Story By Dr Lukoye Atwoli
(Edited Version published Sunday Nation 08 February 2008, Page 20)
Last week, following the Sachang’wan fire disaster which came hot on the heels of the Nakumatt fire, the government came out guns blazing and declared that the survivors of these incidents would get the ‘best care available in the country’, in the words of the Prime Minister. Foreign medics were promised to help treat those with severe injuries. Five days of official mourning were quickly declared, and Kenyans were exhorted to pray and seek divine intervention in these trying times.
Later, the government set up a ‘fund’ to raise money for survivors of both incidents in a tacit recognition of the fact that there is no coherent policy to tackle the poverty that continues to spread remorselessly across the country.
These responses by the government betray a system tottering on the brink of collapse. Promising the ‘best available care’ to survivors of a disaster while the rest of the citizenry suffer under a system of healthcare that seems to function despite the best efforts of government is callous at best!
Going out to beg for money mostly from the tax-paying public to fund emergency health care is a terrible indictment of a government that has failed to provide for a system of universal health care that would have taken care of the majority of the citizenry in times of need. Noises are only made about such a system during the election cycle, but it is soon forgotten once the politicians are safely in power.
Instead of dealing with the real causes of the incidents, such as a failure to ensure public safety in the Nakumatt case, and complex interplay of road safety, greed, poverty and security failures in the Sachang’wan case, the government chose to play safe and ask Kenyans to mourn the dead and pray for the living!
Indeed those responsible for the failures that resulted in these incidents are sleeping soundly with no threat of litigation or public opprobrium in the unlikely event that their failures are exposed. It is a fair certainty that after all mea culpas and attendant rituals, nobody will be held responsible for any of the incidents.
It is all good and proper to pray and ask God for divine guidance, but this cannot become a national policy in the event of every problem we face. It is a practice that indicates a lack of planning and preparation for multiple eventualities. It exposes leaders who got into government expecting fun and games, and faced with unfavorable conditions, they discover they have no idea how to handle the situation.
A government whose idea of disaster intervention is to turn to prayer and declare several days of national mourning has no business governing. As a society, we set up government in order for it to deal with the difficult times and the disasters that we face from time to time. Most people would have absolutely no problem taking care of the good times.
It follows therefore that a government that does not know how to handle the tough times and crises needs to go back to the electorate, confess their ineptitude and allow the citizens to elect a new team to run the country.
It is time Kenyans faced up to the reality that most of the post-Moi era has been a wasted opportunity. The optimism that greeted the NARC government was misplaced, and the Grand Coalition extension of that mistake is even worse than its predecessor. It is tottering from crisis to crisis without a game plan, and perhaps it is time we ended this experiment and moved on to better things.
It is time for the emergence of a new crop of leaders who have a comprehensive vision of the sort of future they want for their children and grand-children. It is time we conceptualized a government devoid of these cognitively challenged Neanderthals and their cronies, and thought up a system where values matter, and parties stand for something. If it turns out to be too difficult for us to imagine this, let us then at least turn to individuals who actually believe in something, and who will take responsibility for their failures.
Let us move beyond ‘leaders’ who threaten the entire nation with disintegration whenever their names are mentioned in any way that reflects negatively on their character and record. We must also brush aside those whose only claim to leadership is the invocation of their ethnic pedigree.
It is said that true leaders are forged in times of crisis. Nature has handed us many crises, and unless we take advantage of them and shake up our system of governance, we are doomed to bequeath the next generation with worse leaders than the ones we have today.