Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Trustworthiness in a Kenyan context

First off, I have to put forward a disclaimer: I am very cynical and I love to complain. With that in mind, I would also gamble by concluding that these aforementioned traits characterize the psyche of a lot of my fellow Kenyans. Hence, I pose the question, why is Kenya a nation of complainers? Could it be something in our food, drink, culture, disposition or maybe even something genetic?

I strongly believe that the underlying cause of our discontent is the fact that there is a general lack of trust in whatever mechanism is supposed to propel our ordinary way of life; simply put, ours is a country greatly lacking in trustworthiness. It would be unwise to suggest that this is purely a Kenyan problem; however, the point can be made that within a Kenyan context the problem takes on quite a unique manifestation.

One need not look any further than some of the government parastatals for an example of this mistrust; in fact, Telkom Kenya is probably the poster-child for this lesson. It is common knowledge that many Telkom subscribers were the victims of inflated bills that resulted from the unscrupulous diverting of call charges to their phone lines, some of these charges being racked up even as the phone lines in question remained non-functional. Based on the mistrust that now mars the reputation of Telkom, it is foreseeable that there might not be any corrective measures capable of resurrecting this disappointing institution. Similar mismanagement can be cited in all the cases of government parastatals that have either collapsed or sit on the precipice of collapsing.

Taking these examples a step further, the manner in which our government is run perhaps poses the greatest source of public mistrust. It is becoming seemingly inevitable to Kenyans that no matter which regime we vote into power we are likely to end up with a bunch of self-seeking individuals that will not seek out the benefit of their electors. How else can someone explain the manner in which government revenue – that is directly accrued from the people’s taxes – ends up being flippantly dished out in form of handsome tax-free perks and pay increases to a very select few of Kenya’s population? Even worse is the situation whereby tax money is used to fund government machinery that is clearly unnecessary – the recent allocation of Sh.3 billion in support of the “YES” position in the past referendum exercise is one such obvious situation of extravagance.

Such examples of blatant misuse of the country’s financial resources are a slap in the face of ordinary hardworking Kenyans. Making such a deliberate mockery of the voters’ faith is tantamount to usurping the common person’s ability to bring about effective change in society – after all, whoever controls the finances holds the keys to the country’s future. I would venture that our powerlessness as Kenyans (except during election periods) is therefore the bitter pill that stokes our cynicism and general mistrust. Unfortunately for us, this untrustworthiness seeps into the various levels of society (for example the police, matatus, the city council … to name a few), further compounding an already awry situation.

There are no quick-fixes for this problem; but, I believe that a top-down approach needs to be explored. Our leaders have to start setting examples that are worthy of being emulated by those below them. The time for them to start improving their images has to be now; Kenyans cannot afford to delve in any more cynicism; it is high time that we finally got what we have always dreamed of: a system that works WELL. Take heed of the wise words of Pres. Herbert Hoover (US):

“When there is a lack of honour in government, the morals of the whole people are poisoned.”

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