Sunday, October 20, 2013

The Kenyan Lootocracy

The footage of KDF looting the Westgate mall when they were purportedly fighting terror has caused understandable angst and anger among Kenyans. What is not clear to me is why we act surprised. After all, looting during times of national crisis is almost something of a national pastime.

One doesn’t have to look too far to find such instances. Remember the post-election violence? There was plenty of looting then. A shopping centre in Kisumu was stripped bare. Passengers getting off matatus in Kibera were robbed in broad daylight by supposed pro-democracy protesters.

Then once we had the Grand Coalition government, its first order of business was instituting a scheme to loot the national granary at a time when famine was stalking the country. By the time the politicians were done, a third of the country was starving.

In fact, throughout our history, Kenya has functioned very much as a Lootocracy. We were established as one by the British who after all came here to build a railway so they could loot the "Pearl of Africa". In the process, the decided they might as well steal from the natives in the area in between kingdoms of Uganda and the sea.

At independence, they handed the country over to a cabal of their lootenants, most of them former collaborators and homeguards, who continued to perfect the art of plunder and to transform it into a national ethos. Whatever they could lay their hands on, they stole. Government policy is today simply a vehicle for looting. Whether it is free primary education, retirement benefits for politicians or the VAT bill, it is still all about extracting money and resources from the natives.

This is why the MPigs feel little shame about demanding an obscene salary. Why the Judicial Service Commission feel nothing about earning equally obscene allowances for placing their bums on seats  and doing jobs they are already paid to do. It is why the commissioners of the defunct ECK would hold one-person meetings to access the same allowance. Why the police can loot and rape and kill refugees with impunity.

Thus, it is more than a touch hypocritical when we shout about KDF pillaging a mall but are silent when the government says it can only satisfactorily account for 6% of the money it spent last year. Or when Nairobi County proposes to spend nearly half a billion shillings to install 42 CCTV cameras around the city while it costs Pakistan less than 20 million to install 260 of them (our Chinese friends are apparently charging us a 16,200% premium).

The truth is few Kenyans would have behaved any different had it been them in that mall. The crowds that were gathered outside may have been there out of sympathy and curiosity but it is doubtless that many were there to scavenge too. It is the common story of long-lost "relatives" suddenly materializing at the homes of recently departed tycoons to demand their share of the spoils. Julius Nyerere once described us as a man-eat-man society. I think we behave more like a nation of vultures.

I think decades of predation by the government has destroyed our sense of community. We have become atomized, each man for himself, by the abuse meted out by state. Under the guise of “development” it has reduced humanity to a game of numbers, people to economic units, to little more than indentured labour in the machinery of extraction. Life itself has become commoditized. We have learnt to value productivity, not human beings, build markets not communities.

Our morality, our outrage, even our grief are all for sale to highest bidder.

I wonder what would happen if we tried to reimagine our communities, to see all people as people. Would we be more likely to build bonds with our neighbours instead of spying on them at the state’s behest. What if we saw the children of the poor who are currently locked into a failing education system as people? Would we be settling for gimmicks like the elusive free laptops as a panacea? What if we saw refugees or the victims of post-election violence as people? Would we demand justice for them? What if we saw women and girls as people? Or homosexuals as people? Or the other tribes as people? Or even ourselves as people?

Unfortunately until now, the lootocrats have encouraged us to do the opposite. To live by the law of the economic jungle, to uphold the morality of the market, only seeing each other as either potential threats or potential prey. They have urged us to fear others and not to trust ourselves. Because, just like we saw at Westgate, and during the elections and in countless other instances, the Lootocracy thrives in a climate where people are too terrified to ask uncomfortable questions.


Anonymous said...

I could not agree more.

Anonymous said...

On the same note I was astonished to see that the NHIF had plans to build a 24billion referral hospital in Karen (af all places), when District hospitals are under-resourced.What is more disgusting is that the insurance fund has no business getting into "real estate" development.

slick said...

Its funny how their leader defended them by claiming they were carrying bottles of water. Do some of these guys consult before lying to us.How can they go to a fully packed mall and the only thing they could afford to salvage are water bottles.Leaves many questions answered don't have to use polythene bags to carry water.

Mark Kiarie said...

Couldn't agree more. Slight error in this,"Why the Judicial Service Commission feel nothing about earning equally obscene allowances for placing their bums on seats and doing jobs they are already paid to do." The JSC only earns allowances not a monthly salary