Kenya must reap what pope sows
Broken and disenfranchised nation must take advantage of the pontiff’s presence, writes
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
Pope Francis delivers his blessing as he arrives to hold Mass at the University of Nairobi on Thursday