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February 21, 2019

WYCLIFFE MUGA: The parable of the taxi driver and the MCA

Crumbling house
Crumbling house

Journalists, when reporting from a foreign country, will often mention prominently a conversation they had with the taxi driver who drove them into town from the airport.

Behind this lies an assumption that driving a taxi is one of those jobs which more or less compel the driver to engage in conversation with a large variety of people.

But you do not have to leave your country to benefit from the wisdom of taxi drivers.

Although I have heard many criticisms of Kenya’s most hated political class — the Members of the County Assembly (MCAs) — the most bitter of such criticisms I have heard came from a taxi driver right here in Nairobi. This is what he told me:

Apparently, in the 2013 election, his “home village” had elected a young man of little material means as their MCA. This was someone well known throughout the village, as he was constantly organising football matches and other “youth activities”, as well as being active in the church choir.

But this “God-fearing young man” had a surprise in store for the villagers after he got elected. He suddenly became unavailable to the ordinary people of that place, and only seemed to have time for businessmen and his fellow MCAs with whom he was to be found drinking most evenings at a bar in the nearest big town.

Midway through his term in office, he was summoned by a group of “elders” who warned him that he was virtually certain to lose the next election (in 2017 ). He surprised them by answering that he did not care — he did not intend to run for office again anyway.

Then came the third surprise: The former “God-fearing young man” proceeded to build a “decent stone house” for his mother, who had up to then lived in a modest timber shack — the very one in which “mheshimiwa” had been born as many a villager recalled.

Thereafter he acquired a big plot of land a little distance away, and built a huge mansion there for himself and his family.

And to cap it all — and the biggest of all surprises — he bought the car which is currently the most coveted among the Kenyan political class: A shiny, black, Toyota Land Cruiser V8.

Barely able to contain his fury, the taxi driver who told me this story practically shouted, “Do you know how much a Toyota Land Cruiser V8 costs? Even if it is second hand?”

Before I could admit that I had no idea, the driver went on to declare “this thief” had obviously stolen enough to ensure that he could spend the rest of his days as “a rich businessman, cutting deals with the county government”.

All this had been leading up to this big question which he then put to me: “How can we stop our elected leaders from robbing us like this?”

My answer was that I could not really say how the limitless appetites of our elected leaders for fraud could be curbed. But what I could assure him was that the MCA he had so come to hate, would die a poor man.

For I had seen this kind of thing before.

Two things usually followed on any such successful heist by an elected leader. First, a few years of exposure to the excitements of elected office leave most men or women incapable of being content with life as an ordinary citizen. So in time, “mheshimiwa” would feel an urge to return to the arena of politics.

Secondly, while experienced businessmen tend to be very patient people, amassing their wealth systematically over decades, politicians who turn to business tend to seek quick money. As such they are never any real competition to the serious businessmen, and in the long run cannot be successful businessmen.

So “mheshimiwa” would in due course return to the political arena — in the process most likely taking a loan against his famous mansion — and would almost certainly lose everything.

It was not to be ruled out that in the end he might be found living in his mother’s house — the very one in which he was born — and living there with his whole family, having lost all his ill-gotten wealth.

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