Saturday, October 31, 2009

Applauding the few brave women of Malindi

Sunday Nation 01 November 2009

Almost unheralded, a revolutionary act was committed by a few brave women at the Kenyan coast last week. During a Sunday sermon in Malindi, female members of the congregation protested loudly when the priest suggested that men were becoming homosexual because women ‘‘had failed to do the job that God gave them’’.

This statement was made in the context of the reported ‘‘marriage’’ between two men of Kenyan descent in the United Kingdom. The local media was awash with the story, interviewing distraught parents and villagers in a bid to contextualise the matter and, of course, outdo their competitors in the process. Some radio presenters on the more raunchy shows were heard suggesting that these (gay) guys should be ‘‘slapped’’ out of their misguided behaviour!

While everyone has given their two cents’ worth on this matter, some more passionately than others, very few have gone beyond simply expressing their disgust to examining the serious underlying issues. The Malindi priest tried to explain his ‘‘disappointment’’ especially with Kenyan women for ‘‘allowing’’ their men to ‘‘go gay’’, but only succeeded in earning their wrath instead.

Suggestions have been made that homosexuality is dangerous because it puts small boys at risk of being sodomised. Others have argued that if allowed, the practice risks spreading rapidly and interfering with the cosmic scheme of things where man (and woman!) was meant to procreate and fill the earth. The bigger issue that needs to be examined is this: are the reasons given above sufficient in and of themselves to justify the extreme outpouring of emotion over private sexual preferences of individuals? Let us examine them in a little more detail.

The contention that homosexuality puts young boys at risk of being sodomised is severely flawed, for it assumes that all homosexual men have no control over their sexuality and will prey on unsuspecting members of the public and practically rape them to satisfy their sexual urges.

Followed to its logical conclusion, however, this argument implies that heterosexuals will similarly put young boys and girls at risk by the mere fact of being sexually active! At the core of this argument is the assumption that people do not have control over their sexual impulses, an assumption that does not find support in empirical evidence.

A similar argument was exposed in Franz Fanon’s writings about the attitudes of colonial Europeans towards the sexuality of Africans, and was thought to be at the core of ideologies such as apartheid that sought to keep white women away from black men for their own protection. African men were thought to be savages with no control over their sexuality, and it seems this argument is now being applied on African homosexual men!

The assertion that homosexuality must be checked to reduce the risk of its rampant spread in this country suggests that all men are susceptible to homosexual impulses and therefore need protection from rampaging gay men who may just convince them to play ball.

The natural conclusion from an argument such as this is that those complaining loudest fear that they may be ‘‘converted’’ themselves and their protests are some sort of self-inoculation against the practice! In psychological terms, this is an ego defence mechanism known as reaction formation, implying that those feeling so strongly about the subject must first examine their own attitudes towards it before going out and causing such a ruckus.

Finally, the Malindi priest attempted to examine the causes of homosexuality among Kenyan men, and came to the conclusion that Kenyan women were to blame for not taking better care of their men. He also suggested that parents had abdicated their responsibility and were therefore also to blame for their children’s transgressions.

Homosexuality is often a very personal experience, and its prevalence in Kenyan society may never really be known as a result. Homosexuals do not clamber onto rooftops to proclaim their sexual preferences, and most practise their sexual behaviour in the privacy of their homes. The decision to practise homosexuality is therefore made privately, and has very little to do with what other people think or feel about it.

Blaming women collectively for the choices of individual men reeks of a form of parochial sexism that has no place in the sort of society we are trying to build in this century. We must therefore applaud the women of Malindi for rekindling the hope that a better future is possible if we are willing to stand up to hypocrisy and destructive leadership. Let us learn from this epochal act and start saying ‘‘No’’ to ethnic chauvinists masquerading as leaders when they attempt to herd us towards inevitable conflict. We must speak up for what we think is right, and maybe then we shall save this country from self-destruction.

Dr Lukoye Atwoli is a consultant psychiatrist and lecturer, Moi University School of Medicine.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Insecurity talk cannot be swept under the carpet

Sunday Nation 25 October 2009

This past Kenyatta Day, President Kibaki issued a stern warning to criminals in typically harsh fashion, promising to ‘‘crush them’’ and asking wananchi to help in the effort by revealing criminals in their midst and refraining from criminal activity.

