NOTE: This piece first appeared as “Liaisons Dangereuse: Kenya’s new BFFs” on August 20, 2013, It has since been revised and modified to reflect recent developments.
In the article titled Kirubi joins Uhuru’s business entourage in China first published in the August 17, 2013 issue of Capital News, the online publication’s owner Mr. Chris Kirubi contends that “…it was time for Africa to look for new development partners who will strive to ensure that all parties get a fair share of the cake”. A result of this presidential junket was the procurement of Chinese funding for the Standard Gauge Railway Project – a kshs. 1.1trillion-plus undertaking that to paraphrase Mr. Kirubi, was supposed to ensure that all parties, presumably involved in the project, got a fair share of the ~$13.7billion project.
It is “ensuring that all parties got a fair share” of the massive infrastructure project that in part prompted bomb-thrower de jour Nandi Hills MP Alfred Kiptoo Keter to allegedly “look at” President Kenyatta and his deputy Mr. Ruto and tell them to “…get rid of the thieves in their midst” even as he accused the “digital” duo of “….sidelining of Kalenjin professionals in government appointments…”. And in an apparent warning to the increasingly-wobbly Jubilee regime, Mr. Keter’s comments “received adulation from the audience, but stung the president and his deputy to respond at length and in uncharacteristically strong language.” Other opinion leaders and legislatures alike have since lent their voices to Mr. Keter with Mr. Billow Kerrow of sister publication Standard cautioning the president that the sentiments expressed by Nandi MP seems to be resonating “….well with the rank and file URP (United Republican Party) supporters in Rift Valley and elsewhere.”
Mr. Kirubi’s take on the nascent relationship between Kenya and China AND Mr. Keter’s recent onslaught against Jubilee are two seemingly disparate events with a common theme aptly captured by the main title of the book by Michela Wrong and Mr. John Githongo It’s our turn to eat. The back cover of the book describes it as an account of how as whistle-blower, Mr. Githongo became “…simultaneously one of the most hated and admired men in Kenya…exploring the factors that continue to blight Africa – ethnic favoritism, government corruption and the smug complacency of….donor nation.” The foregoing summary, in a nutshell, says it all.
I would argue that Mr. Kirubi’s assessment of the trip to China and Mr. Keter’s reaction at the rally in Eldoret speak to the corruption, ethnic favoritism, nepotism and patronage that has been and continues to be the hallmark of Kenya since it attained independence in 1963. Mr. Keter may have been soliciting “matunda ya uhuru” or “fruits of independence” for “his people” in the ethnically-charged polity that is today’s Kenya. At least he was being open about it and was doing what his constituents elected him to do.
Mr. Kirubi is a businessman with a track record that was built, some would argue, courtesy of a system that restricted enjoyment of “matunda ya uhuru” to a handful of those connected to Kenya’s presidencies; the very point Mr. Keter and Nandi County Assembly Chief Whip Wilson Sang are arguing against even as they advocate it for “their” people! The distribution of Kenya’s national cake has historically been unfair and slanted in favor of specific tribes and regions – those in power or proximal to the center of power. Mr. Kirubi’s call for “partners” that “ensure that all parties get a fair share…” is thus disingenuous given some of the business deals that built his wealth. Regarding privatization of Kenya’s telecommunication sector in the late 90s and early 2000s, Charles Hornsby writes in the book Kenya: A history since Independence that “(T)he resulting dirty tricks and bribery allegation….led to a single preferred bidder, the Mount Kenya Consortium including wealthy…insider Chris Kirubi”; a “favoured son” who made his money in the 1980s and 1990s because of his association with then-president Moi. (pges. 642, 655).
In a previous piece titled Liaison Dangereuse: Kenya’s new BFFs, I argue that one of the main reasons Kenya’s economy has lagged behind those of countries it was literally tied with back in the 80s despite heavy involvement of and support from western countries is the toxic cocktail of corruption, tribalism and impunity. The foregoing have all combined to create the exceedingly inefficient and wasteful culture of patronage that is at the centre of the verbal and very public circular firing squad between members of the current ruling coalition. Former president and Finance Minister Mr. Kibaki knowingly or unknowingly made the same argument in a recent speech titled Kenya @50: Of hindsight, Insight and Foresight, Reflections on the State of the Nation
The adage “to the victors go the spoils” is a common and accepted fact of electoral politics. The adage aptly describes distribution of cabinet positions by the winning Jubilee coalition after the 2012 election. It is the same here in the US where the winning party – Democrat or Republican – forms the government; staffing it with party stalwarts and loyalists, ideally from ALL subgroups within the winning coalition. In a slight digression, I will point out that most victorious US presidents make it a point to appoint one or two widely-respected individuals from the losing party to the cabinet. To this end, Democrat Barack Obama appointed former Republican Senator Chuck Hagel to be America’s Raychelle Omamo as Secretary of Defense. The foregoing digression notwithstanding and as was the case during the pre-Civil Rights era in the US, allocation of funds and resources in a fractured society with Kenya’s history should be done with an awareness befitting said history. It is this awareness that prompted the United States to develop quantitative methods such as Affirmative Action and the Standard Metropolitan Statistical Area (SMSA), a precursor to the 2000 Core-based Statistical Area (CBSA) to delineate the demographic breakdown of defined metropolitan areas and ensure that allocation of federal resources was equally distributed to ALL groups including those whose candidates lose elections and those previously shut out by the “tyranny of the majority” who always believe that it is “their turn to eat”! It is this same CBSA metric that is also used by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) to investigate employment discrimination against women and minorities.
While I support the expansion of Kenya’s business relationships beyond the usual western countries and corporations, it is disingenuous to offer that these new business partnerships are going to be any different than those of yesteryears: From the on-going audio-visuals of the internal machinations within Jubilee, the Chinese have simply replaced the British and Americans as the cash cow that the likes of Mr. Kirubi and other well-connected Kenyans will fatten and eat! It is this reality that Mr. Keter is calling attention to albeit in a narrow and ethnocentric way. To paraphrase Mr. Kisero in his December 22, 2013 piece titled There is more to railway contract row than Keter, the fight to inherit the patronage of yet another Kenyan presidency is intense as are the battles to supplant foreign contractors politically linked to the outgoing regime!
Almost a year into their administration, the “digital” duo of Mr. Kenyatta and Mr. Ruto has offered little more than tired platitudes towards addressing the quad-evils of corruption, nepotism, favoritism and patronage; a sentiment vociferously shared by Mr. Alfred Keter.