What you need to know:
- Marie Antoinette married King Louis XVI of France. The young couple became the symbol of opulence and gossip of the loathed French monarchy in the 18th century. The monarch did not live for long before the French Revolution broke out in 1789. The king was executed in 1793.
- Closer to home, in what was then called Zaire, Mobutu Sese Seko Kuku Ngbendu Wa Za Banga’s opulence and neglect of his people led to his overthrow.
- In each of these countries, the leadership has always had a sense of invincibility and false hope that hungry people aren’t noticing opulent practices. What many leaders don’t know is that education has opened many of their followers’ eyes.
- This is simply a dangerous path for our country. Even constitutional changes that were meant to tame politicians’ appetite for public resources have not helped. In my view, it is hopeless to engage the people once more on further constitutional changes when what we have is nothing but new hogs at the trough.
Marie Antoinette married King Louis XVI of France. The young couple became the symbol of opulence and gossip of the loathed French monarchy in the 18th century.
The monarch did not live for long before the French Revolution broke out in 1789. The king was executed in 1793.
Antoinette was convicted and guillotined in October of the same year the king was executed.
Chinese leader Chiang Kai-shek was swept into Taiwan on October 1, 1949 by Mao Zedong largely because of the inequality that dogged his administration in mainland China.
In February 1979, Iranian leader Mohammad Reza Shah’s regime was overthrown in an organised popular revolution not because of American support but because of opulence, which many believed was as a result of corruption.
In Latin America, Venezuela, a country with the largest proven oil reserves in the world and one that had the potential to become a developed nation, imploded as a result economic inequalities.
Today, it is a basket case, a situation that is exacerbated by poor leadership mired in a crisis of self-confidence.
Closer to home, in what used to be called Zaire, Mobutu Sese Seko Kuku Ngbendu Wa Za Banga’s opulence and neglect of his people led to his overthrow.
Since then, despite the county’s rich resources, the Democratic Republic of Congo is one of the poorest countries in the world.
A few other African countries, such as Tunisia and Egypt, have experienced crises related to inequality.
In each of these countries, the leadership has always had a sense of invincibility and false hope that hungry people aren’t noticing opulent practices.
What many leaders don’t know is that education has opened many of their followers’ eyes. They know more than we collectively imagine.
In the past one week, I have met young people who have made it a hobby to gather all articles they think are contradictory to their aspirations.
Last week alone, they gathered more than 20 articles that should serve as a wake-up call to our leaders to taper down their opulent desires and for once seek to respond to the needs of the people.
“Show of might, opulence at devolution fete”, read one of the articles (see figure 1 below).
TAKING CARE OF THEIR STOMACHS
In another newspaper, an article was titled “Farmers lack market for produce”, perhaps one that showcased a perfect example of an oxymoron, with an ox eating tomatoes that had no market and below it another article titled “MPs seek Sh12 billion for themselves”.
Kenya spends billions of shillings importing sun-dried tomatoes. It would require only a fraction of the Sh12 billion to develop a tomato sun-drying facility or development of a supply chain of tomatoes to ensure that most of what is produced is distributed to high-demand areas to ease the pain of farmers.
Soon, you will probably see a Julius Malema-like speech, “Mama, those who hog public resources and fail to see the pain of farmers are here in Parliament. Mama! Give us the sign on what to do with them.”
When it gets to such a level, it is often too late. We have seen far too many headlines like these where MPs have largely taken care of their stomachs at the expense of those who elected them.
Social media has kept record of the kind of opulence exhibited by our leaders.
On our roads today you see many public servants with three to four chase cars hurrying to God knows where.
In rural areas, where sometimes there isn’t any car, you see a governor being driven at breathtaking speeds with blaring sirens.
What for? And why raise dust on those who elected you to office?
TWO GOVERNORS' EXCESSES
One blog post narrated the excesses of two governors attending a public function. Each governor sent an advance protocol team carrying his chair and toilet.
The second governor had, in addition to the kind of necessities brought by his colleague, a chef among the retinue of staff.
In total there were more than 39 vehicles accompanying the two governors, including those of county executives as well as county assembly members.
All this is happening in the glaring eyes of the public that often has no access to aspirin in public hospitals.
You don’t need the services of an auditor to know that many appointees in key dockets in county governments have serious conflicts of interest.
It is a case where you put a lion in the pen of your valued goats. In one county, a crook known to have supplied counterfeit medicines to county hospitals sits comfortable as the executive in the health docket.
Public-interest organisations, media and people of goodwill watch this blatant disrespect for the people with remarkable incredulity.
Our failure to speak out results in 100 million people dying in Africa yearly as a result of counterfeit medicines.
A recent article detailed how members of Parliament extort from public servants when they appear before them in Parliament.
Ordinarily, public-interest groups should have followed up with the matter but it was left to pass.
Nothing will stop these leaders from doing it again since they know that they are above the law.
When issues of public interest go unchallenged, the public take the cue from such and what you see in Kenya today is the increased crime of extortion targeting leaders, such as the recent one involving the deputy governor of Kirinyaga.
It might get worse, because some leaders may find it uncomfortable to report such crimes where they themselves are part of the problem.
There is no other argument that can be advanced against our leaders’ understanding of the people’s situation with skyrocketing unemployment and hopelessness.
Their insensitive behaviour and love of money is akin to Princess Antoinette’s response when she learnt that peasants had no bread.
"Let them eat cake," she said, not knowing that bread enriched with eggs and butter was an even more remote luxury.
This is simply a dangerous path for our country. Even constitutional changes that were meant to tame politicians’ appetite for public resources have not helped.
In my view, it is hopeless to engage the people once more on further constitutional changes when what we have is nothing but new hogs at the trough.
The President has provided a vision that we must support. Indeed, if the Big Four agenda succeeds, that will have an impact across the economy.
Take food security, for example. In Kenya, food takes more than 45 per cent of household budgets.
Now compare that with the United States, where food accounts for less than 10 per cent family spending. If we lowered that to 20 per cent, we would free up resources for other investments.
In most families, food, housing and health eat up more than 110 per cent of their income (some of it coming from rural investments and harambees) and serves to explain why we have no savings in a developing country.
The writer is an associate professor at the University of Nairobi’s School of Business. Twitter: @bantigito