By MARTIN KIMANI
Special Correspondent (East African)
The next revolution in Kenya will not be a violent one, contrary to the bloodletting presently underway. Rather it will be the rejection of the generation of men from whom the leaders of this country have been drawn.
The major politicians were in politics long before the majority of Kenyans were even born and who even today enjoy inordinate sway in the country. President Mwai Kibaki was born in 1931. Ex-president Daniel arap Moi was born in 1924.
They are still doddering on, unable to relinquish the reins of the power they have held onto tightly for half a century.
Theirs is a generation steeped in tribal arithmetic, in a cynical nationalism; their values have infected those thousands of young people who are roaming the countryside in a killing frenzy.
The young men throwing stones and shooting arrows and the youthful riot policemen opposite them lobbing tear gas and firing live ammunition are fodder for the failed politics of a generation of old men who may just take all of us to the grave with them.
I was raised to respect my elders and there are many whom I indeed respect. But the time has come to assess in the broadest and most personal terms how the generation of leaders that took this country from independence to the bloody and dangerous present has performed.
The oldest were born in the 1920s and the youngest of the lot in the 1940s — opposition leader Raila Odinga, who was born in 1945 is the youth wing of this generation. They can be counted as a single generation in the sense that their vision of what constitutes Kenya and their role in it is widely shared.
This generation has played and continues to play a prominent role in politics, in our intellectual life and in the business community.
While there are many among them who are capable and well intentioned, the defining characteristic of this generation is failure in leadership.
It is not enough to lay the blame on a few individuals. These prominent wazee (old men) have defined for us the content of our politics and the ethics of governance. They are our very own Boomer Generation except that the boom in this instance is the sound of our dreams and aspirations exploding. It is time we named them Generation Disaster.
It is a popular pastime to compare Kenya’s performance in economic and human development terms with that of the Asian Tigers such as South Korea and Malaysia. How often I have heard it said that these countries in economic terms were neck and neck with Kenya in the 1970s, only for them to surge ahead in the past three decades while Kenya trod water and in many instances retreated on the advances it had made.
The approximately 3 per cent of Kenyans who are above the age of 65 and from whom the bulk of Generation Disaster is drawn, have led us to an average life expectancy of 55 years compared with South Korea’s 77 and Malaysia’s 72 — according to the online Institute World Guide, which allows country comparison of economic data.
The economic numbers are even more dire. Kenya’s gross domestic product of $38 billion as of 2005 is only a fraction of Malaysia’s $287 billion and South Korea’s $1 trillion. Per capita, Kenyan citizens have only 12 per cent of their Malaysian counterparts’ income and 6 per cent of the South Korean GDP per capita of almost $23,000. At the turn of the century, 40 per cent of Kenyans were unofficially unemployed compared with fewer than 4 per cent of Malaysians and South Koreans.
These statistics, we can suppose with reasonable confidence, have deteriorated in the past three weeks and they mean that Kenya can count itself first among equals only if compared to the Congos and Guineas of this world. Our leaders’ vision is only to be lauded if compared with countries that have experienced genocides and decades-long civil wars.
Yet this generation, which touts its anti-colonialist credentials, its Kennedy Airlifts (the US scholarship programmes of the 1960s), its Makerere (university) pedigree and its ambassador-at-30 mentality has only managed to take us from one disaster to the next.
I grew up hearing about the inferiority of one tribe as against the other, in jokes that now seem like macabre warnings of a day when they would become deadly serious. My elders were ever focused on their belly buttons. Not for them to learn from the experiences of other countries — especially the disasters that were unfolding around us and sending refugees by the thousands into our country.
Their language was a curious construction. “The Kikuyu are now in power,” they would say even though I hardly saw a penny from this so-called power. “The Kalenjin have taken power,” they complained as President Moi stepped into State House, “They will finish us now for sure.” “The Luos can never rule this country; the Kikuyus are thieves; the Luhyas don’t know how to take power…”
This language is what has given birth to the present crisis and has underpinned the governance of this country since Independence.
Such a leap into the illogical, for our generation of leaders, is the very basis of logical thinking when it comes to apportioning power and privilege among themselves. It has served them well, this spokesman-of-the-tribe role.
It is the position that has enabled all those Mercedes Benzes to be bought from the proceeds of Goldenberg, Anglo Leasing and the dozens of financial schemes to rob the Treasury in the name of fulfilling the privileges of tribal mandarin.
Though they developed these roles before the majority of us were even born, their thinking has infected us all. Say what you will about the opposition, it too is a gathering of “spokesmen of the tribe” challenging a government largely constituted from similar material.
The one thing that such politics will not deliver to this country is the kind of vision and leadership that led South Korea and Malaysia from poverty to wealth. We may continue chasing “those people” from one area or the other and supporting the powerful on the basis that they are “our people,” but perhaps we only need to remember that the cost in lives is borne by individuals.
What does it matter that there is a Kikuyu president when you are a Kikuyu living in Nairobi’s Mathare slum? This generation of wazee has infected the country with its self-serving obsession with ethnicity as politics and politics as ethnicity. It has lived longer than most Kenyans can expect to live and yet it refuses to exit the stage.
Generation Disaster has repeatedly turned down opportunities to appeal to our better natures. It has chosen advancement from enmity rather than from strengthening our bonds.
Fear and suspicion are its stock in trade. These wazee sap on the blood of the young and seek gratification of their lust for power even if it leads to the destruction of this fragile, injured thing we call Kenya.
Why exactly should we respect this generation that has lived longer than most of us can expect to live and yet refuses to exit the stage, like an ill-mannered guest who insists on staying an extra night?