Kenya is Sick

Kenya is Sick

Forty-six years ago, today, Kenya became independent. It’s a holiday, today, but Kenya’s too sick to celebrate. I wonder if it’s going to make 50.

Most safari travelers make their plans about a year in advance, although I do have reservations for my 2011 Great Migration Safari. But for those travelers whose horizon is more distant, I’m telling them they better at least for the moment forget about Kenya.

This is painful and terribly disappointing to me personally. And, by the way, it isn’t just American tour wholesalers who are preparing for life without ole Kenya. So is Kenya’s Prime Minister, Raila Odinga.

I hasten to add that Kenya’s fine to visit, now. In two weeks I will be traveling with a five-year old, among 13 children in a family of 20, in Kenya. Today, Kenya, is one of the most exciting, safe places to visit in Africa.

But we are right now planning for a new era of stable business we hope will begin towards the end of next year. The last thing we want to do is jeopardize a fragile business recovery with unstable politics. And right now, Kenya seems on the brink of 2012 disaster.

Last week the IMF, supported mostly by us in America, wanted to help bailout Kenya from its victimization in this world recession. But Kenya couldn’t take all the money! There was … no place for it to go!

Last week Kenya refused $440 million in IMF bailout money, ending up taking only $210 million. I use “Refused” in the Kenyan vernacular. The IMF could not release money available for emergency development in Kenya, since that must necessarily go through government channels to be dispersed, and well, there aren’t any government channels!

Neighboring Tanzania got $340 million and is set to get twice as much next month. Most of this emergency development funding is to restart tourism and agricultural industries. The money goes to the Ministry of Agriculture and is then hopefully dispersed to credible projects, and food starts growing, again.

Kenya has a Ministry of Agriculture, but the only transactions occurring there are the payment of the salaries of its ministers and bloated bureaucracy. That’s because there is no plan for the Ministry of Agriculture. There’s no plan for any of Kenya’s 54 ministries except to pay salaries! There’s no plan, because the government is unable to pass any legislation at all, like a national budget!

Parliament is stalemated as the two parties in the coalition government block every initiative of the other. Completely embarrassed and fed up by the situation, Kenya’s Speaker of the House tried some imaginative maneuvers including cleansing Parliament’s budgetary committees of the main coalition members who were blocking action. But that failed, too. There weren’t enough members left who hadn’t already taken sides. The Speaker stands abandoned in a desert of corruption and political idiocy.

So the emergency funding that comes from the developed world is limited to fiscal rather than economic stability. The money Kenya did take basically props up the shilling and keeps the country from going bankrupt, paying interest on debt and politicians’ salaries. Good grief, Kenya even closed the primary schools in the country, because there isn’t enough money!

This isn’t tenable, even among the vast majority of Kenyans. With Kenya’s leaders totally out of touch with reality, the vast majority of Kenyans are very angry. Local newspapers are screaming. But nobody’s in the streets – not even the students – because there’s nothing anywhere that can replace the mess that currently runs the government. Like an American district court judge up for reelection, all the electorate can really do is shout, “No!” and therein seethes the time bomb.

No new, young politicians or cross-ethnic alliances are emerging. The election of December, 2012 will be a rematch of 2007. The better ideology is held by the ODM party (Orange Democratic Movement) led by Raila Odinga. But like in 2007, Raila won’t be allowed to win by the powers-that-be controlling the election, who are all in the other party. The results will be the same: a tightly contested, corrupt election that spawns violence. But this time, it will be much worse than 2007.

Already, Raila Odinga, the Prime Minister and head of the ODM, is spending more of his time abroad preparing for the post-apocalyptic scene of 2012 than he is at home trying to make the alliance work, now.

In the last two weeks he was in the U.S., Iran and the Sudan. Obama chose not to meet him and underscore the septic divisions in his country, but Michele Obama did meet with his wife. Clearly Odinga is building some type of international awareness of his capacity to govern Kenya, and clearly he expects trouble before it happens.

While I’ve often written that many of Africa’s problems come from a near immoral colonial legacy coupled with a definitely immoral Cold War legacy and thus the responsibility mostly of the developed world, things have changed in Kenya. The outside world is really trying to be extremely generous, given the world recession. Obama has written letters; Hillary Clinton has appealed publicly; and our own excellent ambassador, Michael Rannenberger, has steadfastly offered to help Kenya, if only it will help itself.

So far, it won’t. December, 2012, looms as ugly as anything that has happened in Africa, before.