Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Development & Sycophancy Is A Bad Mix

By Adongo Ogony


And After...

Official launch of Oyunde Well,Asembo, Rarieda Constituency, 4th Aug 2004

President Kibaki finally visited the so-called Luo Nyanza almost halfway into his term in office. Like with most of the things the president does, the whole visit was surrounded in unnecessary and unproductive controversy.

First the President’s Office had to make an announcement that the president was not officially visiting Luo Nyanza, never mind that Rarieda Constituency is stuck right in the middle of the region politicians call Luo Nyanza. That Luo Nyanza visit is for later, the announcement indicated. If you ask me it might be after Mzee has retired.

And then a group of MPs from the region held several press conferences demanding the president should tour the region as a whole instead of picking and choosing to visit only one constituency, an action they claimed was divisive and not very useful both to the president and to the region. I found the whole saga comical and was not going to comment about it at all, until I read the message the president had for the region and to the country. I’ll come to that shortly.

It is common knowledge that every time the president visits places there are often comical and ridiculous stunts by president’s handlers on one hand and opportunistic politicians of those particular regions on the other hand.

The President’s handlers have shown a disgusting penchant for using these visits not for the president to honestly connect with the local population and listen to their concerns but rather as an advertising campaign to show the people who the good boys and girls are supposed to be from their MPs. The exception I would say was the president’s tour of North Eastern Province. I think it has been the most well organized presidential tour so far.

In general, local politicians, on their part often make outrageous efforts to make presidential tours desperate venues where everyone competes to be seen as the ones who have the president’s ear and therefore the one who will bring this elusive “development” in their areas.

The result is that whenever President Kibaki visits or tours regions there are often insane jostling and vitriol between MPs and cabinet ministers each competing for the seat next to the president. It is parochial politics which Kenyans wanted to banish with the 2002 elections but we forgot we were voting in thoroughbred Nyayo followers whose politics will never change from what they learnt from their master.

We have seen this sad soap opera play itself out at the coast where we saw the birth of the so-called “Third Force” after President Kibaki visited the region. The group felt ignored and like little kids who want the attention of their parents they had to pull endless stunts to regain it. I don’t know if baba has given them a part on the back now and some candy and everything is honky dory now or if they still want a little more candy to show off to their other siblings whom they thought were getting more attention. Talk about juvenile politics.

We saw the same drama in Western Province where Minister Kulundu and others fought to a standstill to show the president who were the true Nyayo followers of Kibaki. It ended up in an ugly saga of booing and utter foolishness at Bukhungu Stadium in Kakamega as each side tried to out do each other on who is more loyal. It was a sad spectacle not befitting a function presided over by the head of state. But may be Kibaki liked it.

In Rarieda this bizarre politics of feudal loyalty, outright ethnic chauvinism and mismanagement of state affairs, which has ruined our country for over forty years took a full new dimension altogether.

First let me declare that I am one of those who believe very strongly that the President of the Republic of Kenya has the right and indeed the duty to visit any part of the country at any time of their choosing or particularly in times of crisis in any one area. So the argument of whether the president should have visited Rarieda and ignore all other parts of the region or not, is irrelevant in my books.

I was eagerly waiting to hear what message the president had for the people of Rarieda, the people of the region and to the whole country because every time the president speaks he is addressing the whole country. I was very keen on the president’s message to the nation particularly considering the frightening events of growing ethnicization of our national politics.

As everybody knows by now, down at the coast, we have a bunch of misguided “Digo warriors” we have been told, being oathed to fight their “enemies” from up country. National leaders have been shedding crocodile tears about this terrible development precisely because just five odd years ago in the same region, we saw the ugly results of politically motivated ethnic violence which led to the brutal killing of hundreds if not thousands of people in the region, folks who had lived side by side for generations.

I say crocodile tears from our national leaders because the same politicians “outraged” by the revival of ethnic tensions at the coast have been preaching the worst forms of ethnic chauvinism and intolerance all across the land and including in the National Assembly itself where people like Norman Nyagah have become tribal prefects as opposed to national leaders.

Kenyans should ask themselves this question; what moral right do these leaders have to condemn ethnic “oathing” and the “ethnic fortress mentality” among those behind the “Digo warriors” and elsewhere if they practice identical politics at the national stage.

Are the developments at the coast and in places like Mai Mahiu and other places not a direct product of our failed national leadership which has resorted to grand old tribalism as a tool to holding on to and capturing power? What is the difference? Is it because the “Digo warriors” use oathing and the Nyagahs use SMS to summon their troops? Not a big difference if you ask me. As a matter of fact I think the parliamentary “ethnic warriors” are far more dangerous to the health of the nation because they are the ones that mutate into the village warriors where the SMS messages turn into rungus, pangas and spears with tragic consequences.

