So in the past 2-3 weeks, Kenyans have observed President Kenyatta and his deputy William Ruto, toting the country’s well-travelled tin cup, meet with the dreaded “foreigners” America, represented by Microsoft and Japan to ask for assistance implementing the “free laptop” campaign promise and for modernizing the port of Mombasa respectively. The two principals are seeking help from the very entities (west/foreigners) they repeatedly railed against during the run-up to the 2012 elections for “trying to finish them off”. America and Japan represent the very “wazungu” Jubilee supporters rabidly and stridently accused of usurping Kenya’s “sovereignty” and “finishing off their sons” via confirmation of charges against them at The Hague; an institution that was accused by the revered and objective leadership of the African Union of, shudder the thought, being “racist”!
And while Mr. Kenyatta and Mr. Ruto were unabashedly soliciting aid from the west, their latest paramour and much-loved benefactor-of-the-month China is busy buying scrap metal from chronically unemployed and under-employed Kenyans, some who obtain said scrap metal by destroying their country’s own roads and bridges; infrastructure constructed by the same China using labor from; you guessed it: China! And as if the foregoing incestuous behavior and madness is not enough, Kenyans proceed to buy the sub-standard and disposable Haojin motorcycles, probably built using the (scrap?) metal they initially sold to China, at prices probably much higher than the sale price of said scrap metal in transactions between willing sellers and willing buyers!
While I am happy that Microsoft (USA) and Japan are both willing to assist the very “independent” and “proud” Kenya/Kenyans, that the very people – Mr. Kenyatta and Mr. Ruto – who were vilifying and casting aspersions at the hands they are now asking to feed them speaks to the unbelievable hypocrisy of the two men and should give Kenyans and the international community (ICC) pause about their honesty and integrity, especially with regards to the real and active fear of witness-tampering and intimidation.
Beyond pointing out the hypocrisy of President Kenyatta and his deputy, I would be remiss not to question how the two deals with Microsoft and Japan line up against the very real threats posed by foreign aid as depicted in the book Confessions of an Economic Hitman by John Perkins and World on Fire: How Exporting Free Market Democracy Breeds Ethnic Hatred and Global Instability by Amy Chu; the former critiqued by Ms. Rasna Warah in her op-ed piece titled How American governments and corporations colonised oil-rich states.
Demonizing the west while accepting their aid sets the stage for the well-documented history of duplicitous relationships between donor- and recipient-nations not to mention the insidious and potentially corrosive progression of relationships predicated on double-speak. And for those who are tempted to argue that Microsoft is a private company that would not do the (American) government’s “dirty” work, I would point them to the on-going outrage over reports that Verizon Communications, an American company that provides communications, information and entertainment products and services to consumers, businesses and governmental agencies and ostensibly a private company, complied with a court order granted by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISA) to give the National Security Agency (NSA) details on all telephone calls, both domestic and international.
China, a country with an economy second in size only to that of the USA but with a history of long-term planning and a long-range outlook on relationships appears to be reeling Kenya and Kenyans into its lair at an alarming rate with implications that, while not completely known, have some indicators that should prompt our “digital duo” to proceed with caution.
The one difference between the whipping boy de jour and much-maligned west on the one side and China and to a lesser extent Russia on the other is the fact that the former have open/civic societies with mechanisms such as open and free media that would not hesitate to bring attention to any misdeeds and malfeasance by their government and corporations – think Wikileaks and the Pentagon Papers – and for the record, it was a British newspaper, The Guardian, that broke the story about National Security Agency (NSA) data-mining phone numbers from Verizon! Conversely, the latter two – China and Russia – are countries with histories of keeping civic societies on very short and tight leashes. The Russians and Chinese would not hesitate to arrest those with prying eyes/lenses nor are they shy about detaining anyone perceived as “causing trouble” or “threatening national security”; something past Kenyan governments perfected!
Unlike the past when the likes of former president Arap Moi could manipulate the west and organizations such as the World Bank and International Monetary Fund to release financial aid by making token reforms only to resort back to status ante of repression and corruption, the era of multi-party governance in Africa and easy access to the Internet has put in place mechanisms that mitigate abuse of aid. On the other hand and as evidenced by the periodic disruption of Internet services by the authorities, several high-profile failures of infrastructure and introduction of sub-standard and/or tainted product into the market, it is not unreasonable to argue that China has yet to demonstrate the level of tolerance to criticism, vigilance nor institution of effective mechanisms that check and balance its leaders. Finally, given Kenya’s past history of impunity and corruption, one can only speculate on how effective the two sides – Kenya and China – will manage the relationship between two countries with demonstrably intolerant leadership and centralized planning.
As previously mentioned, there is a long and ghastly history of imbalanced and extractive relationships between Kenya (Africa) and the west; that of extracting resources from Africa/Kenya only to return the raw and inexpensive material back to their country of origin in shiny packaged and expensive form! Sadly, the jubilant Kenyan consumers seem willing to pay the piper from the east AND from the west and move on now that “their” sons are in power!