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Friday, April 05, 2013

Brave New Kenya

It’s less than a week since the Supreme Court put a stamp of legality, if not exactly credibility, on the presidential election. As Uhuru Kenyatta prepares to be sworn in, and the country is tries to regain some semblance of normality, it is hard not to feel that something fundamental has changed.

Not long after Chief Justice Willy Mutunga announced the decision, TV anchors were giggling at footage of a woman being forcefully undressed and her undergarments strewn about (They would later apparently issue grudging apologies on Twitter). “I don’t know whether I should laugh or get mad,” says one, apparently unsure of what would be the appropriate response to the public humiliation of a woman just because an ignorant mob did not approve of the way she was dressed. A few months ago, they would probably have been screaming blue murder. In this new era, there also seems to be little appetite for the prosecution of the attackers. In fact, the media appears determined to sweep the whole incident under the national carpet.

Neither has much been made of the case of blogger Robert Alai, who was arrested and charged in criminal court with posting offensive, annoying and false message on his twitter account about Head of Civil Service Francis Kimemia. The clamour to erase criminal libel laws has apparently today grown into a deafening silence.

It feels like something is amiss when one sees reports (later denied) of the government apparently contemplating giving sole broadcasting rights to a public event, not to mention one as important as the inauguration, to a private company. Or when one of the most respected and sober commentators appears to agree with the most rabid characterisation of prominent human rights and political reform activists, claiming they are leading us “into the dark embrace of imperial slavery.”

Perhaps we are just trying to find our bearings after weathering the electoral storm. However, I just can’t shake the feeling that our trust in the rusty moral compass that has been our guide through the political storms of the last quarter of a century has been somehow shaken.

In these new waters, the familiar landmarks are still there but seem strangely reversed. The villains of yesterday have become the new heroes of today; the rehabilitation of Daniel Moi as a lovable and wise elder statesman is almost as complete as is the demonization of those who stood against him. In a darkly ironic twist, during the election season one paint manufacturer saw fit to run ads calling for brightly coloured "peace, love, unity," the slogan behind which Moi had wreaked havoc with our lives and livelihoods. Those who oppose impunity, who take a stand against corruption and electoral malpractice, who demand the freedom to speak their thoughts or dress as they wish - these are today’s enemies.

Today, success seems measured in monetary terms. When one paper this week reported on the recently introduced traffic rules, the piece focussed on the fact that the government had collected Kshs. 500 million in fines from the over 2000 drivers that were being arrested daily. That the laws had had little effect in reducing deaths (road users were still dying at the rate of over 280 per month) merited only a passing mention in an obscure paragraph at the end of the article.

When assessing the performance of the Kibaki government, much is said of the improvements in infrastructure and economic growth, most of it ignoring the fact that when measured by longevity, knowledge, and a decent standard of living for its populace, the country's score, though improved, still comes in pretty much near the bottom of the global pile. Equally, when we discuss the new constitution, we focus on the devolution of resources and relatively little ink is spilt discussing the Bill of Rights.

I can’t help wondering whether we have just struck a grand bargain with our murderous elite. Whether we have not traded in justice for peace and values for prosperity. A laptop for our kids and superhighways, virtual and real –these are today’s struggles. Notions of equality and accountability are so yesterday. The imperialist West with its flaky notions of freedom and human rights and its flailing economies no longer holds any attraction for us. We prefer the hard pragmatists in the East. Our new political model is China. What does it matter if you break a few eggs to bake the national cake? Liberal democracy may sound nice but it won’t put food on the table.

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

Finally someone who acknowledges that Kibaki has not taken this country forward. Refreshing.

Mahmud Abdulla said...

a spade is a spade is a spade. so for ten more years kenyans will bury their collective heads in the sand and then pray that someone from somewhere will help dig them out of this giant cess pit. good luck.

racheljaber said...

At last, someone shares my views...its all about the monetary value...our education system not exclusive. Double intakes for self sponsored students because they mean more income for our institutions then teach them what will be in the exam papers...you want to prove that? Take a university student (probably from Kenyatta University) and try to argue with them a topic that falls under a unit they got an A....(and be prepared to be shocked)....

Anonymous said...

Where have you been all my life!

Tony said...

This is cool!