China Square row exposes leaders’ opportunism

Thursday, March 16th, 2023 09:00 | By
China Square. PHOTO/Courtesy
China Square. PHOTO/Courtesy

If the government had any doubts whether it is on the same page with the Kenyan people, the answer was written all over the media a couple of weeks ago during the spat between Trade Cabinet secretary Moses Kuria and the management of the hitherto little known China Square located at the Kenyatta University grounds.

Well, I am not referring to this particular government. As I have said before, we simply change the monkeys but the forest – read status quo - remains the same.  Our leaders have never resolved age-old basic problems that they promised to immediately after independence, almost six decades later.

But I digress. After being bitten many times over and always turning the other cheek, Kenyans have finally become woke. Which explains the backlash to Kuria’s meddling with China Square, a business that was right on the money at such a time when Kenyans are desperately broke.

The attack on China Square was a political stunt gone awry. First, it exposed the doublespeak by the people who hatched the plot. You cannot speak of helping the hoi polloi on one side, and then do things that are contrary to this goal. For the hapless Kenyan consumer who has been exploited at every twist and turn, all that matters is whether the price is dirt cheap. Unfortunately, even the product’s safety is usually secondary.

Secondly, the row was an indictment of our sense of entitlement, both individually and collectively. If the behaviour of our selfish leaders after elections is anything to go by, they believe they own their constituencies, and are only answerable to those higher up in the corridors of power. The much maligned mama mboga who placed them in their lofty seats in the first place is a second class citizen.

Truth be told, Kenya has been a fool’s paradise for long. It is only now that the citizens are waking up to the fact that they have been taken down the garden path in many ways. Oftentimes, price tags are not worth even the paper they are printed on. People pay for looks and hype rather than for value and substance.

It is the same thing that happens in our money hungry churches where thousands of poor people troop every Sunday to seek solace from poverty and oppression. But, alas! The shepherds take taken their flock hostage and devour them at will. But like a moth to a flame, the poor sell themselves for all their worth in search of elusive divine fortune, until their soul cannot take it anymore.

The China Square spat is a serious indictment of our governments since independence. Through both omission and commission, they have failed to facilitate basic industrialisation to help produce even the most basic of goods that we nonsensically import.

Blaming everybody but ourselves for our misfortunes is a very convenient scapegoat. We blame everything for our backwardness, from the weather to the Russia-Ukraine war. For me, one of the most revealing depiction of our “curse” is the juxtaposed picture where Israelis – read Jews – are shown farming fruits and vegetables in the desert. On the other hand, the Kenyan who receives ample rainfall is praying to the God of Israel for a miracle in agriculture and food security. 

Whether we like it or not, we have a long way to go. Sadly, at these baby steps while the rest of the world is on the fast lane to the future, we may never catch up. We will continue lamenting and whining from our own inaction, lack of foresight and vision.

Going back to the China Square story, no one has stopped our leaders from enabling indigenous Kenyans to come up with such ingenious ways of doing business. Punishing innovation to continue reaping from ignorance and mediocrity is actually a grievous crime against humanity.

—The writer is a PhD student in International Relations

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