As far as the Rift Valley was concerned, the President seemed to allude to recent reports indicating that communities in the province were rearming in readiness for the next elections when he asked residents to ‘‘discourage arms buying in families and our villages …’’

Different script

Even as the President made his very emphatic comments, some administrators and politicians in the Rift Valley appeared to be reading from a totally different script by strenuously denying the reports and going as far as calling for the arrest of the human rights activists who had allegedly originated the reports.

Indeed, a number of activists in Eldoret had earlier been picked up by police for questioning in connection with the reports, and some of them had gone into hiding fearing for their lives even on the day the Head of State was issuing the warning to criminals.

So serious is the situation in the Rift Valley and elsewhere in this country that many are afraid to openly discuss the issue without fear of reprisals.

It appears that in Kenya, the freedoms that were gained gradually since the onset of multiparty politics in the early 1990s are being eroded in the wake of post-election violence.

Last year’s conflagration is now being used as an excuse by both the state and varied groups to silence independent voices under the guise of maintaining a fragile peace.

Already the media is awash with reports that some of the witnesses who gave evidence at the Waki inquiry have had to flee the country after receiving death threats. The remaining witnesses have had to contend with extreme uncertainty, fearing that the same fate may befall them any time now.

At this rate Kenya is going to remain a homogenous nation of greedy self-seekers who see no evil, hear no evil and, above all, speak no evil!

As long as there are patriots who still harbour dreams of a future beyond the ‘‘newly industrialising, middle income country providing a high quality life to its citizens’ rhetoric as encapsulated in Vision 2030, such gagging of independent voices must not be allowed to happen.

We must not allow fear of reprisals by government or militias to silence the voice of truth for, if we do not speak now, we shall lose the moral authority to prognosticate after the fact.

Popular blogs

Trawling cyberspace recently I came across even more disturbing debates on some of the more popular blogs. Some of the sites had people (using practically anonymous avatars) issuing threats against the journalists who first reported the story about purchase of guns in the Rift Valley.

Some bloggers have dedicated themselves to unearthing the identity of the individual reporters, without disclosing the aim of such an enterprise. The degree of hate and intolerance that is being demonstrated by many Kenyans is reaching alarming proportions.

Government protestations that peace and reconciliation efforts are having effect in the clash-torn areas are easily exposed for the hot air they are when one spends even a few minutes in private conversation with an ordinary citizen.

In most ethno-politically homogenous gatherings, people are passing off ignorant bigotry as gospel truth. The larger tragedy is that in the forums they choose to spew such filth, nobody dares to confront them with a contrary opinion, for fear of being branded a traitor or some similar epithet.

Politicians have not helped the situation much by increasingly ratcheting up political talk focusing on the next General Election, in complete disregard of the plight of multitudes of Kenyans who are living in the most deplorable of circumstances.

For all intents and purposes, the country has entered another election cycle, and any hopes we may have had of institutional re-engineering are fading right before our very eyes.

As the politicians focus on the big prize of being President of Kenya, they are attempting to shift our gaze from the urgent reforms as well as the fate of the organisers of last year’s post-election violence.

Despite the ICC’s valiant attempts at bringing the culprits to justice, many Kenyans are becoming sceptical due to the disdain with which our national leadership is dealing with the issue.

Civilised society

Even if nothing further is achieved in the way of reforms in this country, all right-thinking individuals must condemn the intimidation that is being directed at the last bastions of a civilised society we have left — the media and whistle blowers.

As it is, many have already lost faith in all the other pillars of society, including our political leadership and the institutions of government!

Dr Lukoye Atwoli is a consultant psychiatrist and lecturer at Moi University’s School of Medicine

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Tribal alliance talk sets the stage for the next conflict

Sunday Nation 18 October 2009

A new furore has been unleashed on unsuspecting Kenyans following Vice-President Kalonzo Musyoka’s call for an alliance between himself, Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta and Minister for Agriculture William Ruto.

The VP’s remarks came only a few weeks after some Rift Valley politicians and their Central Province counterparts had floated the idea of an alliance between Ruto and Kenyatta, touted as the ‘‘KK’’ alliance, ostensibly bringing together the Kikuyu and the Kalenjin communities.

Kalonzo’s new alliance has already been christened ‘‘KKK’’ to bring on board the VP’s Kamba community from Eastern Province.

