Monday, January 18, 2010

Kalonzo’s declaration an insult to our intelligence

Sunday Nation 17 January 2010

Going by the behaviour of our politicians this early in the new year, it becomes clear that the optimism behind our “happy new year” greeting is either misplaced or premature.

A recent statement by Vice-President Kalonzo Musyoka perfectly illustrates the point.

The VP was quoted giving his opinion in favour of a presidential system of government and, to illustrate his point, he claimed that the electorate in the United Kingdom had intimated to him that they would prefer to ditch their parliamentary system of government in favour of a presidential one.

Mr Musyoka has throughout his political career presented himself as a “saved” Christian without the tainted history most politicians have. A term commonly used to refer to him is “Mr Clean”, and he has worked hard to maintain this image of an honest broker with the country’s interests at heart.

This is why his forceful assertion that the people of the UK told him in no uncertain terms that they prefer a presidential system to a parliamentary one raises troubling questions.

Without a shred of evidence to support his statement, it must be assumed that he was attempting to be creative with the facts. In other words, it was probably not true.

If a person of the VP’s calibre can be caught not telling the truth about such an important issue as a new constitutional dispensation for our country, it is not difficult to imagine what whoppers other politicians have gotten away with in the “heat of the moment”.

It is quite likely that the VP just got carried away and, in seeking hyperbolic examples to prove his point, decided to foist upon Kenyans some “authority” in the name of the people of the UK.

However, such a statement may also be interpreted as some sort of “Freudian slip”, giving us a sneak preview into the man’s mindset. A few conclusions may be reached just by analysing this statement.

One, it is evident that the VP greatly values the opinion of the voters in the UK, and would not hesitate to be guided by these opinions in making choices for this country in which he is practically “a heartbeat away from the presidency”.

There is no other way to read his compulsive need to cite the British voter as an authority on what system of governance is good for Kenya other than the high esteem in which he holds our former colonial rulers.

Two, the VP probably believes that his constituents, and Kenyans at large, also hold the British voter’s opinion in high regard.

He probably reasoned that citing an opinion expressed by the majority of British voters would help him carry his point a step ahead and demonstrate just how universally accepted his ideas are.

Kenyans’ preoccupation with everything foreign may be proof of this line of thought, and the VP is arguably not very far from the truth in making this deduction.

Three, the VP’s statement demonstrated just how much intelligence he credited his audience with. That no one has since stood up to challenge his assertion might be evidence that his estimation was not far off the mark.

His audience, the entire republic, is assumed to have swallowed his assertion unquestioningly and moved on, their minds probably made up on the issue of what system of governance is apt for us.

It may be useful to note that the three observations above may be transferred without much difficulty to almost any politician that stands on a podium in Kenya today.

The twin scourge of self-deprecation in the face of foreign “expertise” and assumption of the electorate’s ignorance is a sine qua non among members of our political class.

Indeed, the dogged insistence of populating our post-2007 institutions with foreign “experts” was the final demonstration of this frame of mind.

Many Kenyans, despairing with the quality of leaders we keep producing election after election, are hankering after some “foreign” benevolent dictator to come and help us sort out our messes before we inevitably self-destruct.

The assumed gullibility of the Kenyan voter is what gives our politicians the leeway to continue prattling mindlessly in public while we cheer and egg them on.

It has given them the guts to continue disregarding public opinion with abandon, from refusing to pay taxes to arbitrarily increasing their salaries and allowances whenever they feel like.

Unless and until someone speaks up every time our politicians insult our intelligence, they will continue on this trajectory until there is no country left to save.

On the other hand, if every time they publicly utter falsehoods they are confronted with the truth, they will have a greater incentive to keep to the straight and narrow.

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

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