Monday, December 23, 2013


If Kenya has not achieved anything else in its 50 years of independence, it can boast of having gained a reasonable level of tolerance in the fields of politics and governance.

Decades ago no civil servant would have dared to release the kind of statement Eric Ng'eno issued this past week without facing serious repercussions. The Director of Speech Writing and Messaging at State House tore into unnamed senior colleagues accusing them of running a "parallel State" within a State.

The official also hinted at corruption in the system when he talked of "public sector thieves who are not even looking behind their shoulders before dipping their hands into the till." He claimed President Uhuru and his Deputy William Ruto were being sabotaged by a "coterie of senior civil servants opposed to their new way of doing things in government."

This stance is quite unusual and raises a question: why did Ng'eno go public when he could have raised the issue directly with his seniors at State House?

So far, there has been no serious reaction from the higher echelons of government other than a casual remark by the Government Spokesman, Manoah Esipisu, that Ng'eno's views were personal.

This could mean three things: either consultations were ongoing between the various feuding parties within the inner circles of government,  or that the matter was so sensitive as to require official comment. There is also a possibility that Ng'eno's statement had the blessing of one or both of the two principals in the ruling coalition. Either way, the public needs to know whether or not what Ng'eno said resonates with the truth. And if so, what the government plans to do about it.

Coming at a time of rising internal dissent in the Jubilee Coalition over the distribution of appointments between Uhuru's TNA and Ruto's URP, and allegations of shady procurement deals pertaining to the recently commissioned standard gauge railway line, this latest development adds to the growing teething problems in the nine-month old Coalition government.

One thing is clear however. The kind of intolerance we saw during the era of Jomo Kenyatta and Daniel Arap Moi when civil servants were expected to act apolitical and politicians were exhorted to toe the government line without question must be on its sunset years. Before, violators were sacked, ostracised, banned from holding public office or, worse still, jailed.

The most notable victim of forbearance during Jomo's administration, for example, was none other than Barack Obama Sr, the late father of the US President. Fresh from university in America and working as a senior economists in government, Barack took the courage of rubbishing what was then considered a revolutionary blueprint: the African Socialism and its Applicability to Planning in Kenya, popularly known as the Sessional Paper No. 10. The document, which provided the road map for Kenya's economic development, was crafted by none other than the celebrated Tom Mboya.

"One need not be a Kenyan," Obama Sr. shot up in an article published in the East African Journal in 1965, "to note that nearly all commercial enterprises from small shops in River Road to big shops in Government Road, (now Kenyatta Avenue), and industries in the industrial area were mostly owned by Asians and Europeans.

"One need not be a Kenyan to note that most hotels and entertainment places are owned by Asians and Europeans."

He continued: "One need not need to be a Kenyan to note that when one goes to a good restaurant, he mostly finds Asians and Europeans; nor has he to be a Kenyan to see that the majority of cars are run by Asians and Europeans...We have to give the African his place in his own country, and we have to give him his economic power if he is going to develop."

That was a loaded statement that rattled government insiders. The moment the magazine hit the streets, Obama Sr. was sacked never to be gainfully employed again.

Since then dozens of public workers and politicians have suffered for making political statements seen to be critical of government. At least three ministers were fired for criticising Kenyatta over the death of politician J.M Kariuki; and five were given the boot for opposing the constitutional draft during the 2005 referendum. These are just a few of many.

When Prof. Ouma Muga, an Assistant Minister in Moi's government reportedly boasted that he was the one who wrote the speech Moi delivered at the Ozone Layer Conference in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in 1989, he was immediately dismissed. He was accused of taking credit that should have gone to the President. The speech called for the signing of an international treaty on hazardous waste disposal and a ban on dumping of waste in Africa. It was hailed as one of the most brilliant speeches ever delivered by a Kenyan Head of State at any international meeting.

As for civil servants, involvement in politics has never been allowed. If Ngeno had been working under any of the previous Presidents he would probably be cooling his heels at a village somewhere. But this is the Jubilee era. Even with our many challenges, we seem to tolerate individual views - whether they are from a civil servant at the top ranks of government or a mwananchi posting comments in the social media.

This is a small democratic gain but we must preserve it.

And that is my say.