What this alliance talk illustrates is the peculiarly Kenyan fatuous leap of logic that misrepresents the political dreams and aspirations of individuals as the consensual positions of entire communities.

It also demonstrates the state of danger any Kenyan living in a cosmopolitan area faces every time some misguided politician opens his mouth and purports to speak for his tribe.

If they last until the next General Election, these KK and KKK alliances will become the nexus around which the next ethno-political war will be fought in this country, and the main victims will definitely be ordinary citizens from these and other communities around the country.

Going by reports of rearming of ethnic militias, it is clear that the next conflict has the potential to completely destroy Kenya as we know it today. To paraphrase Albert Einstein, the war after the next will be fought with sticks and stones!

All our politicians are keenly aware of the effects of their political posturing especially in the poisoned political climate that has existed since late 2007.

In the light of this, Kalonzo’s ethnic posturing exposes him and his ilk as nothing more than wolves in sheepskin balking at nothing in their quest to rend the fragile fabric of our nation for their own nefarious ends.

Further, talk of selective tribal alliances based on personal friendships only illustrates clearly how far off course we have slid as a nation in our search for identity in the community of nations.

There is a manifest absence of a sense of history among our leaders as well as among their most vociferous supporters.

It is, therefore, right and proper for every clear-minded patriot to keep reminding our wayward ‘‘leaders’’ that some of the things they say and do are inimical to the existence of a united prosperous country.

However, the hullaballoo raised by the politicians opposed either to the idea of a KKK alliance or to the VP’s campaign talk this far from a General Election is duplicitous, to say the least. Many of the politicians accusing the VP of balkanising the country are not really sincere in their sentiment.

Recent history will remind us of the major role many of them played in the intense ethnicisation of any issue during the campaigns for the last General Election.

Many historians will eventually agree that the fighting following the 2007 General Election was not caused to a large extent by ‘‘stolen elections’’ but by politicians who have since independence framed every major national issue as a matter of one tribe (or collection of tribes) against the rest.

Indeed at the height of the post-election violence last year there was even talk of isolating Central Kenya into some sort of landlocked country akin to Lesotho, or even of secession of other parts of the country to protest at dictatorship by ‘‘one tribe’’.

The rapprochement between these three individuals should serve as a lesson to ordinary Kenyans who are still suffering the after-effects of a prolonged drought as well as the consequences of the ethno-political flare-ups of December 2007 to February 2008.

If we needed any further evidence of the depravity resident in the souls of our so-called leaders, we need not look any further than what is happening on the political scene.

The National Accord signed last year between the two principals was not an end in itself.

It was, as has been repeatedly pointed out by various commentators, a ceasefire to allow for far-reaching reforms in the architecture of the state.

After Kofi Annan’s recent visit to the country to assess progress on achieving the agenda items comprising the Accord, there is near unanimity that progress is either too slow or non-existent as far as important institutional reforms are concerned.

Instead of focusing on ways of speeding up these reforms and paving the way for a new Kenya, where the events of the recent past will become just a painful memory, these ‘‘leaders’’ are busy laying the groundwork for the next conflagration.

In the interests of the future generations that would like to enjoy a more peaceful existence, these and other tribal demagogues must be stopped before they destroy the little pride left in being Kenyan!

Dr Lukoye Atwoli is a consultant psychiatrist and lecturer, Moi University School of Medicine.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Bringing home the reality of our moral vacuity

Sunday Nation 11 October 2009

Last week I had a glimpse into some of the things that make it hard for Kenyans to get ahead in anything they try to do collectively at the national level.

Quite apart from our pathetic politics, everyday occurrences point to the true soul of the ordinary Kenyan. By studying the motivations behind the everyday behaviour of Kenyans, it will be possible to predict what to expect in the various situations facing our nation now and in the future.

During a prime time documentary on national television, people living next to a cemetery were shown desecrating graves and building their dwellings right on top of these so-called ‘‘final resting places’’.

In another location, residents were exhuming dead bodies ostensibly to create space to bury their own, and skulls and bones littered the cemetery in a caricature of some Hollywood horror movie.

Everybody in these communities continues to go about their business as if nothing out of the ordinary is happening around them, and they would be mystified by any fuss made over their activities.

