Mwenye Miti is the pseudonym of a former senior Kenya government ministry employee. Disgusted by the corruption and what he saw as “the inevitable slide toward chaos”, he retired from government service several years ago and has taken up farming and consulting work. He is a special advisor to several international organizations, and foreign diplomatic missions in Kenya and abroad. He is also an avid forester, and his chosen pseudonym reflects that passion. I have had the privilege of knowing him for several years and recently spent hours interviewing him about Kenya; the past and the future. Parts of those conversations will appear here.
BA: How do you see Kenya’s current development trajectory?
MM: Well, to be fair, we have come a very long way. Most of the people that critique Kenya in the international media and even on social media here in Kenya, have forgotten what it was like for the ordinary Mwananchi in the time of Mzee Kenyatta or Moi. We had serious economic stagnation, and we had insecurity then too, for many Kenyans. Do you remember the Shifta War? Or the WaGalla massacre? Most Kenyans have forgotten, and most external critics had no experience of just how hard life was then for ordinary Kenyans. I would have been in trouble just for having this interview with you.
Now things have changed for many Kenyans and this is not really attributable to good governance necessarily, although that has had some improvements, but rather, because of relative stability and private sector investment. We have a growing economy, we have a growing middle class. But we have some growing problems too. In short, we have a long way to go to achieving the goals that are laid out in Vision2030 – not just through flashy infrastructure projects, but through societal changes, through the transformation of our mindsets. We also need to deal with the fact that while the rich can afford security, the poor and middle class live in a very insecure environment, especially many of those in Eastern Kenya. We have had some success but you can’t build further success for the country, when insecurity is allowed to prevail.
BA: What do you think about this “threat” that if the West doesn’t support Kenya, it will turn to the “East”?
MM: I think it is distractionary politics, a bit of an empty threat. The “West” vs the “East” is a bit of silly argument. It is a narrative that is used to fan people to support Rais’s [the President’s] policies by inventing a threat from neo-Colonialist ideas. In fact, you wouldn’t say that because we use Algebra we are being colonized by the Arabs again? If we use good governance ideals that were brought to us by western countries, than it should be because of the merit of those ideas, not because of where they come from. As Kenyans we have become a bit lazy about improving on those ideas, something we need to realize opens us up to be “re-colonized” economically, socially etc.
BA: What do you think of the current political riff between CORD and Jubilee?
They have deceived us severally*. Really, this is a pattern, They have always tried to deceive the average Kenyan. They are all friends in reality. But whenever it suits them they fan the flames of hatred based on tribe, religion, football team etc. There are always the beneficiaries of chaos.
BA: What are your thoughts on devolution?
Time will tell on this but so far it has really only delivered an increased bureaucracy not mirrored by a decrease in central government. Have you seen the latest numbers for the wage bill?
But as I said time will tell.
One of the problems I do see with it is that it, essentially, the focus on representation has reinforced tribe, gender and religion as things that signify importance and merit position in a county government, because they have quotas, you know? Work ethic and performance – these are not really taken into account. Take, for example, the requirements that a county government must have the representation of each of the tribal groups in the county within the government. What happens if they are all incompetent?
BA: Are you optimistic about Kenya’s aspirations to be a future regional, and perhaps even global leader? If so, what are greatest hurdles we will face?
MM: I am obviously an optimist – I plant trees! You have to be an optimist if you plant trees.
I think the greatest hurdle we will now face is dealing with this culture of apathy. I think you called it the inatosha attitude. I think that that attitude, that “its good enough” will really hinder our ability to compete regionally and internationally. Others will surpass us because we thought our performance was good enough but it wasn’t – we were just apathetic. You see it in how our roads are constructed, how our infrastructure is, and when people complain, people tell them to stop complaining because we have a road now – a Supa highway! But really, unless we keep trying to make things better, more exact, more precise, we will lag behind. You see it because people think, as long as it gets done, it doesn’t matter whether it is high-quality. That attitude is something we need to address throughout our institutions, throughout our society really. Why can a politician be let off the hook for delivering satisfactory services to his constituents, while pocketing half the budget, when he should have delivered excellent services. The apathy in our performance, in our delivery, is something we must tackle. No matter how many times we re-invent MPESA, if we don’t address apathy, it won’t make us into a middle-income country. We can do better than just mediocrity.
BA: What role do Kenya’s youth play in this country?
MM: The youths represent my hope for Kenya, but need to do away with this sense of arrival and realize that AFTER they have completed school, that is when the actual hard work begins. That is when they have to become engaged, work hard and excel.
They also need to guard themselves and not let themselves be deceived by politicians. We Kenyans, love good vumi vumi [rumours] and we perpetuate them, without trying to find out the truth. The politicians love that. And they can buy votes cheaply based on those same rumors.
Our youth also need mentoring from more than just the musicians. They need good mentoring from Church leaders, from Imams, and from employers. Right now, who do Kenyan youth have to aspire to? They can’t all be pop stars.
* ‘severally’ is a Kenyan-ism for ‘several times’