How Kenya Lost Its Way

Written by | Musings, Quick Reads

“Corruption in Kenya, just like racism in America, it isn’t an anomaly, but an inbuilt founding ideal of the country.”

By Darius Okolla

Ever wondered why corruption is such a core and almost undefeatable aspect of the Kenyan society?

This is how it works, world over. Every country has a personality; a sense of national self-conceptualization based on the core beliefs of the founders and the events surrounding its origins. 

It’s not a mistake that Rome drove politics and jurisprudence, Greece was famed for philosophy, America goes to war every 10-15yrs, and Britain obsesses about its Victorian morality and social ideals. Every nation has its founding ideals and flaws that flow through the generations.

The downside to this reality is that negative values also sneak in. So racism is not just a nasty reality among the Americans, it was a pervasive ideal among the white pioneer elites; it’s a core founding value of the American state.

Now, Kenya was established as a colonial outpost; an industrial plantation to provide leisure for aristocratic wanderers and raw materials for their factories. Nairobi was built as an accidental town for the workers in white highlands, not as a modernized city. That’s why the provision of public social services i.e. water, security, housing is still so spotty, messy and accidental. So extractive logic, aristocratic excess, and corruption were dominant values at the founding of the Kenyan state.

Then, in 1963, we simply exchanged the white aristocracy for a black aristocracy with the same colonial logic. The extractive, criminal looting logic of Kenyatta I regime reflects this reality and mind-set. Nearly every aspect of project Kenya from conservation, religion, academia, agriculture, corporate sectors are either accidental or colonial in their logic. The policing logic of our security systems is still based on it; our policing units were built to protect the (colonial, and now black) aristocracy from the masses, not to maintain security.

In essence Kenya has never been nor has it ever transitioned into a democracy. It’s still an aristocracy where a bunch of elites have this perpetual political incest and continue to reproduce after their own kind through political patronage and family dynasties. [Herman] Manyora, once mentioned how just about every elite in the country is a criminal, has criminal ties or, has (in)directly benefited from the criminal inc. of their fellow elites. It’s virtually impossible to be in the elite cluster without a bit of political deal-making.

This tragic fact is what makes it hard to weed out corruption.

A more critical downside to this criminal class is that it creates a zombie elite. Raw amassing of wealth through looting with no sense of national foresight or cultural sophistication produces a primitive elite. In most cultures the elite drive the future through funding research and passions such as libraries, conservation, musical, astronomy, and laboratories. For a primitive elite built through stealing, their paranoia leaves them eternally gatekeeping and trying to keep the masses down. These are a bunch of fellows whose status is largely derived from running down state agencies and lacking in any sense of nationhood. They have no strategic conception of the future, can’t entertain ideas, and are spectacularly unimaginative.

We’re regularly inundated with stories, in politics, academia, agriculture, religion, and private sector with stories of exploitation, patronage, factionalism and outright suppression of talent that paints the picture of elites who can’t stand dealing with those who’re better or more inventive than them. Lacking in both talent and confidence they are hostile towards any brilliant, ideational trailblazers and scared of everything they can’t control, steal from, or understand.

That’s why they horde drone licenses, frustrate inventors, shoot brilliant minds like [Chris] Msando, loath human rights defenders like Boniface Mwangi demand veneration and can barely invent anything that lasts. Nations are built when elites can think, prioritize and budget decades ahead of time. Until we can have an elite that’s built through inventing mass market goods or services. Corruption will remain the primary means of making it to elite status for them.

[FormerCJ] @WMutunga once talked of generational equity and the colossal failure of one generation to think and plan ahead, by laying the ground work for future generations. Sadly, the conversation got muffled by the discomfort and that generation’s aversion to introspection.

For this primitive elite cluster instead of funding cutting-edge tech and spaces for new ideas the best they can do is set up massive concrete feudal outposts like the malls, real estate jungles just like the colonial elites they inherited the country from. These concrete jungles are their version of white highlands. If there’s something that defines these elites, it’s this lack of imagination.

The Kenyan elite political culture today is dehumanizing to the hoi polloi because the black elite itself is a royally dehumanizing experience that parallels the adventurism of Happy Valley that they are trying to imitate. #CurriculumReformsKE, for example, is about dealing with the faulty institutional logic built on the idea of ‘marketable courses’ and managerialism both of which are plantation era mess that saw African education is only good to the extend that it gives blacks, as only useful for the market (plantation) and not human enough to be granted liberal education that grounds their struggle and identity in the ability to question, deconstruct, argue, debate and generate new knowledge.

The famous shrink Frantz Fanon in the Wretched of the Earth talked of the oppressors having the same psychotic symptoms as the oppressed. That’s because at its core dehumanization eats up both the oppressor and the oppressed. It’s the age-old reality that bullies are projecting cowards. The future of a possible revolution lies in our ability as Kenyans to defactionalize national problems, legitimize people’s frustrations and give proper definitions to the national problems. The ‘security starts with you’, ‘responsibility starts with you ‘ catchcalls makes Kenyans interpret the public debt, ecological, political and economic issues as signs of personal failings rather than signs of an incompetent leadership.

Until we the masses draw these clear mental demarcations and proper definitions of Kenyan reality, we’ll continue to carry the weight of a scandal-prone elite as our own problems, which they aren’t.

So dealing with corruption means admitting that the founding ideals of this country included the creation of an elite through looting coffers and grabbing land. That corruption in Kenya, just like racism in America, it isn’t an anomaly, but an inbuilt founding ideal of the country.

And that this corruption has borne a primitive elite who keep inventing newer ways of driving economic carnage and corruption. And this primitive elite exists under the perpetual illusion that their relief lies in (looting) the next million or billion…

And that their primitive elitism has the attendant effect of making them insecure, paranoid, violent, and keeps them in a perpetual state of fighting real and imaginary turf wars  against the youth, the brilliant and morally upright.

Darius Okolla tweets as @TweetingPundit

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Last modified: June 25, 2023