I was hoping, now that the president is in Nyanza at a time when GEMA is reemerging as one of the pillars of his presidency and different regions and ethnic groups are digging in to “protect” their own crooks and tribalists, the president might have the vision and presence of mind to reassure the nation that we are still one people with the same Unbwogable spirit and disdain for tribalism that made each part of our nation vote for Kibaki and for Narc and not for “one of their own” nor for tribal supremacy on December 27, 2002. To say that I was disappointed with what Kibaki and people like Njenga Karume had to say in Rarieda would be a colossal understatement. On the other hand I wasn’t surprised at all, but that is beside the point.

I scanned all the Kenyan papers online and all I saw was that the president’s message to the Rarieda folks and to the nations was that “Ngama Teni ema iteno”, loosely meaning “You support those who support you”. There is nothing wrong with that statement and sentiment in generic terms. I mean who wouldn’t want to support only those who support them? That is natural for example if one was fighting over a piece of land. The problem is we are talking about the president of the nation, no less, who should govern for the whole country regardless of who voted for him or not, leave alone those who are willing to be sycophants on whatever agenda he has.

In my humble opinion, “Tena ta teni (Support me I support you) politics” should have no place in the way the president governs the country, leave alone the way national resources and development initiatives are carried out in Kenya. If the president is talking about internal Narc party politics he should keep them to Narc rallies or resorts and not mix them with his national duties as head of state. We are in a multi-party era for crying out loud. This is not the Kanu era where party and state functions were one and the same. We have crossed the River Jordan and entered Canaan, at least on that one. Phew!!

If he was talking about issues of governance and his duties as head of state, which I assume is the case, then the president should tell us what it is he wants us to support him to do and achieve for our country. We would be very eager to do so in whatever way we can, particularly if we concur with him.

Could it be that the president wants us to help him fulfill the promises he made when campaigning for the presidency? We hope so, after all time is running out rapidly. But we cannot just give the president a blank chaque to do whatever he wants so that we may get “development”. No. Kenyans gave Kenyatta such a blank chaque. He took us to the cleaners in a hurry. We did the same with the Moi regime. Look where we are. Even the cleaners don’t need us anymore. And someone wants another blank chaque from us? Please.

In terms of development, let us begin with the basics. All Kenyans pay taxes regardless of who they voted for and regardless of whether their individual leaders are hopeless political sycophants or not. The Luos, the last time I checked are still Kenyans, good Kenyans, patriotic Kenyans just like all of our people in every region in the land. In fact Bondo District where Mzee was, is a proud home of two of the most illustrious sons of the land, Ramogi Achieng’ Oneko from Rarieda and Jaramogi Oginga Odinga whose bones are resting in peace at Kango Ka Jaramogi just a few kilometres from Rarieda Primary School where the president was. And just a stone throw away from Tuju’s home is a place called Gobei, where one of Kenya’s most accomplished legislators and first Mayor of Kisumu Grace Onyango was born.

The president probably wasn’t aware that just a few yards from Rarieda Primary School is the home of one of the bravest soldiers in the Kenyan struggle to end one party rule and usher in the new democratic dispensation which eventually led Kibaki to the coveted seat at State House. The man I am talking about is Harris Okongo Arara. I am sure his family and particularly his wonderful sister who is still searching every corner of the earth to find him attended the rally.

For those who do not know Okong'o Arara, which is 99.9999% of the nation let me just remind you of who he is with this brief excerpt of what Arara told a Nairobi court on September 24, 1988, when he was asked to beg for mercy and leniency before being sentenced to jail for sedition.

“I do not ask for leniency from this court for to do so is to recognize its right to judge me. I expect no mercy and ask for none, for if there is no mercy for millions of Kenyans, what will mercy for one individual serve?Those apostles who have attempted to rescue justice have found themselves in detention, prison or exile...I am proud and happy to join the company of such illustrious sons and daughters of the land. The people of this nation are simply demanding their fundamental rights and freedoms. They are simply demanding their rights to a descent living, right to education, right to proper medical care, right to housing. In short, the right to be human beings. If that is sedition, so be it. These are the goals for which I have always fought, and for which I am prepared to die.”

Comrade Arara was promptly sentenced to a five year jail term after that breath taking expression of defiance and courage in the fight for an end to one party dictatorship in Kenya. By the way, this was the second stint in the jails for Arara. By the time of this sentencing, Arara had only been free for eight months following six years of detention without trial which started in 1982. Talk about the heroes we don’t know.

The same neighbouhrood has also produced the likes of Odindo Opiata, Rateng Ogego, Muga K'Olale, Ogina Nyangute and countless other comrades who never hesitated to put their lives on the line to fight for their country.

Why do I bring all these names up?

First, to let people know that Kenyans demand better from Kibaki not just because they voted for him but rather because they have gone to great lengths to fight for a country that is free from tribalism, nepotism and the suffocating garbage of political sycophancy where all we have to say “Yes Sir,” or “How far Do I jump” every time the president or even his alleged guardian angels in parliament cough and demand we fuata his nyayo. Our nation is sick to the neck with Nyayo politics.

The second reason I bring this up is to remind our leaders that there is no village in the land where Kenyans haven’t sacrificed leg, limb and life itself to free the country dating back to 1896. It is a grave insult to all these brave fighters all over the land that our national leadership want to ration development to the few areas which are perceived to be producing appropriate sycophants to help the people who run State House impose their agenda on Kenyans.

The other thing I found weird was Tuju’s response to his colleagues who had challenged him for trying to divide the Luo community for cheap political gains.

Let me confess that I am a Luo who has never identified with or quite frankly understood this monster called Luo politics. Of course we know the Luos like every other national group in Kenya has its fair share of ethnic chauvinists and they abound in parliament, in academia circles and elsewhere.

I would think one of the reasons I don’t quite seem to fit in the “Luo politics” is that my first involvement with political activism was during my days at the University of Nairobi. As the Secretary General of the Student Organization of Nairobi University (SONU) and a member of the Students Representative Council (SRC) my comrades and colleagues came from every community and nationality in Kenya. In fact during our era in the early 1980’s any smell of ethnic allegiances in a prospective student leader meant the end of the road for that person. It was not until much later with the emergence of District based student associations sponsored directly from State House that tribalism became to dominate student politics. Mercifully I escaped that era.

Later I became involved with Mwakenya politics, another place where tribe was never a factor in terms of who one worked with. In fact I was a little surprised sometimes while in prison to meet other comrades of Luo nationality who were also alleged to be involved with Mwakenya and whom I knew as friends but never knew were fellow soldiers in the Mwakenya undertaking.

Of course the now famous Special Branch Senior Officer at Nyayo House, who beat people the most, including yours truly was James Opiyo, a good Luo man complete with his six lower teeth knocked off in that mercifully dead Luo custom. I mean how could you still harbour any illusions that all Luos are good folks after meeting Opiyo at his work station?

What am I saying?

That essentially I don’t think there is such a thing as Luo politics or Kikuyu politics or Luo interests, Kamba interests and all the rubbish the politicians peddle to get votes. What we have is tribal and ethnic power grab activities to protect the interests of the elites in power which has nothing to do with development anywhere in the country. I am going to illustrate this by showing that it is a fallacy that one can develop Rarieda without developing Bondo, Kisumu Rural, Kakamega, Budalangi, Homa Bay, Kisii, Kericho etc to take a regional perspective.

Well Tuju opined that he didn’t give a damn what the other Luo leaders were saying because the president’s visit to Rarieda was not personal. “If the president was attending my son’s or daughter’s wedding I would have responded to them” Tuju is quoted as saying. Tuju said the president was going to inspect development projects and for that reason nobody should be complaining.

I like Tuju, he is my neighbour for goodness sakes and I am looking forward to working with him to initiate development projects in my beloved Bondo District, but he leaves me little room to manoeuvre when he makes such ridiculous statements. I hope he is not going to hold this against me when we meet for a cup of tea to talk about this fantastic project my colleagues from Bondo District have put together. But let's be serious, Honourable Raphael. If the president was coming for your daughter’s wedding it would be none of the business of your neighbouring MPs or anybody else’s. That would be a completely private matter for you, your family and friends. The reason the MPs are concerned is because the president was not paying you a personal visit but was visiting the area to look into development initiatives.

Let me explain.

For example the president commissioned the construction of a road in the area. I don’t know the details but I hope it is the Ndori-Aram road which branches both into the Rarieda wing and the other wing to my beautiful Chianda High School (where I had many memorable years:1974-1978). The Ndori Aram road is truly treacherous. It used to be a nightmare for us getting from Ndori to Chianda. It still is and I am thrilled something is being done about it. I hope it is not going to take 15 years to complete.

This is fantastic. Except for one thing, in order to get to Ndori if one was traveling from Kisumu our provincial capital and the commercial centre of the region you have to go through the Kisumu Kisian road which the last time I checked (Sept 2003) was like climbing up and down through mounds of hills and valleys of crazy potholes. I was almost hilarious at times, if it wasn’t so dangerous because in some stretches, and they are many, motorists have to veer well off the formerly tarmaced road and drive in “panya” side-roads developed through frequent use when the real road is completely unusable.

