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Wednesday, 5 August 2009

Kenya: Corruption And Tribalism Will Be Country's Downfall

Nothing illustrates the bad publicity streak that Kenya is in at the moment better than the old adage that it never rains but pours.

In a short span of two weeks, we have moved from zero to over 10 reported cases of swine flu and had our annual honours on the unwanted side of corruption rankings reaffirmed.

Nothing unusual there, one might say.

But as far as diplomacy, appeal to new investors and tourists go, the opening of an envelop containing names of the masterminds of the costly post-election violence at the beginning of last year at the International Criminal Court today -- and the ensuing ridicule by US President Barack Obama on Saturday over tribalism and, again, corruption --takes away any claim the country may have had left of belonging to the league of civilised nations.

These two events point to the growing isolation of Kenya by the international community and a rapid fall into a pariah state that has seen several qualified Kenyan professionals miss out on influential jobs in global policy making bodies.

Former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan may have acted too indecisively to prevent the Rwanda genocide 15 years ago but no one in Kenya, with the exception of politicians, can charge him of impatience in handing over the envelope to ICC prosecutor Louis Moreno Ocampo.

Had he followed the dictates of the Waki commission into post-election violence to the letter, he would have done so late last year.

President Obama, Kenya's most visible son by descent in the global arena sounded, during his first trip to Sub Saharan Africa, like someone who has given up on the country rising above the twin preoccupations of tribe and sleaze to bring about meaningful change such as prosperity of the masses and credible elections.

He is not alone. Anti-poverty and human rights activist U2's Bono wrote in a New York Times column on Friday that despite "Kenya's unspeakable beauty and recent victories against the anopheles mosquito, its still-stinging corruption and political unrest" was testament to the dark side of the continent.

Three world opinion shapers, three indictments of Kenya splashed in the headlines of major papers across the world.

It is hard to see what powerful tools and persuasive messages our spin doctors -- government spokesman Alfred Mutua and the Brand Kenya team -- can summon to water down the import of the assessment from such forces.

But there is hardly time for Kenyans to sit down and feel sorry about the state of affairs.

It is time to reflect on why corruption and tribalism are so engrained in our national psyche to an extent that the potentially liberating factor of ethnicity has entrapped us into poverty and conflict.

Overtly all Kenyans confess to being abhorred by tribalism, but in private they will routinely exhort their kin not to mingle with people from one region or another.

The decibels get overt expression during political contests, with even the most minor of cultural differences taking the proportions of the antagonism between the good and evil in religious doctrines.

That is hardly a way to cultivate strength from diversity, but political leaders revel in it because it ensures them an extra vote.

The same goes for corruption which has become an institution.

While corruption on a grand scale in public offices galvanises the country into spontaneous condemnation, greasing palms is an integral part of every day life as competition for resources and opportunities demands more than merit for one to succeed.

From securing placements in schools, ensuring the dead are preserved well in morgues, accessing relief food, and getting the vital document on time, a Kenyan's life is pronounced with informal taxes that have discouraged investors looking into opportunities in the country.

For too long now Kenyans have blamed the leadership for what is rotten in our society.

It is time to take a deep look into ourselves and become the change we want to see.

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