If we won’t let go of thieves, let’s just kiss and say bye


I was driving back from Nanyuki one evening during the construction of the Nairobi-Thika highway and ran into a traffic snarl-up just after Thika.

Two hours later, I had not reached Juja and fuel was running low. I had to turn back to Thika to refuel, rejoining the jam where I’d started. I got home at 1am.

The highway cost Sh31 billion and took four years to build. Thousands of people have stories of disruption like mine.

The Jubilee administration would have us believe that in the last financial year, they spent the equivalent of six Thika highways on infrastructure projects, and no one noticed — no disruptions, no traffic jams, no ditches, nothing. Amazing.

The much vaunted flagship projects did not get a sou.

Lamu Port is still stalled, Konza Techno-City remains a field of dreams, cattle tracks and all, and the Galana mega irrigation project is still on a drip.

Which priority infrastructure projects did they fund?

For a year or more in 1992/93, the Kanu government insisted that we were exporting huge amounts of gold.

At the launch of the Economic Survey, pioneer economic journalist Peter Warutere waited patiently for the Q&A session and asked the Minister, Prof George Saitoti, how come gold exports were not reflected in the Government’s own economic data. The rest is history.

In the financial year 2009/10, President Uhuru Kenyatta, then Finance Minister launched a “massive” economic stimulus package — all of Sh22 billion which the government had trouble absorbing — but it did start lots of projects that we know of, including thousands of fish ponds, which were allocated Sh3 billion.

He claimed credit for revving up the economy from a slump to 2.7 per cent growth in 2009 to a pesky 5.8 per cent in 2010.


The Eurobond cash amounts to a fiscal stimulus 10 times as large and it did not move the economic needle one bit.

How do you pump 2 per cent of the Gross Domestic Product into the economy and get a statistically insignificant 0.2 per cent growth out of it (5.1 per cent in FY 2013/14, 5.3 per cent in FY 2014/15)? Kanu reloaded.

How is it, after 50 years of independence, after 20 years of democratic reforms, culminating in one of most progressive constitutions in the world, we end up with the mother of blundering kleptocracies?

We all know the answer. Its called tribalism.

I was at Kibaki’s house very early the morning after he was declared President.

We were ushered in by a prominent Kikuyu businessman, who a week earlier had been a key member of Uhuru’s campaign.

By: the time Kibaki was giving his acceptance speech, the upper echelon of the Kikuyu establishment outnumbered the non-kikuyu Narc partners three to one.

The tribalisation of the Kibaki presidency began on day one.

Two years earlier, I had implored the President, then Leader of Opposition, not to descend into tribal politics.

My contention was simple enough — a Kenyatta does not need Kikuyu credentials.

What he needed was to rebuild bridges with the rest of the country, and Kikuyu support would be assured.

I advised that he steer clear of the toxic Narc conflict predicting, correctly, that it had the makings of a tribal conflagration (we had foreseen this in the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) Kenya Scenarios project, and called it “El Nino”).

He did not heed the advice.

I gathered that his political handlers persuaded him that he needed to “seek first the Kikuyu kingdom”.

I have to concede that his handlers were right — the tribal route got him there. Mine was an idealistic risky proposition.


Until a few months ago, the narrative in Jubilee was that corruption was a United Republican Party affair.

I was reached out to by key members of the President’s team all of who would spend the better part of an hour venting about the rapaciousness of the “Sky Team”.

The gripe was that even The National Alliance politicians had joined the gravytrain and were now dancing to the tune of the Deputy President.

I promised to get back. I did not — I’ve been round the political block enough times to smell trouble from far.

The desperation I sensed in the President’s camp was borne out by two subsequent events; the President’s corruption list and the expose of massive corruption in the Devolution ministry.

The URP brigade has claimed, credibly, that the list targeted them.

And my hypothesis is that the feeding frenzy at the Devolution ministry is that it is the President’s camp’s response, with or without his connivance, not unlike the Moi-Goldenberg and Kibaki-Anglo Leasing conundrums. You either feed your troops, or you lose them.

Exit, Voice and Loyalty: Responses to decline in Firms, Organisations and States is the title of a 1970 book by Albert Hirschman, economist and moral philosopher extraordinaire, that I consider essential reading for leaders.

Hirschman’s thesis is deceptively simple, intuitive and profound.

Think of a cooperative society whose leadership embarks on wasteful spending.

