By Daisy Nandeche Okoti with Ogova Ondego
Published March 8, 2016
The world appeared stunned on February 25, 2016 when the media reported that President Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya had, while on a state visit to Israel, referred to the people he leads as ‘expert thieves and nags’.
BBC reported that Kenyatta had told Kenyans in Tel Aviv that Kenyans are tribalists and thieves who are ‘always stealing and complaining wherever they are.’
“A visibly frustrated [President Uhuru] Kenyatta told his audience that he was going to be very sincere and honest with them before he referred to his countrymen as “expert thieves and nags” who lack focus to develop their country,” BBC reported.
Perhaps not; especially when one takes his sentiments in context.
Fact 1: In 2013, Kenya suffered the ignominy of being the first country in the world to have elected to the highest office in the land—the Presidency—people indicted for crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court. Though the analysts and commentators who referred to the country then as having become a ‘kakistocracy’ were roundly criticised, those observers appear to have been vindicated over the past three years as shown by Facts 2 and 3 below.
Fact 2: In 2016, Kenya has been ranked on the world corruption index as the third most corrupt country in the world.
Fact 3: The International Association for Athletics Federations (IAAF) has in 2016 given Kenya an ultimatum to show that it is combating doping among its athletes or be banned from international competitions.
Those three ‘facts’ notwithstanding, impunity appears to be entrenched in Kenya where a person’s ‘integrity’, ‘good reputation’ or ‘good standing’ no longer matter.
Alright. This may be so. But how can the President, the person expected to unite the country and protect its image around the world, be the one undermining Kenya’s international standing? And certainly not while on a tax-payer-funded trip to supposedly strengthen ties between Kenya and Israel. Did Kenyatta not say Kenyans are tribalists and whiners who continue to pull back the development of their own country which he said is 20 times better than Israel?
“… We are experts at stealing, abusing each other and perpetuating tribalism and other crimes,” he was quoted to have said in Kiswahili to Kenyans living in the ‘Holy Land’.
It would be easier to dismiss stereotypes and misinformation coming from without; but not when they originate from within. And that is why those remarks by the President of the Republic of Kenya carry more weight on Kenya than anything anyone else, say a spin doctor, may say about the country.
Could Kenyatta not be indicting his own regime by confessing that he has, over the past three years of his administration that started in April 2013, failed to stop the embezzlement of public resources by public servants?
The level of insecurity is at its highest ever in the history of the country that gained political independence from Britain in 1963. Could the President’s statement be a cry for help; drawing attention to the fact that he can’t control the ‘thieves’, ‘tribalists’ and ‘visionless’ ‘criminals’ he is forced to work with?
What does it mean for the President to label the people who elected him ‘miscreants’ and ‘criminals’? The words of Uhuru Kenyatta, as already noted, carry more weight than anything anyone else might say about the country. His sentiments are used as the defining factor of who Kenyans are to the outside world.
Many people are wondering why a politician who’s expected to project a positive image of his country would launch an unprovoked assault on his compatriots on a taxpayer-funded trip.
In another country, pundits contend, Uhuru Kenyatta’s sentiments would have been the basis of his impeachment as they border on ‘treason’.
While it is true that Kenya is struggling with endless corruption scandals, many of which have senior government officials implicated, calling all Kenyans ‘criminals’ is in itself scandalous, libelous and defamatory. Most non-politician Kenyans are among the most honest, most hopeful, most hardworking and most resilient people in the world. Kenyatta owes these folks an apology.
Uhuru Kenyatta’s utterances have destroyed the brand known as ‘Kenya’ more than the reference to the East African country by CNN as a ‘terror hotbed’; the ‘terror hotbed’ label saw the US American news network roundly condemned by Kenyans and the country withdraw its ‘image-branding’ adverts from CNN. It won’t be easy to heal the wound inflicted on Kenya by the President. It is a blow to direct foreign investment, travel and tourism, and Kenya’s international competitiveness.