Monday, December 30, 2013

Distracted government allowing sabotage

By Lukoye Atwoli
Sunday Nation 22 December 2013

Last Thursday, I read a piece penned by the president’s speech-writer, decrying an unconstitutional parallel executive within the civil service. At about the same time, the health workers’ strike was entering the second week and the government was largely ignoring it. The Health cabinet secretary had dismissed the issues raised by health workers as frivolous and unconstitutional, and soon after that the president issued a similar statement asking the workers to end their strike.

Disturbing though it was, Eric Ng’eno’s piece captured very neatly the problem with our State at the moment. He argued that the constitutional executive is not in control of government, and a shadowy cabal is probably pulling the strings in the background. Indeed, the president and his deputy alluded to this during their recent Eldoret tour, accusing some Members of Parliament of having been bought by disgruntled businessmen who were losing out on government contracts.

The government is behaving like a creature under siege from all sides, lashing out at anything that moves in its vicinity. Some have commented that the Jubilee government is beginning to more and more mirror the Kanu State of the 1980s in which any dissenting voice was labelled an enemy of the people and an agent of foreign forces. Recent moves to stifle constitutional freedoms seem to confirm this retrogression.

It is difficult to understand why this is happening under this relatively youthful administration that seemed to be so connected to the needs of the populace that future election wins were guaranteed.

One needs not bother analysing Ng’eno’s claim that a powerful segment of the civil service stands in the way of reform and progress. Every administration inherits workers from the previous regime, and going out of one’s way to antagonise those workers has obvious consequences. In fact, despite expected resistance from those sections of the civil service, previous administrations achieved a significant measure of success in implementing their manifestos. This administration is in fact luckier than the government that took over from Kanu in 2002 which faced more inertia than any succeeding regime.

In my view, the main problem with this government so far is that the distinction between government business and personal affairs has been blurring progressively. The result is that whenever the leadership feels threatened, they act in ways that suggest that the entire nation is in peril. We have become the true embodiment of the old French imperial attitude that the King and the State are one and the same thing.

As it is, the president and his deputy have been for the most part distracted, dealing with one crisis after another, and it is obvious that the civil service remains unsettled by this. In the process, the business of government is suffering, and the voter is taking note.

People expected their lives to improve after the elections, not least because of the promises that were made during campaigns. When these improvements seem too late in coming, and what is said by government officials indicates that in fact some of the promises will be reversed, the citizen is bound to get restless.

The government will do well to step back from the strident rhetoric emanating from top officials, and develop a more coherent, forward-looking governance strategy. The alternative is to buckle up and prepare for planned or unplanned sabotage going forward. 

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


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