Monday, September 29, 2008


Edited version Published Daily Nation Monday 29 September 2008.

By Lukoye Atwoli

The entry of ‘youthful’ politicians onto the national stage excited many in the early days after the elections. People gleefully pointed out the ‘old guard’ who had been thrown out and replaced by young leaders who would presumably inject new ideas and vigour into our national politics. Many thought, barring the fiasco that was the presidential election that ignited ethnic fires across the country, that the new leaders would introduce a new paradigm of leadership devoid of the tribal tint the pre-independence generation were captive to.
In the recent past many of these youthful leaders have moved to swiftly disabuse Kenyans of any notion of ‘newness’ in the way they do business. They have been heard saying ridiculous things like ‘the Rift Valley has given up too much; we will fight for the rights of our region’ and similar tripe. Others are heard stridently repeating the tired cliché: ‘It is our turn to eat- the national cake must be shared equitably’.
Despite being relatively young, these leaders have embraced the same old tired way of doing things, electing to follow the wind instead of forming the essential bulwark against national disintegration. The hopes many had placed in them must now be reevaluated, and the nation must wait another generation for the emergence of true leadership.
Political commentators like Tom Mshindi (Daily Nation, Friday 12 September 2008) in attempting to correct this wayward brood, only end up perpetuating the same tribal nonsense they set out to demolish. Mshindi, for instance, peppered his contribution with messages to tribal leaderships to ‘take advantage of the numerical strength at the national level’. He even refers to the ‘notion of tribal coalition as popular! There can be no clearer indication of intellectual bankruptcy than this.
What Kenya needs is a generation of leaders who stand up for something much more significant than what Justice Johann Kriegler so eloquently referred to as their ‘grandfathers’ surnames’. We need leaders who can see further than their own political noses into a future in which their own roles will be diminished and the reins of leadership will be in different hands.
When youthful leaders make political threats meant to perpetuate environmental degradation, it displays a great degree of incurable myopia that puts to shame all those who have trust in youth and generational change. The older leaders’ stake in the future of Kenya is limited, since many of them have lived long enough to see their grandchildren and great-grandchildren. It is the younger leaders with children still in diapers who need to keep an eye on the future, laying plans for a better life for the next generation.
Allowing themselves to be drawn into the old politics of ‘my people, their people’ only lowers their claim to greater responsibility and power, for it betrays a hunger, greed or thirst with the potential of outdoing the Goldenberg and Anglo-leasing generation of leaders. All our political thieves do so in the name of their people, even when the so-called ‘people’ do not extend beyond the perimeter walls of their palatial mansions.
As our leaders dither, the rest of the world is moving on, and nations are confronting their own demons. For the first time in history, the United States of America is confronting its twin bogeymen of race and gender discrimination. One candidate is an ethnic minority in the truest sense of the word, being the son of a one-time visitor to the US without the race memory of White supremacy or Black enslavement. The other candidate has chosen a woman for a running mate in a country still populated with women who in their youth did not have voting rights!
Our country needs a similar political re-engineering to come up with a non-tribal system where one campaigns on a platform of issues that matter in the lives of common citizens. Campaigns should be built on issues like healthcare, education, infrastructure development, trade and foreign policy, and not on moronic subjects like ‘this tribe has ruled for too long and needs to be taught a lesson’, or ‘ this community cannot lead this country because they do not circumcise their men’!
Believe it or not, these two were major themes in our campaigns last year, and their animal appeal played a significant part in the eruption of violence after the disputed results. In electing a new generation of leaders, we had hoped to change our political discourse into something more enlightened, and not more of the same.
Clearly we only managed to pour new wine into old wineskins, and now as the Good Book warns us, the new wine has ‘burst the skins and will be spilled, and the skins will be destroyed’.

Dr Lukoye Atwoli is a Consultant Psychiatrist and Lecturer, Moi University School of Medicine

Monday, September 15, 2008

MPs' baffling display of mediocrity

Daily Nation
Publication date: September 15 2008

Our MPs never cease to amaze. Recently, some of them used the floor of Parliament to concoct a theory that a non-alcoholic beverage actually contained alcohol and that the brewer was using it to corrupt the morals of our children.
The proof offered by the parliamentarian was the riots that rocked schools during the ‘mock’ exams season, and an alleged experiment by some pupils that is said to have demonstrated alcohol in one of the drinks!
Despite assurances by the Kenya Bureau of Standards and the responsible ministry, these MPs insisted on using tax-payers’ money to go and verify the claims that the drink contains alcohol.
This mediocrity of thought and behaviour was magnified several times over when the index ranking constituencies by poverty levels was released.
Many MPs went to town with claims that the index was doctored to show that their constituencies had become richer than they were five years ago! So loud was the noise that the minister suspended the index pending investigations.
Whether the index was doctored or not cannot be ascertained in these columns. What is of interest, however, is the knee-jerk reaction of MPs who indicate that it would be better if their constituencies are forever ranked as the poorest.
The reason given is that the poorest constituencies receive more handouts in the form of constituency development funds than the richer ones.
In the extremely suspicion-laden political environment our country currently finds itself in, many may find justification in the claims of interference with statistics.
Indeed any official document released by the Government will first be viewed with suspicion and intensely criticised before being accepted reluctantly, if at all.
What is baffling is the speed at which our representatives rushed to criticise the index without looking at the methodology, basing their rejection of the ranking purely on the perceived improvement of poverty levels in their constituencies.
This tells us what their plans are for their people — maintain them in the poorest possible state, dependent on State largesse, which they can then claim as their own.
It is instructive that in five years, these MPs will be falling all over themselves to show how they have improved the lot of their constituents and asking for another five years ‘to complete the development projects they will have started’.
By dismissing the poverty ranking index, they are sending out a clear message that they will not abide any method of evaluating their performance.
The goal of the index should include evaluating the effectiveness of the CDF that is disbursed regularly to the constituencies.
In an ideal situation, if an audit uncovers inefficiencies in the administration of the fund, changes would be instituted to address these weaknesses and make the fund more useful to the people.
Indeed, if the fund is found to be harmful and counterproductive, it would be better to scrap it and think up more meaningful uses to put our money to.
Politicians have perfected the art of empty rhetoric and populist outbursts to the point that they have stopped paying attention to the content of their speech.
This they do with the active connivance of Kenyans who look on and applaud every farcical statement they make.
In the middle of all this, the poverty levels continue to rise, inflation eats away at the savings of the common man, commodity prices climb remorselessly and incomes continue to dwindle.
No politician is displaying the kind of vision needed to raise this country out of the dark hole it is digging itself into. Instead they are either peering into crystal balls trying to figure out if they will be alive in 2012, or making useless noises in defence of their ‘principals’.
As demonstrated in our recent history, this country is suffering from an acute crisis of leadership.

Dr Atwoli is a consultant psychiatrist and lecturer at the Moi University School of Medicine.