This is a clear demonstration that we are slowly normalising events that were anathema to us only a few years ago.

In the face of many such acts of extreme moral decadence, we shrug our shoulders and blame everything on our national excuse: poverty.

We blame poverty for thefts and robberies, for violence, rapes and even poor governance! It is left to the imagination of the outsider what sort of poverty is being referred to and, after close examination of the matter, one may correctly conclude that it is moral poverty and not material poverty that is being discussed.

Civilised states

History teaches us that individuals and nations evolve from primitive to civilised states over time. Often, the evolution involves learning to understand the needs of others and taking care of the most vulnerable members of a society.

Civilisation further entails development of certain values that define the nation, a moral compass that must be followed by all that would like to be known as members of the group.

In this regard, the foundation of the Kenyan nation seems to have failed, for we gained political independence and founded a state without a solid moral background that could outlast the ‘‘founding fathers’’.

The respect of institutions and laws was left to the individual whims of the rulers, leading to a situation where a law could be interpreted in all possible ways depending on which side of the argument one chooses to endorse.

Since independence, we have been experimenting with various models of national ideology as our moral guides. We have struggled under ‘‘African Socialism’’, capitalism and even flirted with a ‘‘go East’’ philosophy. Each time we only manage to borrow the clothes of our new ideological master without his manners.

If we had managed to embrace the philosophy and morality of the socialist in the same way Tanzania did at independence, we would not have the current back and forth arguments about what system of governance best suits this country.

Borrowing the capitalist mentality together with its moral underpinnings would have ensured that we base competition on a flat platform that offers opportunity to everyone at the beginning and eliminates unfair advantage.

Even if we had seriously decided to ‘‘look East’’ and take on the values and systems of the ‘‘Asian Tigers’’ and their successful neighbours, we would also have inherited the severe moral sanctions that characterise these nations.

It would, therefore, not have been uncommon to hear of ministers who jumped off cliffs over their involvement in political violence!

Kenya perfected the art of inheriting the outward appearances of a system of governance without internalising the associated values and morals.

It is this moral emptiness that allows murderers and thieves to dine with erstwhile moral beacons like religious clergy and other national opinion leaders. Today, masterminds of ethno-political violence in Kenya sit in judgment over the survivors of their atrocious acts while mouthing off about truth, justice and reconciliation and historial injustices.

The television documentary last week brought home the reality of our declining moral standards and the elasticity of our behaviour such that nothing is impossible any more.

We can now understand the national pastime of ‘‘grabbing’’ any unsecured property, knowing that if in future one is called to account, they may fall back on their tribesmates for support, or just blame poverty for their misdeeds.

In the interest of securing a prized inheritance for posterity, all Kenyans who still nurture that vestigial moral fibre must stand up to be counted. We must reassert the superiority of the moral compass over the demands of the moment, and demonstrate that we are a nation that cares for the future generations just as much as we care about ourselves.

The alternative is unimaginable.

Dr Lukoye Atwoli is a consultant psychiatrist and lecturer, Moi University School of Medicine

Saturday, October 10, 2009


Presentation at Forum for African Affairs/MDGs youth meeting in Eldoret
Friday 09 October 2009


The traditional view has been that the MDGs that refer to health are goals 4, 5, and 6. Goal number 4 deals with reduction of child mortality, goal 5 with maternal mortality and goal 6 with combating HIV/AIDS, Malaria and other diseases. It is clear from a close reading of these goals that the framers of the MDGs intended them to be the main preoccupation of health service delivery systems worldwide, but more so in developing countries including our own.
Unfortunately, due to the discrete nature of the goals, and the difficulty that reading complex documents brings especially in this parts where reading is at best endured during school years and at worst dismissed as the pastime of the ‘bookworm’ or ‘nerd’, there has been a significant disconnect from what I would consider the point of the MDGs.
Careful reading of the UN MDGs indicates that all the goals are closely interlinked, and attainment of any one of them increases the chances of attaining any and all of the others. Let us look at these goals in more detail:
Goal 1: Eradicate extreme poverty:
Poverty and health are closely interlinked. Poor people are more likely to put themselves at risk, and when they do contract diseases, are less likely to have access to high quality health care. Due to the stresses and strains of life in the lower socio-economic echelons, new ‘lifestyle’ diseases like substance abuse and dependence, HIV/AIDS and even mental illness are becoming an everyday feature among the poor. Eradicating extreme poverty will therefore go a long way in improving health outcomes and the quality of life of our populations. Similarly, neglecting health in the search of better economic growth rates is likely to be counter-productive. Populations that are unhealthy are definitely not going to be able to achieve their full potential! I therefore posit today that MDG number one IS a health goal!