Some members protest but they are overwhelmed by the supporters of the leadership (who are bribed with contracts and jobs for their relatives).

The vocal members are told to accept and move on. They do. Only that they take their business with them.

We saw this bring down the coffee industry. At the peak in the late 80s, we produced 130,000 tonnes of coffee in a year.


We should be producing 200,000 tonnes today bringing in close to a billion dollars.

We are down to 40,000. The farmers moved on. Out went coffee, in came bananas, napier grass and real estate.

The irony is that our industry went down as globally, the “latte revolution” was transforming the coffee market and demand for “mild washed arabicas”, the high quality coffee we produce, was soaring.

At the Kenya Planters Cooperative Union (KPCU), once the country’s wealthiest farmers’ organisation, the coffee barons continued to plunder and fight titanic battles in equal measure until auctioneers threw them out.

The Jubilee administration is pillaging this cooperative called Kenya and telling those of us voicing disagreement to go suck lemons.

I do not know of any normal country where inability to account for $2 billion and the feeding frenzy in the Devolution ministry would be a partisan political issue, where those demanding accountability are branded malcontents who should wait for their turn at the trough, if it ever comes.

Hirschman writes: “No matter how well a society’s basic institutions are devised, failures of some actors to live up to the behaviour which is expected of them are bound to occur, if only for all kinds of accidental reasons. Each society learns to live with a certain amount of such dysfunctional or mis-behaviour; but lest the mis-be­haviour feed on itself and lead to general decay, society must be able to marshal from within itself forces which will make as many of the faltering actors as possible re­vert to the behaviour required for its proper functioning.”

We have, in my view, reached a level of dysfunction where our capacity to restore sanity in the national government is doubtful.

To become a national political leader of significance requires a power base, and the only power base that counts in Kenya is the tribal.

Once you have the tribe behind you, you need money, and if you don’t have your own, money from corruption and drug barons is readily available.

Once in office, you must feed your troops and repay thugs.

This is more or less where we were in the twilight years of the Kanu single party era.

We believed multiparty politics was the magic bullet. It turned out not to be.

We shifted our hopes to constitutional reform, and then proceeded to inaugurate the new dispensation by trampling on its provisions on leadership and integrity, for which we devoted a whole chapter. Our ladder of hope has run out of rungs.


I have long espoused the view, which unsettles many people, that our predatory post-colonial state cannot be reformed.

We have two choices, to dismantle it properly, and build a new one from ground up, or to wait for it to implode which could take another five years, or 50.

How to dismantle it? First, starve the beast. Devolve everything we can.

If only 15 per cent of the Eurobond money had gone to the counties (about Sh1 billion per county), we would be seeing a huge impact.

Sure enough, some would have been “eaten”, but even some of that would have trickled down.

Second, we may want to rethink this presidency thing.

The presidency is the fulcrum of tribalism and emasculating it constitutionally is clearly not a panacea.

If we had a parliamentary system today, there is a more than even chance that this administration would have fallen by now.

If we don’t like parliamentary system, we can go the Swiss way.

Which famous Swiss president comes to your mind?

Probably none, because the Swiss president serves a one-year term, and he or she is not the Head of State.

The Swiss Head of State and executive authority is collegiate — vested in a seven-member Federal Council that serves a four-year term.

The president is elected from among the council members by parliament, but is only a “first among equals” with no power over the other six members.

There is more than one way of skinning the cat, but skin it we must.


But as Hirschman warns us, no matter how good the institutions, no society can survive without a collective moral agency — the wherewithal to rein in dysfunctional, deviant behaviour by those it bestows power and authority.

I was told recently by a former MP (from Kiambu, unsurprisingly) that ruling Kenya is “our manifest destiny”, a conviction I suspect is informed in part by the path-breaking theory of intelligence we heard from the said county’s governor recently, and which evidently resonated very strongly with his audience.

It has to be this surgically augmented intelligence that makes some of us believe that we can lord over others, rob them, cheat them, top it up with insults and expect that they will accept and move on. Every time.

As we circle the wagons round our thieves and prepare to defend, by hook or crook, our flailing, increasingly embarrassing presidency, here are some statistics to ponder: five multiparty elections, two with incumbent presidents retiring (peacefully), three with incumbents contesting (violent).

If we cannot marshal the wherewithal to be a society where we all — rich and poor, Christian and Muslim, cut and uncut — can live with dignity why wait for the inevitable?

Why not agree to go our separate ways amicably now?