Now, let’s get down to business
Kenya has much to be proud of. It has come through a general election with maturity and respect for legal process. It has formed a new government with hardly a drop of blood being shed. It has set an example to Africa.
For this, we must thank the winners for not gloating or basking in cheap triumphalism; and also thank those who did not win, yet conceded to the verdicts of the people and the Supreme Court with grace.
Our just-held inauguration ceremony was full of jazz and razzmatazz, and was a day on which it would have been difficult for any Kenyan not to hope that perhaps we are indeed about to embark on a fresh start for a new generation.
Wait, though. Assuming leadership is not an achievement; fulfilling the promise of leadership is. Nothing has happened yet, except that a few people have new titles and some great speeches have been made. Whether this will indeed be a government to propel us into a great future remains very much to be seen.
As the Jubilee government settles into the business of ruling, it must bear several things in mind. Let me highlight just a few this Sunday.
First, everything will depend on the team that is appointed. The credentials and character of the people given key dockets are of crucial importance. At the time of writing, senior appointments had not been announced, but there is great hope that they will reflect a break from the past.
They must. We will not ‘go digital’ by reconnecting broken fax machines to the new network, so to speak. The new Narc government of 2003 made many a misstep in its first senior appointments, and had its project tainted very early on. Jubilee must have the gumption to truly break away from people and policies long past their sell-by dates, and bring in fresh thoughts and new energies.
Second, we must stop pretending to already be a rich, first-world nation. We are not. We cannot pay world-beating salaries and award grotesque perks to public servants. We are currently suffering severe public revenue shortfalls and facing a mounting debt burden. To afford even a few of Jubilee’s grand election promises and the costs of an expanded government, much else must be stripped away. The new president and deputy president would do well to introduce strict financial discipline from the outset. Reducing their own pay and retinue of unnecessary motorcades and hangers-on would be an excellent start.
Third, Kenya may well be poised to experience a continuing business boom. But for heaven’s sake, let this not be a time when the country’s elite smile all the way to the NSE, and the ordinary person is asked to wait for 2030 for the benefits to trickle down. It is time to face the problems of the poor squarely and resolutely: their education, health, job opportunities and incentives for self-advancement. Every Kenyan government to date has looked away from the problem of unemployment and ingrained poverty. Let this one show it is different.
Lastly, under the surface froth of good feeling lurk many old devils. The word ‘corruption’ features prominently in the past and present of Kenya. It is the cancer that keeps the body from growing. Will this also be a government that smirks at frauds and laughs off impunity, or will it stop the rot once and for all, for the good of all?
Good wishes, then, to the new regime as it takes the reins. You may have received sufficient votes to take power, and sufficient applause to feel good about yourselves. But your place in history will come from being bold in your ambitions, innovative in your methods, and in helping this nation find its moral centre again.