In a few days time we’ll bid 2014 goodbye, and for many Kenyans, it will be good riddance.
Not since the terrorist bombing at the Nairobi American Embassy in 1998 when more than 200 Kenyans perished in a single bomb attack have Kenyans lived in a mortal fear of terrorist attacks as they have done in 2014.
A morbid feeling of an imminent attack drenched the country all year-long. I felt it many times as I waded through the busy Kencom bus stage to reach the National Archives on a research project. It was invariably a frightening experience for me everytime I walked through there because terrorists thrive on congested areas where people often let their guard down.
I felt the same way while in shopping malls, in churches and in public gatherings. 2014 has certainly been a horribly insecure year. No wonder the Interior Minister, Joseph Ole Lenku and Inspector General of Police, David Kimaiyo, had to go.
But 2014 has also been a year of mega corruption scandals and wastage of resources. The country spent a chunky twelve percent of its budget on recurrent expenditure against a globally accepted threshold of seven percent; and lost 30 percent of its budget allocation to corruption.
The much hyped wage bill intervention that required fiscal sacrifices by civil servants and public corporations collapsed as soon as it was launched because officials continued to steal, squander and pay themselves insane perks while many Kenyans slept hungry. In the devolved governments, county assembly members went on frenzied international junkets, paid themselves huge allowances and bought expensive vehicles from public funds.
The most ambitious Jubilee Government projects, the LAPSET (Lamu Port Southern Sudan-Ethiopia Transport) corridor, and the Standard Gauge Railway line from Mombasa to Nairobi, were bogged down for months in bureaucratic hurdles and greed while the government fought off land grabbers and reassured land-owners of their rights.The other much touted project which collapsed during the year involved the provision of laptops to tens of thousands of primary school children.
In August President Uhuru Kenyatta went to South East Asia on a major diplomatic thrust, with China as the focus of attention. He returned home with five billion US dollars worth of loans for infrastructural projects. The ties with China angered the West and led to a temporary disquiet by Kenya’s long time Western allies.
On the political front, 2014 was a bad year for the opposition Coalition for Reforms and Democracy (CORD) and a turbulent albeit successful year for the ruling Jubilee Coalition. CORD’s popularity at the Coast, Western and Nairobi, sank as Jubilee leaders crisscrossed the country to dismantle opposition strongholds. Even Nyanza where Raila Odinga commanded near fanatical support wavered as the year is ending.
The most frustrated political leader in Kenya in 2014 was undoubtedly Raila Odinga. The opposition leader failed to convince Kenyatta to hold a joint meeting to discuss matters of national interest including insecurity, and his push for a referendum to have the constitution changed to strengthen devolution crashed. He faced rebellion from within his inner circle and lost to the government side some of his key allies.
The abrupt death of CORD’s most dependable legislator, Otieno Kajwang, and the party nomination fiasco that followed to fill the vacant position in Homa Bay hurt Raila personally and portrayed the party as undemocratic.
The Judiciary under Chief Justice Willy Mutunga hit headlines for reasons of corruption and mismanagement as senior officials were sacked and decisions of the Judges and Magistrates Vetting Board under Sharad Rao to dismiss or retire discredited judges were challenged.
The ICC cases at the Hague brought relief to Uhuru but saw witnesses in the case against Deputy President William Ruto and radio journalist Joshua Sang contradict themselves, advantaging the defence.
The biggest institutional losers in 2014 were the media. Despite their immense influence inside and outside government, the media failed to stop the enactment of laws that appeared to have eroded, though minimally, the independence usually enjoyed by media houses in developed countries. The government ignored their strong editorials and noisy street protests, and by the year-end the media are still whining about so-called “draconian” laws.
And finally, Parliament. Kenyans would want to forget 2014 because of the conduct of their leaders who not only pushed through inflated salary increases for themselves, but engaged in shameful physical fights on the floor of the House. The shoving and pushing during the debate on the Security Bill sent two legislators to hospital, left one with injuries and torn trousers, and a temporary speaker with wet clothes after water was poured on her. Another woman lawmaker accused a colleague of pulling down her under-garment.
The luckiest Kenyans were the youth. Special funds were established to involve them in development. For the first time in half a century, residents of Kibera, the famous slum colony on the outskirts of Nairobi, were able to walk on tarmac roads in their estate; enjoy electricity, increased security, better toilet and health facilities and even a free Wi-Fi. Many youths there are now employed and earning a decent living.
As for the majority of Kenyans, especially in the rural areas and remote pastoral regions, life didn’t change much in 2014. Many slept hungry and died needlessly due to lack of health facilities. Will their life change in 2015? That we will see.
A Happy New Year and many thanks to you all for making this column as popular as it is.
And that is my say.