Greed is a national trait in Kenya, not just among the leaders but in all the citizens. Everyone wants to get material success no matter what the methods. It the fruit of a seed sown at independence
Kenyans were rightly outraged when their already well paid legislators asked for a pay rise. Some were louder and more creative in their outrage than others. Overall, all were united over the fact that the MP’s malfeasance has gone out of control and their demands for a pay increase even before their first month in office, in an age of austerity, was unwarranted.
Legislators asking for a higher salary will lead us down the slippery slope, other public employees- who rightly deserve a raise, will ask for one. But there seems to be a link between the ostentatious display of wealth by Kenyans, in general, and the MP's quest for salary increment. The MP’s are already one of the best remunerated in the world, but their demand for salary increment reveals a deep seated collectively pathology- the country’s inverted value system.
The seed for the unbridled search of wealth, by all means, fair and foul, was planted at independence; despite rhetoric pretension to the contrary, Kenya started out on the path of unbridled capitalist, while in Uganda, Obote was experimenting with the common man charter, and Tanzania was embarking on Ujamaa socialism. But the political elite kept on reassuring their sister countries, they were pursuing the same economic models as them.
Kenyatta while opposing the British, reserved deep admiration for their economic model, which he adopted - although with a crude interpretation, if not downright cynical manipulation; he’s reputed to have told his people, steal so long as you are not caught. In his eyes wealth acquired through nefarious ways was better than being an honest poor man. Since then, this mindset has been deeply ingrained on the national psyche. And it has in essence become Kenya’s dream.
It is considered a sign of failure if one served in the government and retired without being wealthy; the constant refrain is – they served in a very lucrative ministry, but look they have nothing to show for it. This institutionalized corruption, desensitized the citizens to its impact, and emboldened the participants to believe that, in the end, corruption is celebrated rather than frowned upon. Any attempt at prosecution is seen as an attack on the community even when the “loot” is not shared with the community. That makes one question the energetic, albeit largely rhetorical effort expended on fighting corruption.
Kenya’s politicians' fear of humiliation and desire to live up to the societal expectations compel them to be as wealthy as possible. This has made the pursuit of public office as self-enrichment enterprise. In the end an election is an opportunity to make more money, and, since greed knows no bounds, once they make money, they want more. These inverted social values and the corresponding social expectation for wealth, is pushing, especially young people, into all sorts alternative parallel economic activities, some illegal.
The newly minted Senator for Nairobi, Mr Mbuvi, is the poster child of the young nouveau riche, and he has no compunction to flaunt his wealth. In his short career in politics, Sonko has pioneered a new cult of ‘leadership’- he caused a stir coming to parliament bedecked in jewelry and a ring; his signature attire combines shiny Congolese musician suits and a hat to boot. Sonko - a streetwise rich man, his nick name, has elevated sartorial inelegance to the ultimate level.
His remarkable ability, he claims is born of his initial modest background, of assisting the less fortunate by providing them with needs, all in full media glare, could be deemed altruistic although part of it reeks of self-indulgent narcissism. Remarkably, Kenyans on Fridays and Sundays, head to the mosques and churches respectively in big numbers; on both days the traffic jam in the two busiest churches and mosques in Nairobi is unbearable. On Facebook and twitter, the majority freely share not so subtle religious sermons.
In religions, sadaka - alms, and disdain for opulence, form a core pillar; what your right hand gives your left hand shouldn’t know. Giving should essentially come from the heart. Sonko’s exhibitionist tendencies are not limited to him; it is the majority’s aspiration.
Beneath Kenya’s famed entrepreneurship and remarkable resilience, lies a hunger to be seen as wealthy, a sense of belonging to a specific ‘class’, however hollow, and the manner of acquiring that wealth notwithstanding. In our evolving inverted value system, one candidate in the last election ran on the tag of a hustler- making the word cool and elevating it into the mainstream. The desire to make it in Kenya is extremely strong, but ‘hustling’ to fulfill societal expectation is pushed some beyond the edge.