Goal 2: Achieve universal primary education:
To the casual observer, this goal does not look like it has anything to do with health. A closer examination, however, demonstrates the clear link between ill health and poor school outcomes. Unhealthy children spend more time away from school than healthy ones, and due to the metabolic demands of ill health, they also have less energy to dedicate to the cognitive demands of our competitive educational system. Further, children from homes in which the primary breadwinner is unwell with such chronic illnesses as HIV, cancer, or mental illness are less likely to go to school, and would instead be utilized to help in boosting the family income. This goal is therefore unlikely to be achieved unless the health of the population is put on top of the agenda!

Goal 3: Promote gender equality and empower women:
Once again this is s goal that is directly linked to the health of the population. Promotion of gender equity is definitely an issue in the health sector. Discrimination in access to health care is heavily skewed against women in our society. In our resource-poor setting, we often make decisions from a male standpoint that has difficulty considering the needs of our women-folk, resulting in unnecessary deaths and suffering among our women. As a matter of fact, the prevalence of HIV among women is almost twice that among men! This would indicate that a specific focus in health care delivery must target women, yet there is little evidence that this is the case.
Unequal gender distribution of the health workforce has resulted in stereotypes and low sensitivity in dealing with patients in our hospitals. For instance, every female health worker is has probably had to deal with the tag ‘sister’, while every male health worker must answer to the honorific ‘daktari’.
Goals 4, 5 and 6 are self-explanatory and deal with discrete health issues, and I will not dwell too much on them. Suffice it to say that from my perspective, a neglected health issue that will come back to haunt us as we focus on these MDGs is MENTAL HEALTH. Without having programs dealing with the mental health of our population, I would go as far as saying that the MDGs are set up in a way that all but guarantees failure. As a matter of fact, I would summarise ALL the MDGs into one sentence (if I was among the architects of the goals, that is): Ensure access to quality mental health services for the entire population (by 2015, or whatever year is convenient!). However, I must only work with the substrate I have been given.

Goal 7: Ensure environmental sustainability:
There is no denying the relationship between the environment and health. Many infectious diseases, which are the bane of our existence, are picked up in our environment. Indeed, a key component of disease prevention programs involves environmental manipulation to reduce risk factors for disease. It should be noted that environmental issues cut across the entire human experience, and the Mau forest saga has clearly demonstrated this. Health workers often take stands to protect the environment against degradation by those whose horizons are short and whose vision of a future does not go beyond a few months to years.

Goal 8: develop a global partnership for development:
This is a goal that cuts across all the other MDGs, and the need for partnerships in health is no less than in the other areas. Indeed, in few other spheres of human existence is partnership demonstrated more than in the health sector. Health workers share knowledge no matter where it is generated, and innovations in health care delivery are publicized for all to use. Expanding these partnerships will have a greater impact on the health of our people. Using the expanding IT platforms including satellite and fibre optic technology, we will be able to deliver high quality health services comparable to any other country in the world.

It is clear therefore that these goals are not discrete planks that can stand on their own in any way. Isolating three of the MDGs and ascribing them to health workers is therefore the height of folly. Indeed, even if health workers had nothing to do with the other five goals, the goals would definitely have an impact on them as citizens of the world, and on their work as health care service providers!


