Kenyatta, Moi, Njonjo and others squandered Kenya's opportunity

Former political detainees Koigi Wamwere and former Attorney General Charles Njonjo during a lunch meeting at the Sankara Hotel. Photo/PATRICK VIDIJA
Former political detainees Koigi Wamwere and former Attorney General Charles Njonjo during a lunch meeting at the Sankara Hotel. Photo/PATRICK VIDIJA

As one of old post-independence leaders, Charles Njonjo has denied responsibility for Kenya’s woes as a nation and refuses to apologise for his part in creating those problems. But better than any other old leader, Njonjo has done well to agree to discuss and defend his generation of leaders whether we agree with him or not. Only this debate can unearth the genesis of our current problems.

Notwithstanding his defence, there are certain positions that Charles Njonjo took that require rebuttal, or they will be misunderstood to be historically correct.

But as we take this debate a notch higher, let it be understood that in order to understand and change the uncomfortable present, we must know the unpleasant past and its contribution to the present, to avoid its current influence and repetition in future.

To answer the vexatious question, "where did we go wrong?" we must also ask seek answers to who put us on the wrong track and how we can avoid mistakes of our past leaders, lest we repeat them and fail to achieve in the future what we have failed to achieve so far.

But in looking at Njonjo’s defence, we can easily see where our old leaders went wrong.

To begin with, unlike Frantz Fanon of the “Wretched of The Earth”, Njonjo and other old leaders defended our inheritance of the colonial order which made African dictators worse than colonial dictators. Fanon had already warned that if we really wanted to develop after independence, it would be suicidal to mimic our colonial masters, or African leaders would turn out worse dictators than colonial dictators. In their mimicry of the colonial order, African leaders destroyed whatever colonial development European settlers had built for themselves, making Africa look less developed after independence than before independence.

And though Njonjo defends dictatorship or authoritarianism as an instrument of development under colonialism and in Asian countries, he forgets that colonial and Asian dictators may have spurred on more development in their countries than in African countries because they were less corrupt than African dictators. Because they have been inherently and uncontrollably corrupt, African leaders have made sure Africa does not develop whether under dictatorship or multiparty democracy. And because, corruption is protected better by authoritarianism than by democracy, Kenya developed less under the authoritarianism than it would have had Kenya been a democracy.

And though Njonjo championed authoritarianism mistakenly as an instrument of stability, development and even rule of law, he also claims that Kenya was a democracy – which it never was – that allowed even critics of government to get elected.

In claiming democracy for Kenya, Njonjo forgets that no democracy can thrive or survive under one-man rule of one-party dictatorship that reigned under Kenyatta and Moi. And though some critics of government got elected into Parliament by joining Kanu the only party, if they persisted in opposition of government and especially President, they were carted away into detention for many years and others brutally assassinated as a warning to any other would-be critics of government.

There was also no democracy when Njonjo was in government because no democracy can survive without a functioning Parliament which had been completely emasculated by both Kenyatta and Moi through fear of assassinations and detentions. Under Kenyatta and Moi, even rule of law did not exist because through denial of security of tenure, courts had become Kangaroo courts that put service to President above justice. Even democratic elections did not exist in Kenya. Elections were subverted by rigging and secret ballot was substituted with public queue voting that was also subverted by short queues “winning” over long queues.

If anybody has any doubts why we are as poor as we are today, this is the tyranny that could, and did not allow either democracy or the economy of Kenya to grow or deliver development.

Yet, neither God nor Satan visited this fate of corruption, poverty and tyranny upon Kenya. Kenya was made poor by its corrupt dictators whom we cannot pretend not to know. But we can benefit from their mistakes if our leaders are honest to admit their mistakes, apologise for them and warn current leaders against walking in their footsteps. There can be little doubt that Kenya will commit suicide if leaders choose to walk in the footsteps of past dictators.

Njonjo also praises Kenyatta’s governance of the North Eastern part of Kenya. And though this region of Kenya is currently wracked by terrorism as it was by Shiftas under Kenyatta, the truth is that under Moi, North Eastern region was the victim of the infamous Wagalla Massacre and the worst form of economic neglect that gave the region only eight kilometres of tarmac and only one child to the university each year. Now if we are to take Njonjo’s argument that both Kenyatta and Moi developed North Eastern region, we will need Kibaki to explain how his government destroyed that development.

Njonjo is, however, right to say some of us made every effort in and out of Parliament to block every move and policy that Kenyatta and Moi government made to entrench poverty and tyranny in Kenya. As patriots and nationalists, what else would we have done?

Tragically, Njonjo fell victim to the same tyranny he helped create and glorifies today.