Sunday, May 31, 2009

On Second Thoughts...Are we a Failed State?

Last week, I watched Mutula Kilonzo react furiously to the Alston report saying that Alston had overstepped his mandate by writing the things he did about Kenya's systems, police force and attorney general. He went on to emphatically assert that 'Kenya is not a failed state!'

Mutula's response is by no means unique. Anytime a foreigner says anything less than complimentary about Kenya, government types can be counted on to respond with similar arguments..."we are a sovereign country", "what business do foreigners have saying that about us" etc etc.

I agree that we are not Somalia. We are still one nation (just about), we have never had full scale civil war, we still have some form of government, we have not had any coups etc etc. We do not yet meet many of the criteria that may be used to define a 'failed state'.


Can we really be so convinced that we are a success state? I do not think so.

The success or failure of achievements is measured relative to the circumstances within which the achievements are made.

As a country, we have lived a fairly peaceful existence, we inherited fairly decent infrastructure, we have a relatively well educated workforce, we have a fair amount of natural and mineral resources and a good proportion of our land is fertile. We are also fairly strategically placed geographically within the continent.

In short, this country has great potential. Isn't success realizing (or surpassing) potential? Are we realizing our potential? Can we therefore really say that we are not currently failing? Can we honestly say that we are (and have been) making the most of what we have? Absolutely not! We have chronically underachieved. Therefore at this moment in time, we are a failure.

We need to acknowledge that and change our attitudes to reflect that fact and get down to the business of fixing the problem(s).

Rather than 'shooting the messenger' when outsiders talk about us, we should listen to what they say, pick the points that are important and set about fixing them. Whether or not Alston or Annan or Rannenberger et al over-step their mandates is immaterial to me.

What is material is whether any of the observations they make are valid. Is our police force corrupt? Is our police commisioner complicit in killings? Is our attorney general's office inept? What is being done/is going to be done to repair these problems? Those are the issues I believe our government should be addressing whenever they refer to utterances/reports etc.

We need to concentrate our energies on establishing our independence and sovereignity by fulfilling our potential not by posturing like peacocks when sooner or later we are going to be reduced to going begging to the same people for food aid because we cannot feed ourselves. We may disagree with how a message is delivered but we have to take it on the chin and deal with what the message is. After all, we find ourselves in this position due to an abject failure to become self sufficient in the first place.

It doesn't matter where a message comes from, if that message has any iota of validity, if the message can help us improve in any way, then we need to learn to quickly and quietly take what's relevant to us and apply it for the betterment of the country and her people.

When we have improved and become an effective, self sufficient country that is fulfilling its potential, then we can seek to redefine our engagement with our 'development partners'.


  1. Wikipedia characterises a failed state as one where there is:

    * loss of physical control of its territory, or of the monopoly on the legitimate use of physical force therein,
    * erosion of legitimate authority to make collective decisions,
    * an inability to provide reasonable public services, and
    * an inability to interact with other states as a full member of the international community.

    Well, look at Migingo, bickering among coalition partners, people dying from contaminated maize and the latest statement from Alfred Mutua refuting the Alston report.

    I don't know about you, but if we are not a failed state, we must surely be edging close to one.

  2. Yipe

    I read the wikipedia definition too and I see your point of view.

    However, my point was not that we should write ourselves off, it was more that we need less rhetoric and more action to get us to where we are supposed to be.

    All the posturing does not do us the slightest bit of good. We need to become effective at taking criticism, assessing what aspect of the criticism is valid and working to very quickly fix whatever the problem is.

    I have highlighted the example of our reaction to foreign criticism but I think the same principle needs to be applied anytime anybody says anything negative about us.

  3. I couldn't agree more. However, it is important to acknowledge the truth before any change can happen.