NEWS 2005


Why this bout of generosity rings false

Story by PHILIP OCHIENG /Fifth Columnist
Publication Date: 11/20/2005

Kenya's successive presidents are a study in comparative generosity. Daniel arap Moi's looked inborn. But in Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Paulo Freire warns us against "the false generosity of the oppressor". When Mr Moi became a tyrant, his generosity ceased to be genuine. He knew our insatiable thirst for money and squeezed out of it every ounce of political profit.

If you seemed to pose some political peril, he simply called you over and shoved wads of cash into your pocket. 

Where he saw signs of dangerous unity, he planted "seed money" and healthy saplings of disunity soon sprouted. 

Public buildings and land were "dished out" all over. Hostile populations became docile just because he had promoted their villages to "cities" and locations to districts.

By contrast, Jomo Kenyatta was said to be tight and that it would have appalled him to suggest that he part with even pesa nane to corrupt the voter.

Luckily, he never needed to do so. He had emerged from the independence struggle with overwhelming popularity and rested heavily on the "nationalist" laurel. 

Mzee never pretended to pledge even such cynicisms as "democracy", "good governance", a "good human rights record", "war on corruption".

In a way, it was respectable. When, under your leadership, grabbing is the done thing, you should never promise title deeds to the landless.

Mwai Kibaki is not reputed to be generous either. His tenure at State House is not celebrated for visits by ethnic "spokesmen" seeking to "pledge loyalty".

"Pledging loyalty" goes back to Mzee's tumultuous last years. But, as a money-making enterprise, it became established only during Mr Moi's tenure.

The difference was that, under Mzee, you brought money as proof of your loyalty, while, under Mr Moi, you were paid handsomely for abject kneeling. 

But better to be consistently tight-fisted or consistently forthcoming. Like a Gado cartoon, Mr Kibaki's sudden generosity can only provoke laughter because he is so maladroit about it.

From a natural skinflint, liberality is like Duncan's royal accoutrement upon Macbeth. In Shakespeare says that it looks like "a giant's robe upon a dwarfish thief". 

Like the rock, when Moses hit upon it with his serpent-rod, a State House which had been as dry as the Sinaitic wilderness since 2003 suddenly produced a gust of water!

But it was not real. The nyama choma was perhaps as "finger-lickin' good" as Noah's "fat portions" that caused Jehovah Elohim to salivate by Ararat.

But we have no independent report that money changed hands. For a quid pro quo, the loyalty pledger was given only a rain cheque, to be cashed only if he endorses the proposed constitution tomorrow.

All will get everything for which they have always thirsted land, money, water, electricity. Even the Ogiek were promised a district, and the Luo, something really fishy!

Voters are like that. As Tennyson says, "Their's not to reason why/Their's but to do and die". Practically none will have asked why these things have not been delivered before today whereas we always paid extremely heavy taxes precisely for them.

But law has no power of its own. It cannot force a government to deliver promises. Or else, Narc would have delivered the extravagant election pledges it made in 2002.

Take Lands minister Amos Kimunya. He asserts that if the new law is approved, there will be drastic land redistribution. It is as though lack of law is the problem. 

How can a responsible person play with people's mentality like that? Was it not only yesterday that Mr Kimunya rejected as "socialist" a legislative proposal that a ceiling be slapped on land ownership?

But Mzee knew his weakness. Recognising our hunger for money, he knew, too, that more generous rivals might exploit it to his disadvantage. 

So his advice was: "If they give you money, take it. But never vote for them." It was not ethical. But you must admit its practical wisdom: Others spent money, but he got the votes.

That is also my advice. If you have taken their money, don't worry. They owe it to you and this is the only time they are ever likely to part with the peanuts. 

Take their promises with a pinch of salt and vote only according to your understanding of that document.