American writer O. Henry crowned it for posterity. In his 1904 novel Cabbages and Kings, he describes an imaginary State totally under the thumb of a fruit company.
For the occasion, Henry crafted the expression banana republic, which was a fictional description of the takeover of Central America’s banana plantations by a giant American conglomerate known as United Food Company.
In Guatemala, United Food even overthrew the democratically elected government of Colonel Arbenz Guzmán in 1954 (with the help of the CIA).
That’s how much it had captured the country. To a large extent, United Food represents modern day crony capitalism and its capture of the State; a phenomenon that has played out in Kenya for over half a decade and continues to deplete the fiscus.
In Kenya, it has become unconscientious and cannibalistic. When you have political cronies importing poor quality personal protective equipment (PPEs) meant for frontline healthcare workers, deliberately endangering their lives, where’s the art of public good? Where’s the raison d’etat?
There is this classic story of a politician who coerced a big public health facility into awarding him a tender to supply incubators, usually meant for saving the lives of premature babies by keeping them safe and cosy.
Of course, in the interest of ill-profiting, which was the primary objective, he went for substandard products. And so after a while babies started dying in the incubators while, you can be pretty sure, the supplier walked away happy.
We have had governments that are only interested in your taxes and care less about your life (and wouldn’t hesitate to vomit on your shoes).
As Kenyans, we have longed to get rid of the domination of political cronies over our lives.
They have captured our institutions. They have built this revolving door of a confessional system and enforced an ethnic identity on us (and even pitted us against one other) at their own profit.
It’s a profitable system built over years, which has allowed them to eat in turns and, at the same time, enjoy exemption from punishment or freedom from the injurious consequences of their actions.
Basically, and with a straight face, they can do anything: sell to citizens contaminated food, hoard basic commodities, supply air, divert critical drugs destined to public hospitals into private markets et cetera et cetera.
But how have they managed to dominate our lives? Historian Prof Bethwell Ogot talks about a unity of purpose that loosely cobbled together various sectional, economic, regional and ethnic interests within the pre-independence colonial territories, joined solely by their common interests in getting rid of the colonial masters.
The truth is many Africans did not have a strong sense of attachment to the emergent nation in which they found themselves after independence.
The politicians took advantage of that to enforce ethnic identity from the onset. They then hijacked the entire process of nation building.
Charles Mangua, in his book, Kenyatta’s jiggers, talks about a group of individuals that overtook the post-independence agenda; or the so-called deep state.
But haven’t we helped them do so? Haven’t we cheer-led them under the banner of ‘our-own’ and voted them back countless times? So we first need to get rid of ourselves.
We need to get rid of our current selves that greet them with bended knees, laugh boisterously at their jokes and offer them chalice. We need to strengthen our individual civic competence. Otherwise we are slowly eating ourselves away.
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