Is Kenya at 50 Teetering on Failed Statehood? By Washington Osiro
Kenya President Uhuru Kenyatta
A year ago this month my son and I celebrated Thanksgiving with family and friends in the Washington DC area. In one of the gatherings I attended during the weeklong sojourn in the nation's capital, I got into a discussion with a group of Kenyans where I posed the question (or made the claim according to some):
Is Kenya @50+ teetering on failed statedhood?
Like they say stateside, "them be fightin' words!"
Partly fueled by alcohol, the pushback against the comment was swift, boisterous and relentless. Thanks to the advent of the smartphone, I was able to access the internet and get the definition of the term "failed state" so we could all debate from a standard definition of the term.
Wikipedia, the open online encyclopedia defines the term "failed state" as follows, the site's qualifier "open" notwithstanding:
A state perceived as having failed at some of the basic conditions and responsibilities of a government. Although there is no general consensus on the definition, the non-governmental organization (NGO) Fund for Peace offers that a "failed state" has the following characteristics:
1. Loss of control of its territory, or of the monopoly on the legitimate use of physical force therein, 2. Erosion of legitimate authority to make collective decisions, 3. Inability to provide public services, 4. Inability to interact with other states as a full member of the international community.
Reflecting on the discussion on the flight back to Cali, I penned this piece that given events of the last month, was rather prescient if I say so myself:
Kenya is in serious trouble.
No less an authority than the country's Chief Justice Willy Mutunga warned of rampant corruption and explosive ethnic hatred in the lead up to the 2017 elections as did the Washington Post in an article two weeks after the CJ's dire warning.
The New York Times, Washington Post and Associated Press (AP), all venerable media outfits with global gravitas bared the Sisyphean task/Augean Stable that is corruption and impunity in Kenya for the world to see in back-to-back-to back exposes. And for the umpteenth time, Jubilee "reassured" Kenyans that the it "will take action over corruption following public outcry over the vice"; not because the DP and the ruling coalition see it as an issue!
Looking back on events of the last seven years, I would argue that Kenya has only succeeded in No. 4: Interacting with other states as a full member of the international community. I would say that Kenya (has) succeeded in the international arena due to a host of reasons including its world-record setting athletes, now-faltering tourist industry, and a population with a reputation for what I refer to as "Hakuna Matataism" -- a beguiling combination of creativity, resilience and a joie de vivreincreasingly laced with apathy! The country also plays an important role in a volatile region (Horn of Africa) of global strategic importance so Washington DC and London have occasionally turned a blind eye on the country's odious governance.
The multiple terrorist attacks in Mandera I & II, Mpeketoni, Lamu, Kapedo, Westgate and Garissa epitomized repeated and abject failure of the Kenyan government on item no. 1 -- the very raison d'etre of all governments. And while my adopted country America has more guns (and resultant gun-related violence) than the rest of the developed world COMBINED, there is no doubt who has the monopoly on the legitimate use of force there. Conversely, Kenyans continue to be victimized by runaway violence and insecurity fueled in part by a corrupt and compromised law enforcement and judiciary.
At best, the country's performance on items 2 and 3 has been spasmodic ("erratic" and "teetering on the edge" is how I revised my initial characterization).
Wikipedia goes on to write that:
Common characteristics of a "failing state" include a central government so weak or ineffective that it has little practical control over much of its territory; non-provision of public services; widespread corruption and criminality; refugees and involuntary movement of populations; and sharp economic decline.
At the risk of stating the obvious, there is a strong relationship between peace and stability on the one hand and strong/effective governance on the other. The opposite is just as true as repeatedly demonstrated by the weak, ineffective and incompetent Kenyatta government: Apart from its failure to control the country's northern regions, it has struggled to provide basics services such as law enforcement, security, tax collection, roads, healthcare, utilities (water, electricity) and education.
Not to belabor a point I have consistently made, but Kenya's peers of the 60s and 70s -- S. Korea, Singapore, Taiwan and Hong Kong -- have left their "hotbed of (fill in the blanks)" peer in their collective wake. The development trajectories of Kenya and any one of its former "age mates" could not be more divergent. While each of the Four Tigers became developed countries, Kenya has regressed and as recent as 2013 was characterized as a "failed state" by the International Crisis Group.
The ICG's report titled "US firm ranks Kenya as 'failed state' despite peaceful poll" asserted that "...the conflict drivers that triggered the 2007 bloodshed, including a culture of impunity, land grievances, corruption, ethnic tensions, weak institutions and regional and socio-economic inequality, have yet to be addressed adequately."