May 28, 2022

Mawazo Writing Africa

Writing about the main

State officials and politicians have made Kenya poor

Ahead of the 2017 elections in Kenya, honchos from a political party made their way to Kasarani Stadium to meet with people vying for different seats on the party’s ticket. When they arrived, they were amazed to find that the stadium was packed with people. For a moment they thought that maybe people had mistook the meeting for a campaign event. This scene of many hopeful party tickets has been repeated in other parities.

This year again we witness that messianic zeal to enter public service. Cut-throat competition is so intense that one contender has been shot dead in western Kenya and another just barely survived a similar fate on the coast. Judging from the political assassinations of post-apartheid South Africa, eliminating contenders for electoral seats might become commonplace.

A visitor from Sweden might be struck by this dizzying desire to serve the public. Because in Sweden, politics is an almost thankless job in terms of material gain.

In Sweden, a one-room government apartment is made available to MPs. MPs in Sweden don’t have car subsidies; they are supposed to use public transport.

In Sweden, city councils have no offices and have to work from home. Needless to say, opportunities for corruption are few and if caught, sanctions will be imposed immediately. On one occasion, a deputy prime minister used a government credit card to buy chocolate and other personal items. She had to resign despite having refunded the meager amount.

The reward for Swedish MPs is therefore the satisfaction of serving the people, bringing life-changing ideas and programs, and keeping their citizens safer, wealthier and healthier.

In Kenya MPs earn around Ksh 1,000,000 ($8,600) a month in salary. If you add attendance allowances, daily allowances, false mileage reports and proceeds from corruption, our MPs quickly become the richest people in the country. I was out with a friend the other day when he proudly pointed out a block of flats under construction. “It’s my cousin’s design,” he said proudly. “Just the other day he had absolutely nothing, but since being elected MCA he’s done very well.”

But in the next breath, my friend was complaining about the poor government services. I was speechless. Here was an intelligent man who couldn’t see the connection between underdevelopment and the corruption and spoiling of public officials.

So we don’t love public service that much. It’s just the sector where you can get very rich very quickly. Lecturers, teachers or doctors who have struggled for years suddenly become billionaires when they enter politics or are appointed civil servants. The state is a feeding trough. All it takes is finding your way to a suitable location.

We don’t need big theories to explain why Kenya is poor. The reasons are right before our eyes.

Tee Ngugi is a Nairobi-based political commentator