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John Githongo: The Fraud-buster who has become nemesis to corrupt Kenyan officials

Mad Kenyan Woman on Primal Mzee or Father Figure in Kenyan Politics

I've spent the last week reading a spectacular trashing of Freud, with which I cannot say I disagreed. However, he wasn't always wrong, and we may be able to work with his idea of the Primal Father. (Dominant, in control of everything, top alpha male, etc.)

The weekend before the Anglo-Leasing scandal broke, John Githongo was in
Canada. The upshot is that he spent a weekend in my company, and some of it in my house, talking politics and photography.

Now, John is a good friend of mine. I don’t see him often, but I like him enormously. He thinks I am impatient, insane, impetuous and unpredictable (there was another thing, but I can’t remember just now).

I think he is a control freak, annoyingly reticent, compartmentalized and overly analytical about every little thing. As you can see, our admiration for each other knows no bounds. We probably get along because he is one of the most serious (as in sober, calm, reflective—not given to frivolity etc.) people I have ever met, and I am probably one of the most unserious people he has ever met. He calls me the “sexy prof,” which is nice, since “sexy” and “prof” have very little opportunity to sit side by side, let alone be linked together. I amuse him, when I am not yelling at him or arguing with him or attempting (without much luck) to tell him what he should do and why my way is so much better than his (obviously.)

Knowing him as I do, then, what I cannot understand is why on earth anyone ever hired him to be in charge of ethics oversight. I do not get this. Is it like hitting your toe with a hammer because it feels so good when you stop? A death wish? Symptomatic of schizophrenic tendencies in our glorious leader? What? He was appointed to this position. He didn’t ask for it. He didn’t campaign for it.

His C.V. is a matter of public record. His opinions and actions on the issues in question are well known. Why hire him? I’ve thought and thought and thought and all I can come up with a provisional answer. He is just too young. He is so young that they could not take him seriously. Despite the fact that he was well known for his integrity, his stubbornness, his incapacity to back down, and his insistence on the right thing; all these were supposed to be a passing phase that could be kept in check until he had matured into the wisdom, and habits, of his elders and betters.

According to most senior officials in Kenyan government, in this administration or any other, anybody under fifty is a mere “kijana.” I shan’t even bother talking about women, who are outliers on this particular chart. Our country is run by men who are, well, if not old, then definitely “older” than most of us and a large number of them could not be untruthfully termed “elderly”. Kenyan demographics indicate that our population is young and getting younger.

A mind-boggling percentage of Kenyans are under 25: I think, in fact, the majority. Another large group is between 25 and 40-ish: these are the significantly huge wave of new professionals who are globally aware, sophisticated and of whom quite a few have received at least part of their education in another country. These are cosmopolitan people. These are people born when Kenya was already independent or very close to it—they do not have colonial hang-ups, nor are they in the slightest intimidated by global competition. They are not, however, the people in charge.

The people in charge, the politicians and administrators are, by and large, proudly and despotically in the-diplomatically-- twilight of their lives or—less diplomatically—in their dotage. Yet we venerate them—these people who were already adults when independent
Kenya was born, and who were therefore formed and politically educated during the colonial period. They may have been nationalists, but colonialism and colonial deployments of power are still their major frames of reference. They may have been nationalists, but I think we are mature enough now to note that most nationalist movements were intensely misogynist as well as being often parochial and xenophobic, so perhaps our admiration can begin to be tinged with a certain critical perspective.

They may have been nationalists, but I think we can agree that their understanding of the modern state and of the deployment of state power is basically a domineering, male-centred, extractive and exploitative one.

No, I am not blaming colonialism yet again, I am saying that there is a crucial difference in generational understandings of power and of governance, and of their responsibilities and obligations. The way our leaders understand this dynamic, brutally put, is not ours. They are, quite simply OLD, and they are old-fashioned, and to the extent that most of them have ever thought much about these things, their thinking is old fashioned and passé. Perhaps, if so much had not happened in the world and in Kenya in the last forty years, this generational difference would be neither as marked nor as important.

Alarmingly, however, 40 years ago, we didn’t have email; educated Kenyans were few and far between,
Nairobi was still a compact, manageable city, and frankly, almost anything of any importance that was to happen to Kenya was still in the future. Forty years ago, Africa hadn’t degenerated into the charity dollar-a-day continent. (I plagiarized that phrase from MMK). 40 years ago, the global economic forms that are our contemporary context would have been a confusing, perhaps slightly far-fetched notion. 40 years ago was 40 years ago.

40 years is a long time. We know it is a long time and we are aware of this in almost every realm of our lives except, it would seem, our politics. We don’t educate people the way we did 40 years ago. Best practices in various branches of knowledge are most decidedly not what they were forty years ago. Medicine, the arts, science, philosophy, economics, everything; the difference between now and then is not simply large but has increased at an exponential rate. We do not wear the same clothes, bring up our children the same way, entertain ourselves, view the world, etc. ad infinitum the way we did 40 years ago.

Why then, do we think that minds developed and shaped over 40 years ago are adequate to dealing with political situations of the 21st century? What complement of experience, and wisdom can properly deal with factors and situations so new that they have no precedent, and certainly no referent that is forty years old?

Why is “Mzee” an honorific? A term of respect? You are older, over fifty, pushing sixty, seventy, eighty, etc. and so….? Yes, certainly you have seen more, experienced more and therefore know more, but of what and about what? Well, mostly, it would appear (if you are in government) most of your experience, wisdom and expertise involves a high level of skill in under-estimating and underappreciating women; an intolerance to being questioned or to being held responsible for any of your own actions; an expectation that those for whom you work (the public) are really not your employers but your subjects and dependants; and a variously expressed idea that the young should be seen and never heard, and not speak unless spoken to.

You are also extremely well versed in expecting, as your due, respect and admiration which you have done nothing to earn except breathing long enough to reach your current age. We understand the immense difficulty that this entails and the courage that it must imply. This is a boringly, predictably, and even generic list of symptoms of patriarchal mentality, which any half-decent student of gender will tell you belongs somewhere in the Paleolithic era. Why do we keep electing these super attenuated fossils? Why do we keep calling people “Father of the nation” as if we are orphans longing for rescue by the primal father?

John Githongo, being a 40 year old kijana, was never meant to be effective. He was supposed to do what he was told to do by his elders and betters, and to be grateful, by God! He was supposed to be entirely beholden for the honour conferred upon him. He was supposed to realise to whom he owed allegiance and act accordingly. He was not supposed to follow the Freudian formula that “the sons shall kill their fathers.” But he has. The sons have brought down the government of their fathers. At least, this particular son has.



Age as a fetish in Kenyan Politics

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