Kenya must reap what pope sows

Bro­ken and dis­en­fran­chised na­tion must take ad­van­tage of the pon­tiff’s pres­ence, writes

CityPress - - Voices -

For a long time, Kenya has been di­vided along tribal lines – half the coun­try sup­ports the gov­ern­ment and the other half sup­ports the op­po­si­tion. The coun­try, how­ever, now finds it­self in a sit­u­a­tion where even those who blindly back the gov­ern­ment are dis­il­lu­sioned and ask­ing ques­tions.

It is for this rea­son that the visit this week by Pope Fran­cis was crit­i­cal, just like that of US Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s visit was in July.

Bogged down by at­tacks by al-Shabaab and by bungling se­cu­rity agen­cies, Obama’s trip helped lift the spir­its of many Kenyans and lead­ers were on their best be­hav­iour. The dream for the Promised Land sud­denly looked real.

But four months later, we are back to square one. Reck­less lead­ers are preach­ing hate speech left, right and cen­tre. The gov­ern­ment, led by Pres­i­dent Uhuru Keny­atta, stands ac­cused of grossly mis­man­ag­ing the econ­omy by ap­prov­ing huge in­fra­struc­ture projects, lead­ing to heavy bor­row­ing and send­ing in­ter­est rates through the roof.

In ad­di­tion, the shilling, Kenya’s cur­rency, has lost ground to the US dol­lar.

Just this week, Keny­atta faced the na­tion and de­clared cor­rup­tion a threat to na­tional se­cu­rity – days af­ter one of his key min­is­ters re­signed over graft al­le­ga­tions (five oth­ers stepped down last March). High lev­els of un­em­ploy­ment and favouritism (or trib­al­ism) have not made things any eas­ier. Every­one is com­plain­ing, in­clud­ing staunch Keny­atta sup­port­ers.

But for some strange rea­son, dis­il­lu­sioned Kenyans do not pin their hopes on the op­po­si­tion and its leader, Raila Odinga.

The op­po­si­tion has failed to pack­age it­self as a cred­i­ble al­ter­na­tive to the cur­rent ad­min­is­tra­tion by is­su­ing re­ac­tionary state­ments that gen­er­ate more heat than light. Kenya is at a cross­roads.

As a coun­try, we missed tak­ing ad­van­tage of the div­i­dends from Obama’s visit. Sadly, I be­lieve the visit by the pon­tiff may be no dif­fer­ent.

Save for a few staunch Ro­man Catholic faith­ful, who may feel they’ve ac­com­plished a life­time dream of at­tend­ing a pa­pal Mass, the rest of us have noth­ing to show for it.

The pon­tiff found – and left – a bro­ken and dis­en­fran­chised na­tion.

I’m some­how con­vinced that one of the rea­sons he chose to visit Kenya was be­cause of the se­ries of mis­for­tunes that have be­fallen the coun­try.

He sought to bring Kenya to­gether – a her­culean task even for the world’s most loved man.

His wish for Kenya was cap­tured dur­ing his Mass on Thurs­day: “I want to meet and talk with the young peo­ple of Kenya to en­cour­age their hope and as­pi­ra­tion. The youth is the most valu­able re­source.”

The pope fur­ther ap­pealed to the young peo­ple of this gen­er­a­tion to build a so­ci­ety that is more just and in­clu­sive.

“May you al­ways be con­cerned for the wel­fare of the poor,” he said.

Some­thing tells me that af­ter a chat with his ad­vis­ers ahead of the trip, Pope Fran­cis also lost hope in the cur­rent crop of lead­er­ship – both in gov­ern­ment and in the op­po­si­tion, be­cause their in­ter­est is to amass wealth for their fam­i­lies and cronies.

But it is not all gloomy. In the short term, Kenya’s tourism sec­tor will def­i­nitely get a shot in the arm. The coun­try is cur­rently in the global spot­light and the visit ended with­out in­ci­dent, which is a plus for the limp­ing sec­tor.

The rip­ple ef­fect is that in­ter­est rates could come down and for­eign ex­change rates will sta­bilise.

This, how­ever, will only be pos­si­ble if we don’t blow the op­por­tu­nity like we did af­ter Obama’s visit.

In the long term, the youth may heed the pope’s ad­vice, drop cul­tural at­ti­tudes and forge a bet­ter Kenya. Be­cause of the deep-seated cul­tural un­der­tones in Kenya, this is a big ask, but it is not an im­pos­si­bil­ity.

I ex­pect lit­tle right away from this par­tic­u­lar ad­vice from the pon­tiff: “In obe­di­ence to the Word, we are called to re­sist prac­tices that fos­ter ar­ro­gance in men, and hurt or de­mean women. There can be no re­newal of the re­la­tion­ship with na­ture with­out a re­newal of re­la­tion­ships be­tween hu­man­ity,” he said.

If only the mur­der­ous al-Shabaab, Boko Haram, al-Qaeda and Is­lamic State fun­da­men­tal­ist groups would take note of his words.

Kiberenge is a jour­nal­ist with the Na­tion Me­dia Group in Kenya

PHOTO: AP PHOTO / BEN CUR­TIS

PEACE FIRST

Pope Fran­cis de­liv­ers his bless­ing as he ar­rives to hold Mass at the Univer­sity of Nairobi on Thurs­day

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