GOVERNANCE AND INTEGRITY

Kenyan MPs a product of our society

There is actually no basis for direct comparisons

In Summary

• On all matters of governance, the Scandinavian nations – ie Sweden, Norway, Iceland, and Denmark – have long haunted the collective imaginations of Kenyan political

• Scandinavian legislators are usually painted as self-sacrificing and thoughtful men and women, whose only desire is to serve. Our MPs, on the other hand, are contemptuously dismissed as insatiably corrupt crooks.

Kenyan MPs and Scandinavian.
Kenyan MPs and Scandinavian.

For as long as I can remember, Kenyan media commentators have regularly drawn unflattering parallels between our political leaders and those of the Scandinavian nations.

For example, Scandinavian legislators are usually painted as self-sacrificing and thoughtful men and women, whose only desire is to serve.

Our MPs, on the other hand, are contemptuously dismissed as insatiably corrupt crooks.

On all matters of governance, the Scandinavian nations – ie Sweden, Norway, Iceland, and Denmark – have long haunted the collective imaginations of Kenyan political analysts because these countries are famously corruption-free, have the most comprehensive universal healthcare imaginable, and also, excellent free education.

 
 

In short, what is sometimes termed as a “cradle to grave” welfare system.

But it is not only in the big picture that these countries impress. Even in the incidental details, there are things to make the average Kenyan gasp.

Such as the widespread use of bicycles, not just for ordinary commuters, but even for high officials and royalty. (Though admittedly the global benchmark in the almost-universal use of bicycles by citizens of every station, high or low, is The Netherlands.)

So, as discussions on possible constitutional amendments start to gather pace, should we consider afresh the Scandinavian model in all matters of political leadership and economic policy?

This is a subject I have commented on before, but it is worth revisiting.

To start, here is a brief anecdote to illustrate just how different are the values of the high and mighty in such countries from those of our own political and technocratic elite:

My example is from Norway, where an old friend of mine – sadly now deceased – spent the decade between 1982 (when there was a coup attempt that led to many Kenyan political activists fleeing the country) and 1992 (when with the return to multiparty politics, it was at last safe for such people to come back home).

 
 

He told me that the most eye-opening experience of his decade in exile was when he read in a local paper of the death of a retired politician who had been one of the architects of Norway’s post-World War II economic boom.

What truly amazed him was where the great man had been living quietly for the last 10 years or so.

It turned out that the residential address of this Norwegian elder statesman – an acknowledged political giant in his heyday – was just a few blocks from where my friend lived.

And he had probably driven past the house many times, without once giving any thought to the question of who might be living there, as it was a very ordinary middle-class residential zone, in a middle-class district of Oslo.

To emphasise how perfectly ordinary that neighbourhood was, my friend told me that his immediate next-door neighbour was a bus-driver.

It's impossible to conceive of a retired Kenyan politician who once guided the affairs of the nation living in the same general neighbourhood as a bus driver and a penniless political exile.

More so as there were plenty of petroleum revenues at hand in Norway, during the latter years of the great man’s time in high office.

So those who make comparisons between Kenyan and Scandinavian legislators or other political leaders may appear to have a point. Scandinavian political leaders are definitely not as obsessed with the accumulation of personal wealth as our leaders are.

But if you look more closely into the matter, there is actually no basis for direct comparisons. For Kenyan MPs routinely face challenges that to a Scandinavian legislator, would be beyond nightmares.

And if you should ever meet an MP from any of those Scandinavian nations, it might be useful to ask them about the number of poor kids whose education they have supported from their own pockets; or how many funerals they attend, and help meet the costs of, on any given weekend.

And above all, can they tell us how many barefooted peasants will be patiently waiting for them at their gate, eager to explain the personal emergency that has brought them to seek out “Mheshimiwa”, whenever they travel to their constituency on a weekend?