47. The Great Illusion

Kap Kirwok

17th August 2013

The superstitious amongst us are reading patterns – even where none exist – and are asking: what is it with the month of August? They recall such tragedies as the 1998 deadly terrorist bomb attack, the 1982 military coup, the death of President Jomo Kenyatta in 1978; the deaths of politicians Masinde Muliro (1992), Kijana Wamalwa (2003), and Martin Shikuku (2012) and find it disturbing that all happened in the month of August.

August of 2013 so far seems to be behaving true to type: there is the JKIA Airport fire disaster and the shocking poaching of a Rhino right under the noses of Kenya Wildlife Services, and a stone-throw away from a military installation. Is the month of August jinxed? Far from it; if you look for patterns you will find them everywhere. Nothing wrong with the calendar, I am afraid.

Still, others see the cascade of misfortunes since March this year and ask: what is it with the Jubilee Government? To the less superstitious, the JKIA fire disaster was nothing more than an example of what you can expect when moral rot meets appalling incompetence. Many commentators were provoked to cynicism and outrage. Examples are columnists Andrea Bohnstedt of the Star Newspaper, Kipkoech Tanui of The Standard Media; and Rasna Warah and Makau Mutua of the Nation Group. In her usually acerbic style, Andrea reached for her best sarcasm. “…It is a no brainer that a facility of JKIA’s size and importance has…to have functioning equipment to prevent, warn of, and extinguish fire,” she mocked. Her beef is with our typical ostrich-style ‘head in the sand’ habits that lead us, for instance, to deny disasters such as famine until we have no choice but to ‘reach for the begging bowl… ’

Earlier, Kipkoech had let fly with a searing piece on the deplorable condition of JKIA’s toilets. Makau on his part literally exhausted the alphabet as he sought adjectives to describe the reasons for our mediocrity: we are – he said – malignant, uncouth, corrupt, cursed, little, small, and spiteful. We are also maggots and conditioned dogs.

Rasna in her column echoed Mutua and agreed that we have lost our moral and ethical bearing and become greedy, self-centred, arrogant and callous.

The outrage is understandable. Moral decay and depressing incompetence in our society are all too evident. Witness, for example, the way the shops belonging to Kamlesh Pattni were demolished. The entire spectacular had a thuggish feel to it. Why not simply break the locks, remove all the goods, put new locks and leave the shops empty but clean? Did we care about visitors’ first impressions of our country?

Whilst the moral rot and incompetence are a major concern, the most frightening thought in all these is this: what if the entire political edifice and power superstructure rests on a great illusion? What if the country is muddling through, powered only by the grace of God? That is what crosses people’s minds when they see the government struggle to get a handle on things that appear to be spinning out of control. Consider the Elephant and Rhino poaching: this is no longer a tragedy in slow motion; it is a national crisis. And yet we appear feckless.

Or drug trafficking: this is as insidious as ever. The stories about VIP lounges at JKIA being used as logistical hubs for drug and human trafficking should not be dismissed. Then there are stories of drug barons who get deported but who sneak right back through our poorly protected borders. And talking of borders, a friend of mind demonstrated to me how poorly protected our border crossings are. He drove his car from Kenya into a neighbouring country and back into Kenya four times, back and forth, without anyone stopping him. Imagine what he might have been ferrying: weapons, drugs, people – anything.

Now consider recent news about the discovery of Niobium and rare earth minerals in Kwale County by Cortec Mining, a subsidiary of the Pacific Wildcat Pacific Resources of Canada, and the utterances of one Jacob Juma, Cortec’s country director. Did you see the swagger and the confidence of Mr Juma when Cabinet Secretary Najib Balala cancelled Cortec’s mining license?

Does Juma’s swagger give the lie to our claim of control and power? Are the Canadians, the Chinese and other superpowers of niobium and rare earth minerals already engaged in a cloak and dagger (read bribery, arm-twisting and blackmail) contest in which Kenya is a pawn?

There is a dangerous, shadowy world out there. What the citizens see is an illusion – of power and control, security and safety.

If this frightens you, I recommend you read The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith. The idea that, in a free market, each participant will try to maximize self-interest, and in doing so, unwittingly ensure the good of society, may comfort you.

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