Having said that, I would like therefore to dwell on what health workers can do in order to hasten the achievement of the MDGs. With the background I have laid, I will not restrict myself to the three so-called ‘Health-relate MDGs’, but I will take a holistic approach that ensures that none of the goals is left behind.
Health workers occupy a unique position in the hierarchy of any state. They have authority over all citizens in matters dealing with health, and the citizenry gives them a pedestal from which to carry out their duties. They are respected, and they perhaps compete with priests as among the few individuals no one would dare lie to!
With this position and respect, health workers therefore have a great opportunity to impact positively on the lives of their clients. Often, the doctor’s word must be obeyed if one is to remain healthy. Many people are willing to let go of their usual demands and scruples once they are admitted to a hospital.
On the other hand, this powerful position also confers onerous responsibilities on the health worker. The greatest among these are summarized in the ethical codes that guide medical practice, including:
- Primum non nocere (first do no harm)
- Beneficence (do what is good for your client)
- Autonomy (allow the client room to make decisions about their own health)
- Justice (allocate available resources without regard to extraneous issues)
- Confidentiality (do not broadcast what is divulged in confidence)
These are among the principles upon which the health profession is built, and we swear to ensure that the health of our patients shall be our first consideration.
This oath therefore places us in a position to want to intervene whenever the health of our patient (our country, community, neighbourhood, etc) is threatened. I hold that it is not only good to do so, but that it is a moral imperative, and where you can, you must act!

The next segment of my discussion will focus on some concrete actions that health workers can take have an impact on their communities and thus enhance achievement of the MDGs.

1. Know ALL the MDGs and their implications on health:

It has been correctly said that knowledge is power, and you cannot develop without knowledge. Health workers cannot restrict themselves to a few identified priorities and neglect other issues that impact on the health of their communities and even their own families! It is therefore the responsibility of health workers interested in furthering the noble ideals behind the MDGs to familiarize themselves with all the MDGs, in order to be able to play a part in achieving them. As we have seen earlier in my presentation, all goals have an impact on health, and health can impact on the other goals as well.
I would go as far as suggesting that these and other national and international goals be integrated in the training curricula for health workers, so that they do not enter their professions thinking they have no role to play on a wider stage.

2. Get out of the white coat!

The problem with many health workers has been the tendency to hide behind the white coat and behave as if they are not part of their communities. Often, they dismiss public actions as ‘political’ and therefore not proper to get involved in. The problem with this attitude is that some of the best brains in any country are absorbed into health-related professions, robbing other sectors of society of these important resources. If these brains end up being hidden away in our wards and theatres, not contributing to national debate and employing their exceptional intelligence towards bettering their communities, wouldn’t this be rightly considered to be a waste?
In order to reduce this waste, I therefore propose that health workers periodically get out of their white coats and get involved in their communities, whether their actions will be construed as ‘political’ or not. Involvement of health workers in advocacy will add an important voice to issues, increasing the likelihood of action being taken.
In this regard, therefore, I am glad to identify with the clarion call of this movement: Stand up, Speak out and Take action. I urge you all to do this, and not only on health related MDGs, but on all the MDGs and other issues that threaten the well-being of our people.

3. Do your job well!

It is imperative that as we focus on actions we can take outside of our professions to further the MDGs, we also ensure that we deliver on our core responsibilities. In this country, cases are being highlighted of hospitals and health workers who treat their clients poorly for one reason or another. Medical malpractice issues are rising, and if we are not careful, the few gains we are making in improving the numbers and distribution of the health workforce will be eroded. A great deal of mistrust is creeping into the hallowed relationship between a health provider and the client, and this is not healthy for our country. As health care providers, it is our responsibility to ensure that we maintain the professional mores and ethics that guide our practice, and that we use the resources at our disposal responsibly in order to achieve our health goals. You cannot have a moral platform to stand on if you are not doing your job well; therefore, in order to be effective advocates, you must ensure that like Caesar’s wife, you are beyond reproach.

4.Take care of yourself!

Many of us are often so deeply immersed in our work that we end up neglecting our responsibilities to ourselves and our families. Substance use and dependence, HIV/AIDS, workplace injuries to name just a few are becoming common problems among health workers. I must emphasize that a health worker who is unwell is not useful to the client, and may even be dangerous! The injunction to take care of yourself is therefore an important one, and neglecting your health as a health care provider is tantamount to professional negligence! In the same vein, we must ensure we take care of our families, if not only to serve as an example to the rest of the community. We cannot afford to preach water and drink wine, given that actions often speak louder than words.

The four actions above would help to advance the role of young health workers in creating a world that is favorable for them and for posterity.


