Here is my manifesto, but I have no intention of actually acting on it

Oh dear, the season of manifestos is here in Kenya. By the time you read this article, both Jubilee and Nasa will have unveiled their manifestos.

Both manifestos will promise utopia. But most of the promises will come to naught, no matter who takes power on August 8. Anyone with an average education can write a manifesto, and any average politician can stand in front of a cheering crowd and recite the promises therein.

In our part of the Third World, manifestos, just like the dancing, the flywhisks, fimbos, wild knee-jerk cheering, ostentatious billboards, endless convoys of branded cars, helicopters gulping Ksh100,000 ($1,000) an hour, dress codes, etc, are props to cynical political theatre.

In countries where politicians do not politick with the lives of their citizens as we do in Africa, manifestos are a serious matter. First, they are underpinned by a policy framework that fits into a strategic national development plan.

The policy framework details such things as the source and size of budgetary support. And, as importantly, the people given the responsibility to implement the manifesto proposals understand very clearly that their careers and, sometimes, their freedom depend on conscientious performance of their duty.

Regular updates

Then there are review teams to ensure benchmarks are met, and find solutions to challenges.

In these countries, the highest members of government, quite often the president, demand regular updates of progress. A manifesto in these countries is regarded as a sacred contract between the governed and the governor.

The prestige, sense of personal triumph and career advancement of both the governors and those directly responsible for the implementation of the projects are tied to the success of these projects. Failure, for both the governors and those in charge of the projects, is a terrifying prospect.

In 2013, Jubilee, with much fanfare, unveiled a manifesto that promised a number of things.

Key among these were five modern stadia, laptops for primary schoolchildren, a million jobs every year for the next five years, a double-digit economic growth rate, food security and cheaper power.

With the possible exception of cheap and accessible power, the Jubilee administration has failed to deliver on all the other promises.

Stole uniforms

Instead of the stadiums, the ministry of sports was rocked by a scandal that humiliated the nation when its officials stole uniforms meant for the athletes and organised joy rides for themselves and their girlfriends to the Rio Games at the expense of the athletes.

The economic growth rate has remained anaemic, oscillating between 4.5 and 5 per cent. As a result, the promised jobs have remained a mockery to the millions of unemployed youth. The laptops initiative, criticised by educationists right from the onset, never took off.

And this year, the government had to be reminded by Catholic clergy to declare a national disaster in drought-hit areas of the country where livestock and people were dying from ensuing famine.

Bizarrely, the minister of agriculture came on TV and argued that that the fact that fewer people had died this year as opposed to the last drought in 2011 was a mark of progress.

But what perhaps characterised the Jubilee administration’s five years in power was the return of Kanu-era scorched-earth thievery. We were tormented by visions of money meant for our nation’s youth being carted off in sacks from banks at night.

Handled failure

There were land scandals, symbolised most callously by the grabbing of a school field in Nairobi, where protesting pupils, some as young as seven, were tear-gassed to unconsciousness by police.

There were billions of shillings meant for aid programmes allegedly stolen from the Ministry of Health and from the Interior ministry, and millions diverted from the youth fund, etc.

What really confirms that all these promises were mere political theatre is the way government has handled failure. What does it say about the government’s commitment to fulfilment of its manifesto when all the people – ministers and principal secretaries – who failed so miserably are simply reshuffled?

Next time our leaders travel to China seeking a handout, they could do worse than to ask their Chinese counterparts how they would have dealt with such people!

I doubt, however, that a Nasa (opposition) administration would have performed any better.

This is because it would be a recycling of the same players, and more crucially, it would be the recycling of the same mentality.

Kenya desperately needs a new thinking, a new political culture. But for the foreseeable future, we will continue to lament corruption and inefficiency, land grabbing, failed promises, death from hunger, unemployment, violence, no matter which coalition of tribes is in power.

Tee Ngugi is a Nairobi-based political and social commentator. E-mail:

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