The tragedy with these panya side-roads is that they are single lane and often the vehicles have to stop on the side to let the other one pass. God bless you, should you come headlight to headlight with those bully bus or truck drivers who come full speed at you even on a single lane.

It is just total chaos in the Kisumu, Kisian, Ndori, Bondo, Usenge road. Of course you know all that Mr. Minister. Your beautiful home is near Ndori Market and I am sure on the unfortunate occasions when you don’t use helicopters to access your home from Nairobi you must use the road. I am sure however huge those ministerial SUV’s are even if you don’t feel the crazy bumps you sure must see the horrors of that road. Don’t tell me you have tinted windows with “dark glasses” so to speak and can’t see what I am talking about.

From Kisian to Ndori something that should take 25 to thirty minutes in a good road one has to spend two to three agonizing hours and do terrible damage to their vehicles. How on earth can the people of Rarieda access the more lucrative Kisumu market and beyond using this junk road, no matter how many roads we build in Rarieda? Of course we need good roads in Rarieda. I for one would love to find it easy and possible to be visiting hundreds of my relatives in Uyoma and Asembo. I grew up in both places.

To cut a long story short, what I am saying is the Kisumu-Kisian-Ndori road is the lifeblood of the whole Kisumu, Seme, Gem, Rarieda, Bondo communities to mention only a few.

Of what use would it be for the people of Rarieda to have a good road from Ndori to Nyilima, Aram and Rarieda School if they can’t get to Ndori without climbing those mountains in the Kisumu Ndori road? Are Rarieda people going to be given a special exit line to take their products to other places for sale when all the roads around the place are completely messed up?

To develop Rarieda in any meaningful way both in terms of infrastructure and economic growth we have to for example develop a network of waterways linking Rarieda (from Nyilima docks) and Bondo (by building docks at Usenge Beach and elsewhere) to Homa Bay, Kisumu, Kendu Bay and on the western side to Sio port in Busia etc. We have to develop a network of roads linking Rarieda to Bondo, Budalangi in Busia, Alego, Gem, Ugenya, Siaya town, Maseno, Luanda area, Kakamega, Kisumu and with the rest of the country including the Kisumu, Kakamega Busia roads and on the other side developing good road networks all the way to Migori and Kisii and the entire South Nyanza and Gusii region.

I am sure a lot is being done in different aspects of all these but I want to remind you and everybody else that unless we address the big picture on issues of development, opportunistic announcement here and there will take the community nowhere.

The people of Rarieda do not live in a vacuum and they know that. For example the biggest resource in the area is Lake Victoria. I doubt it is possible to cut out parts of the Lake and say lets develop this part for Rarieda, and this other part for Homa Bay and other areas of the Southern Nyanza region and then another part for Usenge etc. We have to figure out how to maximize the productivity and utilization of the Lake’s resources for the whole region to really make an impact on the lives of the people of the region.

The same regional approach is required in addressing the need for rural electrification. Without a regional approach, I doubt we can provide electricity town by town and location by location and house by house on the basis of who supports this or that political agenda. The electricity we have now in towns like Bondo is good progress but it is completely unreliable and too expensive for the local people to get into their homes and stores. As soon as there is a small rain and thunder the lights are gone.

We need good power boosters for the region and good networking for efficient power supply or we will continue to condemn people in the region to Stone Age conditions while our politicians live in air conditioned mansions (with massive power generators) amidst the stench of poverty all around them.

Without affordable power we can forget about any form of industrialization and enhancing the value of our products to add value and get better prices. Without power the small scale fish traders waste more than half of the fish harvest from the lake because they have no storage facilities and everything is turned into obambla (dried fish) from rotting fish. Sometimes I really respect the genius of our folks, mainly women. Imagine if they couldn’t figure out how to turn rotting fish into obambla!!!. We would be overrun with rotten fish and even more starved than we are now.

Having said all that let me applaud you, Bwana Raphael for some very good work you have done. The initiatives for getting piped water to your constituents are loudable, even though I hope Martha Karua and company could do a better job do deal with water problems in the whole country. It breaks my heart to see the people of Nyando drowning for the hundredth year in floods when our government can not figure out appropriate water harvesting techniques to harness the water for domestic use, agriculture and localized power production. The local people cannot do it on their own.

Your efforts, Mr. Tuju to get donor money for Rarieda is very helpful because there is no ministry for donors in our country and we know that only those actively seeking donor funds and working directly with their communities are bringing donor money in their areas. We cannot wait for the government to do that for us and we are not.