It is fitting that as I conclude this talk this afternoon, we ask ourselves if we are on track to achieving the MDGs, including the health goals.
My humble assessment, based on various parameters, is that although these goals form the major plank of the manifestoes of all our political parties, there is simply no sustained action to achieve them. On the whole, pursuit of these goals has been subordinated to other pursuits that we are better known for in this country, namely grabbing, looting, bickering, and lately, murdering, pillaging and raping our own people.
I conclude by saying that unless we get our act together at the highest echelons of governance in this country, we will be lucky to make a dent on any of the MDGs, let alone achieving them!
Finally, I would like to thank the organizers of this forum for inviting me to say the things I have said this afternoon, and I hope I have added something to the menu of activities the young people have organized for themselves as they campaign to end poverty and achieve the MDGs.

Thank you.

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

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Moi’s re-emergence only filling a leadership vacuum

Sunday Nation 04 October 2009

Retired President Daniel arap Moi has lately taken to confidently making political pronouncements touching on a variety of national issues at all sorts of public gatherings. He even recently intimated that politics is his lifeblood, and he would literally continue pursuing political issues to the end of his days.

Indeed, in an ironic twist of fate, Energy minister Kiraitu Murungi officially welcomed the former president into the current political fold, over six years after chastising him to “retire to his farm, herd goats and learn how a country should be governed”.

In the years immediately after the Narc administration took over from the Kanu kleptocracy, Mr Moi kept most of his opinions to himself, restricting himself to the odd public appearance at a church, funeral or school function.

However, with the passage of time, he has become bolder and bolder, and is today able to harangue the nation on all matters ranging from the Mau forest to good governance.

Despite murmurs from some victims of the repression of the eighties and nineties, the former president has received tacit approval from the powers that be to continue in his attempts to mould the political landscape of this country in his own image.

It is clear that even erstwhile political enemies have discovered that an alliance with him can be politically handy. What the former president’s renewed prominence suggests is that there is a leadership vacuum in this country, and he is only rising up to fill this gap.

The top leadership in our country is currently too occupied fighting political fires from both within their own and their opponents’ camps to offer any real leadership to Kenyans.

Despite the noise from various interest groups and activists, it remains clear that no one has as yet offered real alternative leadership that appeals to a majority of Kenyans across the ethno-political divide.

Notwithstanding their glowing reformist credentials, most aspiring fresh political voices have been taken hostage by these divisive forces that exist only to perpetuate the status quo. Recently, while having a political discussion with a small group of young men in Eldoret town, I was confronted by one who demanded to know whether I espouse ODM or PNU ideals.

He was emphatic that in order to hold a political opinion in Kenya, one must subscribe to either of the two contending ethno-political blocs in the country.

Quite apart from my ignorance of what “ideals” these two ethno-political alliances represent, I was stunned by this sort of logic that obviously turned a blind eye to recent political history in Kenya.

Sample this: The party that dethroned the Kanu oligarchy, Narc, won the 2002 elections with a massive landslide, and everyone was convinced that it was a force to reckon with in a new political dispensation that would not be “business as usual”.

Three short years after the 2002 General Election, the party was a pale shadow of its former self, and the final nail in its coffin was driven by the cantankerous constitutional referendum of 2005.

The party did not even feature as a force in the subsequent tainted 2007 elections, and “everyone” was once again classified as either ODM or PNU, with no space for anyone with an opinion different from either of these.

The lesson here is that at this stage of our political development, the lifespan of political parties can be as brief as that of a fly, and “ideology” is often no different from the party owner’s personal credo! In sum, there is no ideological difference or longevity on the Kenyan political scene.

It is this kind of short-sightedness among well-meaning youth and other important demographics in this country that encourages the endless recycling of political leaders who have been active since the pre-independence Lancaster conference.

It is therefore fruitless to bang our heads against walls in frustration and lament that the old man has just refused to go away when we are providing a fertile ground for his continued ascendancy.

Testimony of Moi’s eye on his legacy is evidenced by the level of comfort he has displayed since being humiliated by rowdy crowds at Uhuru Park back in December 2002.

Through some inspired foresight, he managed to populate all areas of governance with his acolytes and sycophants, and was so successful at this that there is little difference between the complexion of all the post-Moi Cabinets and the Moi Cabinets of the late nineties and early 2000s.

In the absence of an authoritative voice on the national arena that offers a real departure from the old way of doing things, we are doomed to continue playing this futile game of musical chairs, waltzing from crisis to crisis until we find one that will finally spell doom for this country.

Dr Lukoye Atwoli is a consultant psychiatrist and lecturer at Moi University’s School of Medicine: