MWANGI: Where are the Statesmen to share meat with everybody?

MWANGI: Where are the Statesmen to share meat with everybody?

At the funeral of the late Kenyan Cabinet Minister William ole Ntimama in Narok, President Uhuru Kenyatta released a classic quote that has been doing the rounds and become the subject of jokes on social media: That his team was comfortably feasting on meat as Raila’s continued salivating.

Both men were guilty of turning a funeral into a platform to throw mud at each other, but it was President’s words that stole the show.

The whole exchange, however, revealed a deeper problem that afflicts not just Kenya but the whole region: The death of statesmen. Save for Rwanda, where President Paul Kagame can be said to have stood out from the crowd despite the lack of real democracy, the history of the region is littered with leaders who fall far short of the mark.

Unlike the region’s founding fathers, who were prone to misusing their powers and detaining or eliminating opponents, real statesmen who make an impact in history do not impose themselves upon others. They are gentle yet firm, using the power of intellect to overcome their opponents in public discourse rather than the might of the security forces.

Increasingly, more freedoms in today’s world means that there is often less room to use dictatorial powers, even if our leaders wanted to do so. This can only be good, for it removes fear and elevates discussion to a more intellectual level.

But alas, this is not happening. Instead, either the debates become petty, take a tribal perspective, or those in power try to reinvent the old dictatorial powers to silence opponents. All these alternatives have been tried out during the Jubilee administration in Kenya.

Indeed, in the run-up to next year’s general election, the ethnic narrative is increasingly becoming evident, both openly and in less obvious ways.Ethnic arithmetic is bandied around as kingmakers negotiate for the spoils within their respective political formations. This is not just a Jubilee matter, but even with the opposition Coalition for Reforms and Democracy (CORD). Sadly, this puts Kenyans between a rock and a hard place in deciding which of the two main coalitions can satisfy their aspirations.

Of course, President Kenyatta’s kleptocracy has had the dubious distinction of raising corruption to hitherto unimaginable levels. With CORD not offering a viable alternative and no credible third force in place, Kenyans can expect more of the same mediocrity and poor governance for years to come.

But other countries in the region aren’t faring much better. While the latest darling of reformists, Tanzania’s President John Magufuli, is still performing above average on the economic front, questions are being raised in other areas. The promise of a vastly reformed governance paradigm in Tanzania is being questioned due to concerns arising from clampdowns on human rights, free expression and the media.

Burundi, of course, has long been the Sick Man of East Africa. It is a country where anything goes. The rule of law is more of a myth than reality. The security situation remains dire, while the inter-Burundi dialogue appears to have begun on a false start; simply, the government has the upper hand and will be highly unlikely to take any talks seriously at this stage.

South Sudan is no better. President Salva Kiir squandered the opportunity to use the Comprehensive Peace Agreement signed with his rival, former vice president Riek Machar, to bring peace to the young nation. While he may right now be having the upper hand, like his counterpart in Burundi, Kiir presides over a shaky peace that may be shattered in the coming days and months.

In Uganda, President Yoweri Museveni seems determined to break the African record for the longest-reigning ruler. There is little tolerance for dissent and democracy means little more than manipulated elections. There is, therefore, no real hope that the country will grow into a mature democracy any time soon.

Almost all East African countries, then, are ruled by iron-fisted demi-gods whose only concern is to maintain their place at the table. This raises the inevitable question about the lack of statesmanship. Will East Africa ever raise leaders who are true statesmen, with a vision for their countries and the region that stretches beyond their stomachs?

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Story By Isaac Mwangi
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