Sunday, June 8, 2014

It’s time leaders did what they were chosen to do

By Lukoye Atwoli
Sunday Nation 08 June 2014

In the past few weeks I have been travelling in the US on business related to research and collaborations between my institution and some American medical schools. As always, I have been keenly observing events on my trip and juxtaposing them against conditions back home. A useful observation I have made concerns our behaviour when we disagree on ideas.

Just like Kenyans, Americans bicker and quibble about everything from who should get state-supported health care to what should happen to the baby in a woman’s womb. And the arguments can get pretty acrimonious and public, sometimes raising tempers to the level of threats of violence in sections of the population.

But that is as far as the similarity extends.

The greatest difference lies in the reason why they engage in these arguments and conflict. To a large extent, the average American is proud of his country and its heritage. In every city one visits there will be a museum dedicated to the history of the city and the state, and the greater US. There are monuments everywhere you go commemorating the most seemingly innocuous achievements of the city’s inhabitants, and American heroes.

Every national holiday is an opportunity to remember and re-enact important historical moments in America’s journey since its founding. School-children recite that history with pride, and point out national monuments as though they were erected in their lifetimes. On the whole, Americans argue about their respective convictions on what is best for the US.

Contrast this with Kenyans. For the past 12 years or so, we have been poised on an ethno-political knife-edge requiring very delicate balancing to avoid outright civil war. Kenyans are almost equally divided into two factions on any national issue — those that support the government and those that don’t. Some members of these two factions have shifted back and forth, both among politicians and among the voting public, but the proportions have remained mostly undisturbed.

At any point in time, these two factions express the most vehement loathing for each other, and at least once in the past 10 years this has erupted into open armed civil conflict. Political arguments are turned into existential matters for the politicians’ tribesmates, and nobody remembers the greater good of the republic.

We have heard leaders and their followers say that they are ready to let the country burn if they cannot achieve their goals peacefully. We have heard politicians taunting each other about nusu mkate (half-loaf) governments, as if Kenya is bounty to be fought over, and the winner takes it all. Political power has become an end in itself, rather than an opportunity to serve.

The result is that we have elected people into positions of power who often act as if they have absolutely no clue what that office entails. People are coming into power without the slightest idea what they will do for the people who elected them. This is especially surprising given the amount of resources that are spent campaigning for public office.

I remain hopeful that in my lifetime I will see my country transform into a land where we argue about ideas we think are good for Kenya, and not for individual leaders’ fortunes. But it is difficult to sustain this hope given our current political landscape. 

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

1 comment:

  1. What can be said about two factions, those who support the government and those that don't, while many government leaders are scums of the earth, and many of them don't even care about their citizens. This guy, is just one of a number. .


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