was immediately on the scene, but it was too late.

Accusations threw thick and fast about Uwongo Brothers’ standards of workmanship. Witnesses revealed that the Ark had in fact been constructed by prisoners and kidnapped street-children using leftover plywood. The builder was now discovered to have no registered office in London or anywhere else. The Minister for Systematic Obfuscation however issued a statement denying any wrongdoing, stating that the passengers had in fact sat badly.

It was also discovered that several other Arks had been commissioned with official government papers, and had sold millions of seats. None were actually built.

An official commission of inquiry was ordered into the fiasco, at a cost of just Sh 10 billion. Two years later, it issued its report which absolved all public officials of blame and found no evidence of wrongdoing. It noted that no money had been stolen, and the episode was filed as an act of God.

(With much gratitude to Kenya’s witty “Twitterati” who contributed many thoughts to this article)

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