- There is interconnectivity to these issues that Kenyans don’t truly explore in national conversations.
- For instance, can a government that is unable to competently run a mere power distribution network be trusted to be on top of its game in national security?
Hunger is an equal opportunity adversary. Rich people playing golf on green manicured courses have to take a break to attend to hunger pangs, just like the ordinary hustlers pushing handcarts in small trading centres across the country. By the same token, financial constraints may sound like a poor man’s problem, until they come knocking on the doors of the honourable elected legislators, who are used to zooming past the people in high-end fuel guzzlers.
On December 7, both the National Assembly and the Senate commenced a long recess that goes until mid-February. Ideally, this long break presents a great opportunity for elected leaders to retreat to their political bases and commune with their electors. Except that it is a very expensive endeavour, as the financial demands of the electorate flow in tenfold at this time.
And yet, as they rose to adjourn sittings until February, the legislators angrily expressed their frustration at the failure by the exchequer to wire development funds to them or to pay November salaries to their staff.
What may have been even more interesting to watch was that legislators who ordinarily act as regime praise-singers on any other day led the protests over the prevailing situation, within the precincts of Parliament. The prestige and power in these offices are underwritten by the funds available to the leaders to enable them peddle influence and outshine local foes with an eye on the same seats. When these are threatened, it turns out no political divide exists.
The dire situation facing our legislators ahead of the festive season wasn’t the only ominous sign. In fact, if signs of the times were all to be listed here, we would run out of space. A day before the house went on recess; Treasury CS Njuguna Ndungu appeared before the National Assembly’s Finance committee and delivered grim news. The CS stated that the government was facing liquidity challenges and struggling to meet its financial obligations, including paying salaries to civil servants. In other words, the country is broke.
It is difficult to sympathise with the Kenya Kwanza regime. A lot of times, it strikes you as a thoroughly incompetent, rudderless craft, running on autopilot, its human managers having abandoned it mid-voyage. The regime appears unable to move from politics to actual management of a nation. The problem is that this incompetence isn’t just burdening the taxpayer but is clearly beginning to seep into the lives of the future generations.
Take for instance the recent KCPE results, the first ones following a full-calendar education management by this government. In every sense of the word, the manner and nature of the results left a lot to be desired. It’s all now in public domain, but it drove one expert in the education sector to comment that perhaps CS Machogu wasn’t really in charge.
As if to confirm her fears, Machogu fumbled through the crisis without offering any credible remedies to parents across the country worried that their children’s examinations and future had been mismanaged.
There is near unanimity that the combination of the late Prof George Magoha as Knec chairman and Dr Fred Matiang'i as Education CS was probably the best for the education sector. It wasn’t just a reformist pair with an eye on the bigger picture, but together, they struck at the heart of the examinations grading cartel and tamed what had become a fat, overfed dragon.
Over time, the two helped improve the perception of school exams as competitive assessment and grading tools. In civilised places, we would have expected the next managers and sector leaders to pick up from where the baton was handed, to move it forward, rather than backward. After all, examinations are the avenues through which we create the future leadership of the country.
From the foregoing, I doubt that any sane Kenyan would find reason to believe that the same people and institutions that mismanaged KCPE results will be trusted to deliver a flawless process in delivering the results of the more senior KCSE examinations, which are expected to be announced soon. Indeed, what guarantees are there that the Education ministry as currently constituted, has the competence and the manpower to go into the New Year running the education sector professionally and credibly?
Talking of ministries, the ones that take the dubious distinction of running a circus must surely be Energy on one hand, and Transport and Housing on the other. I have averred here before that in well-run countries, a national power outage is, for all intents and purposes, a security threat.
And yet last weekend, we experienced the third nationwide blackout in just three months. In football parlance, commentators seeing a striker miss a sitter often remark, “it was easier to score”. With the Kenya Kwanza regime, incompetence visits it even when the opposite is the easier option.
There is interconnectivity to these issues that Kenyans don’t truly explore in national conversations. For instance, can a government that is unable to competently run a mere power distribution network be trusted to be on top of its game in national security? Can folks who can’t set up functional standby generators at the country’s main airport and regional travel hub, have the foresight to manage referral hospitals, whose facilities require just such expertise?
Usually, in times of adversity, the words of those who hold responsibility are a mirror into whether or not real solutions will be found. In the case of the recent power failures in the country and at JKIA, Kipchumba Murkomen blamed sabotage and invited the police to step in and investigate.
But the man in whose docket power distribution falls, Davis Chirchir, stated that the issue had been an overload on a crucial powerline, and that more investment needed to be pumped into new lines. This is a way of saying that the taxpayer should cure the current incompetence by pumping more money into new power infrastructure!
In the wake of the third power failure in as many months, social media commentators, alive to the ethnic monopoly prevalent in senior management levels of state institutions in the energy sector, advised the President that even though it wasn’t a good thing to fill one sector with his kinsmen in that manner, at the very least, he was obligated to pick competent ones to save the country from doom. Tribalism, in all fairness, doesn’t have to be equated to incompetence.
I however have bigger concerns than just the power blackouts and the tribes of those who manage different sectors in the country. I am struggling to find one ministry or sector that performed brilliantly in Kenya Kwanza’s full year in charge, from which the regime can build momentum. It is impossible to get one. The effect of that is that as 2024 beckons, we will transition into the New Year still despondent and without hope that the regime can get its act together and get down to governing.
The management incompetence within the Energy, Education and Transport sectors are merely a microcosm of the underlying failures within the whole government. Coupled with the admission from none other than the man running our coffers that we are broke, one begins to see the horrible picture ahead of 2024. Difficult times lie ahead.
The writer is a political commentator