By the way, my sister is a proud resident of Rarieda. She lives right outside the school where the president was. Some of her kids have broken a few records in the National Exams from that School. She is one of the hardest working women I know. She has pushed her kids through school and one now into the University of Nairobi simply by working hard on her farm ( I am hoping the little guy gets a job after college – phew!). She tells me you are a good man. She proudly told me they have access to an ambulance in her area, thanks to you, something they never imagined could be possible. It looks like you are going to have her vote for a long time and since she is my role model, it means you have no problem with me when it comes to Rarieda.

I think where we have difficulties is on the national politics and so I would like to know when you want to “teno” Mzee on national issues, what exactly is that all about?

Because I will whisper something to you right now Mhesimiwa. Ssssh, my same sister who supports you is also a great supporter of the Wanjiku Constitution. Now you see, she is a smart woman who knows what is good for Rarieda must also be good for the whole country. That is the problem you have to deal with, probably more urgently than you think

One last thing, I was amused my former MP in Bondo, Omamo Kaliech was one of the key speakers in your rally. Omamo is a terrific orator like none else I have ever listened to. Omamo was preaching to Kibaki the same message he preached to Kenyatta and to Moi which is very simple and completely worthless. His theme as you heard in Rarieda is “Mzee we are ready to follow you so that we can bring development in the area and we will bring all the people with us, forget the dissidents”

I don’t want to go into the tortured and dinosaur politics of the likes of Odongo Omamo, a spent force if ever there was one, but I will remind you of some small facts which has frightening analogy to your situation.

In the seventies when Kenyatta’s rule was nearing its end, Dr.William Odongo Omamo was recruited by Kanu as one of the rising stars in Luoland. Before then, he was the principal of Egerton College. Omamo was specifically assigned the task of finishing Jaramogi Oginga Odinga himself in his own backyard of Bondo. He was a well educated man and was immediately made a cabinet minister after winning the Bondo seat in 1974 (Jaramogi was not allowed to contest). Omamo was appointed Minister for Natural Resources by Kenyatta.

Later during the Moi era, Omamo was assigned the same task of finishing Jaramogi, so much so that even when he lost the elections in 1979 to Hezekiah Ougo “Olith Jaganga”, he was nominated to parliament and appointed to the cabinet, this time as the minister of agriculture.

In fact the war against Jaramogi was so intense after the 1979 elections that three of the four MPs in the then Siaya District were appointed to the cabinet. We had Mathew Ogutu from Ugenya, Isaac Omolo Okero from Gem and Odongo Omamo nominated from Bondo all in Moi’s cabinet and all holding key posts in the ruling party Kanu. By the way do you think there is any chance of this happening after the 2007 elections? Never mind.

The message then from Kanu was that Siaya District was going to be awash with development to show those “hopeless dissidents” who still supported Jaramogi that “maendeleo ni kufuata Nyayo”(Development comes when we follow the leaders)

The long and short end of it is that with all the three members of the cabinet from one district, not a dimple of development followed. It is not for nothing that Siaya and Bondo Districts despite all those years of generous allocation of ministers to finish Jaramogi is still one of the poorest places in Kenya and indeed on the face of the earth. The only agricultural development Omamo brought to Bondo, was to establish his Utonga Farm and hire some of his supporters as labourers and watchmen and pay them peanuts. You can ask them. Some development!!!

After becoming a perennial looser in Bondo, Omamo bolted to Muhoroni and I am sure the people of Muhoroni are today swimming in the glorious development achievements of one, Kaliech Odongo Omamo.

The moral of the story my fellow Kenyans is that development is not a piece of soap to be delivered to any community by “loyal” leaders. It is a national undertaking we must all participate in as a country and a people with one destiny and the starting point is to straighten our politics and shun tribalism, corruption and resource mismanagement by parliament, the cabinet and State House. I think getting the constitutional issues sorted out would be a good starting point. What do you think?

The writer is a human rights activist


Anonymous said...

I am Dr. Christine Dockery Billings Brooks from Washington, DC and I recall with great fondness my visit to Kenya during the 1970s as a houseguest of then-Minister of Tourism and Wildlife the Honorable Matthew Ogutu. I see that he is still very active in Luo politics and the Kenya Democracy Project. I would love to get in touch with Mr. Ogutu and his family again and can be reached in the US at cdbrooks@verizon.net or at my home number (202) 265-3664. I would certainly appreciate having this information passed on.

Anonymous said...

I am still looking for the Honorable Matthew Ogutu. I have lost touch and would love to contact him and his family. I was the professor of his brother at Florida A & M University. I can be reached at cdbrooks@rcn.com