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February 17, 2019

Kenyan Leaders Travel More To Enjoy And Earn Than To Learn

President Uhuru Kenyatta and First Lady Margaret Kenyatta on a conducted tout of the Great Wall of China during his official visit to the Country.Photo PSCU
President Uhuru Kenyatta and First Lady Margaret Kenyatta on a conducted tout of the Great Wall of China during his official visit to the Country.Photo PSCU

When I visited China in 2006, I learnt that Chinese like 18th Century European monarchs, are among the most traveled people in the world. Unlike Kenyans, they told me they travel, not for pleasure but to learn from other countries’ successes but failures.

Like the Chinese, Kikuyus, not of today but of precolonial times also believed in travel to learn. The desire to learn through travel is what gave birth to the Kikuyu proverb: One who does not travel thinks only his mother cooks good food.

Travel by government leaders and officers should be for discovery and learning, never pleasure and earning purposes. Unfortunately, when Kenyan leaders travel, it is for earning and pleasure.

Unlike Kenyan leaders, when other people travel to Kenya, they learn more from us than we learn when we visit them. Walter Rodney’s book “How Europe Underdeveloped Africa” should remind us how African countries were conquered by Europeans who traveled to Africa not for Christianity, commerce or civilization as they claimed but to discover new lands and new peoples to conquer, colonize and rob.

Had Europeans never left their homes to look for better food, so to speak, they would never have developed themselves through conquest, enslavement, colonization and exploitation of Africa.

Unlike Europeans, President Uhuru and his team may not have traveled to Russia and China for conquest and colonization but new ideas and better food than Kenya cooks.

But did Uhuru intend to learn from his travels? Not, if he carried 7 million worth of Kenyan lamb chops and other foods to eat while in Russia and China. Apparently, he has no intention of tasting or learning how to cook Russian or Chinese food.

When I heard that American presidents never eat local food in Africa, I thought it was arrogance. When I travel, I eat local food. Unlike me, Uhuru wants not to taste Chinese food and therefore took Kenyan food with him.

Is this arrogance, ignorance or conservatism? Kikuyus must have known of this problem when they said: You can’t take a cow and not the strap of tethering it. If we seek Chinese products, we should seek their technology too.

When I visited China, they gave me more than food. To understand their development, they gave me Selected Works of Deng Xiaoping, the man they credit with their economic miracles.

While President Uhuru is in China, I hope the Chinese will also give him the Selected Works of Mao Zedong the man the world acknowledges as the founder of modern China.

If Uhuru wants to benefit from Chinese development, unlike his father, he cannot fear contamination with communism, the ideology of Chinese development.

Putin of Russia should also have given Uhuru Selected Works of Vladimir Lenin, the man whose ideas laid the industrial foundation of modern Russia. Some people think we insult Uhuru when we recommend books for him.

But in his book, From Third World To First, Lee Kuan Yew former leaders of Singapore says: While a problem may be new to an individual, most problems are not new to the world.

Whenever he got a new problem, he would either read or call a colleague for an answer. Our problems are not new either and our leaders could get their answers from books or consultation with other leaders.

But as I said, Kenyans don’t want to learn but to earn and have a good time with public funds. Lest I am accused of fabricating, let me say I learnt this nature of Kenyan ministers and MPs when I traveled to Malaysia, New Zealand, Tanzania, Nigeria, Uganda, USA, Geneva and South Africa. In Uganda, my fellow MPs nearly beat me up for stopping our bus to buy roasted bananas, eating which they thought was beneath them.

In Malaysia, MPs caroused all night while prostitutes were paraded outside our hotel like merchandise. In New Zealand, MPs went drinking the whole night only to return to the hotel in the morning too tired to do anything.

When I returned to the ministry, I was shocked nobody asked where I was and what I brought back. I was never asked to do a report on my journeys. Indeed, nobody cared whether I had gone or not.

The only thing nobody forgot was to pay me my par diems for the days I was out. It seemed I had traveled for payment only. So, should President Uhuru have travelled to China?

No, if it was to secure Chinese support against ICC and yes, if it was to diversify Kenya’s trade with the world. Kenya should not over-rely on any one trading partner or partners.

We must go East, not for new masters but new trading partners. If it is suicide for any economy to depend on only one market or trading partner, it is greater suicide when our leaders don’t learn when they travel.

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