Superficially, the steam of daily Kenyan political drama has been escalated during these recent days when I have not been posting with the usual frequency, but on the other hand, nothing much new has actually happened. I certainly do not want to contribute to anyone’s complacency about the situation. What we have in Kenya now is simply wafts of the odor naturally emanating from the overripe nature of the “coalition” government.
The second Kibaki administration continues on its somnambulent pacing, while all the others jockey as part of “government” with no one formally in opposition. The Prime Minister has returned from a week in Japan with a pledge for a soft loan of more than $300M for geothermal power and a grant of $55M for environmental restoration but has to cool his heels to get a meeting with his “partner” the President.
Driving home from the airport in New Orleans yesterday I listened to a BBC Newshour report from Nairobi about the “crisis”, the potential undoing of the “coalition”, corruption, and the threat of a return to the violence that saw the country “on the brink of civil war”. Of course, it was really pretty much the same report that could have been given the weekend before, or anytime in between (unless distracted by the various meaningless announcements of the day in the meantime). Bwana Ranneberger, the American Ambassador, has had a Casablanca-like shocking discovery that there is corruption going on right here in Nairobi. In fact, as a student and would-be teacher of history he explained to the Newshour audience that corruption had been “endemic in Kenya since independence”. Things are so bad that even the natives have noticed all on their own, as evidenced by his experience on safari outside Muthaiga where even a Nairobi woman selling potatoes on the ground was aware that she was being ripped off on her market fees and felt that all of the politicians should be arrested.
The BBC also talked to John Githongo about corruption and the possibility of a return to violence.
Of course, they didn’t ask the Ambassador why in the run-up to the election, the corruption of which triggered the violence, he had used his “bully pulpit” to speak up in praise of the Kibaki administration’s supposed strong record of progress in fighting corruption, as evidenced by an award from the World Bank even. Just as the same John Githongo was taking the risk of speaking out with more revelations about corruption in that same Kibaki administration.
My thought is that the BBC could be a bit less breathless. Yes, the notion of a functional coalition is proving illusory, but this is just the latest instance that status quo has been maintained rather than changed in the face of an opportunity to take action. Yes, there is a possibility of violence, but as I have written previously violence has been the norm in competitive elections in Kenya in general, just as ordinary Kenyans suffer from a baseline level of violence that politicians, diplomats and paid publicists in Washington don’t like to acknowledge. Certainly even Ranneberger now seems to agree that corruption has been the norm.
Yes, Kenyans face a crisis. But to paraphrase “The Who” playing at the American Super Bowl halftime, “Meet the New Crisis, Same as the Old Crisis”.
UPDATE: The BBC story is MUCH better in the on-line “print” version. It includes a very good quote from Ranneberger about politicians stealing from children, but leaves out the patronizing stuff, and generally reads much more measured.