4 January 2014

Kenya: Is It True That Behind Every Great Fortune Is Great Crime?

I recently finished reading 25- year-old book, High Life, which is actually a collection of five years-worth of columns by the journalist and writer Taki Theodoracopulos who writes the High Life society column in the Spectator magazine.

In the book as in his column, Taki who is a name-dropper extraordinaire, as one would expect from a society columnist, gives the reader gossipy insights into the lives of the rich and mainly infamous and it led me once again to recall the line by the French novelist Honore de Balzac about the being a crime of some sort or the other behind every great fortune.

I had reason to think about Taki's book again as the year ended and my partner and I were invited to a glitzy glamorous party on a yacht to mark the birthday of a friend.

Though my imagination probably got the better of me, I couldn't help but feel that one or two of the guests looked like the sorts one often sees on TV at the business end of an investigative journalist's microphone.

Of course as I say my imagination probably got the better of me and these poor people were simply hard working men and women with healthy bank balances as a result of their honest hard work.

But with my mind already in that gutter, a day later I happened on a tweet that suggested 2014 was going to be a very good year for certain people across East Africa, and particularly in Kenya that would certainly go some way to swelling the number of people from the region on the Forbes rich list.

According to the tweet, Kenya would be paying Sh659 million per kilometre to build its standard gauge railway compared to the Sh14 million that South Africa is spending on a similar scheme.

If this is true then clearly Goldenberg and Anglo Leasing have been forgotten and the eating chiefs have wiped their mouths and have moved on to a new feast. I can't help feeling that perhaps it's no big deal to many people as I haven't seen or heard a lot of noise around this issue or maybe everyone is too busy with their own struggle to get ahead to worry about such.

I might of course be wrong, this is after all one of the problems that people like me who have chosen to live abroad face. We non-resident Kenyans or NRKs, are bound to have lost their feeling for the nation's pulse and it's not always easy to tell what's happening on the ground.

However, this is not really about NRKs, but about how the creation of new billionaires overnight by corrupt practices will boost our numbers on the all-important rich lists that our fabulously wealthy seem to be developing a taste for.

So we continue to let the corrupt flourish as the rest of us who question them are told off for being envious and being unpatriotic since, we are told, we know given half a chance ourselves we'd jump right in the trough and do our damnedest to be the greediest pig.

It takes me back to the story of when old Jomo Kenyatta fell out with his one-time comrade in arms Bildad Kaggia over the acquisition of wealth in a newly independent Kenya. Old Jomo made fun of his former prison mate, the only one of the Kapenguria Six who seemed to have no interest in self-enrichment and self-glorification and cared more about making life better for all Kenyans and not just the 'chosen few'.

Kaggia later hooked up with Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, who had been hounded out of the vice presidency and the ruling party Kanu, to form a socialist opposition party and at a public rally on Kaggia's turf, Jomo ridiculed his old buddy for not grabbing as many of the fruits of independence for himself.

It remains to be seen whether 2014 is the year when more corrupt fortunes are made or if the ordinary people of Kenya win out. We'll talk again about this at the same time next year.

Follow me on Twitter @MwangiGithahu


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