My key lessons from 2015


Twelve months ago I shared the three key lessons that I had learnt from the year 2014. The first was that politics is really about what you do; not what you say. The second was that there is a difference between doing what is good and doing what is right. The third lesson I carried forward from 2014 is that in real politics rarely does one have the privilege of choosing between good and bad; usually all the options are bad and the only choice is which ‘bad’ one can best live with.

The lessons I carry forward from 2015 are just as interesting.

My first lesson has been that there are always two sides to a story. The fight against corruption has been my case study. This year the Opposition has worked extremely hard to portray Jubilee as the most corrupt government Kenya has ever had since independence. They have highlighted scandals linked to senior members of this administration, pointed out obvious corruption tendencies in this government, and singled out areas where questions have been left unanswered in major government projects. They have even used the firing of a quarter of the cabinet as an indication of how deep the rot runs in this government.

However the other side to this story is that Jubilee could very well be the first government since independence to genuinely be interested in fighting corruption. Our current constitution makes governance a transparent process which makes it very difficult for government officials to get away with corruption. Technology and free media have also made it extremely easy to mainstream corruption issues when they arise.

However existing laws make fighting corruption very difficult to pull off. The result is that Jubilee’s efforts to fight corruption are discussed and judged on intent rather than on effect; while the efforts themselves are undisputed but unacknowledged.

My second lesson is tied directly tied to my first one. Looking at the corruption example above one could argue that Jubilee is the first government in Kenya’s history to tackle corruption head-on. In an unprecedented feat there are 337 corruption cases in Court, including 68 affecting senior government officials. The President has also fired a multitude of senior government officials who have been linked to corruption, including a quarter of his own cabinet.

But what do Kenyans believe? The dominant public narrative is that this government is doing absolutely nothing in the fight against corruption. This narrative has been sold so effectively that even some of the President’s die-hard supporters have bought into it. This is my second lesson from 2015; that the dominant public narrative at any given time is not necessarily the true one. It is just the one that has been most effectively sold to the public.

My third lesson from 2015 is that it is a lot easier to destroy than to build. During the year I have had the privilege of being invited to literally every major radio or Tv station in Kenya as a commentator on the state of the nation. I have also written 52 columns this year alone, on this space.

On every occasion I have deliberately pursued the ‘glass-is-half-full’ argument. In the process I have been accused of being a sycophant seeking favors from this administration; a hypocrite since I am speaking positively about a government that I did not support in 2013; and a tribalist who is only supporting this government because it is led by a fellow Kikuyu (apparently I was not a Kikuyu when I was critiquing Uhuru before!)

But the reality is that the Kenyan ‘glass’ is really way above half-full. Our institutions are working, despite the challenges of personality cults; the economy is growing, in spite of global financial hiccups; our political system is maturing, notwithstanding our deep-rooted ethnic political leanings; our democratic space is deepening, undeterred by the ongoing conflict between freedom of expression and responsibility for what is expressed … and the list goes on. There really is a lot to celebrate about where Kenya is, and where we are going.

Of course not everything is as it should be but I do not buy into the picture some are peddling of a Kenya whose ‘glass’ is empty; where nothing works; where the economy is collapsing; where the rule of law does not apply; that cannot secure itself … Kenya is not a failed state. This means that though l might sometimes seem to be overselling the positives, it is because when up against an intelligent opponent who is pushing the ‘Kenya-is-all-doom-and-gloom’ narrative I would rather err on the side of optimism. A few of us really must focus attention on how to build up on what we already have, even as most of us to what is not working. This is how we build a Nation.

Happy New Year

(Ngunjiri is a Director of Change Associates, a Political Communications Consultancy)

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