Friday, February 26, 2010

For me, it's personal.

In the 2008 movie 'Taken', Liam Neeson plays Bryan Mills, a retired CIA operative whose daughter gets kidnapped by a gang of Albanian human traffickers while holidaying in Europe. That of course turns out to be a seriously misguided move by the kidnappers, for a crazed Mills is soon on their trail and by the time he is done with them, they have to learn how to operate a human trafficking ring from the confines of hell.

The 93-minute thriller is as action-packed as they come, and I'd heartily recommend it to any thriller-movie buff. However, this post isn't intended to be a movie review. I simply mentioned 'Taken' because one line from the movie forms the gist of what I'd like to talk about.

When Mills finally has Patrice St.Clair, the leader of the trafficking ring, at gunpoint and in his mercy, St.Clair pleads for his life, asking Mills to reconsider because there was nothing personal in what he did, only business. Mills is however not in a very considerate move, and tells St.Clair "For me, it is entirely personal." before fatally shooting him in the chest. At this point, President Mwai Kibaki drowsily totters into the picture.

No, the Head of State does not have a cameo role in the movie. In fact, I'm certain that together with getting on the wrong side of Mama Lucy's temper, the last thing Emilio would ever consider in this lifetime would be a Hollywood career. It's just that he picture I'm talking about is my subject today, that is the personalization of the war against corruption, and President Kibaki happens to be an integral part of it.

On Monday, the president officially opened the fourth session of independent Kenya's tenth parliament. This came hot in the heels of a week of high political drama, in which Prime Minister Raila Odinga had succeeded in casting the president's commitment to fighting corruption into serious doubt. Evidently irked by this, the president used his parliament opening speech to warn the public in general and Raila in particular against 'politicizing and personalizing' the war against corruption.

We will discuss politicization later. For now, let us dwell on personalization.

One day last year, i made my way to the local supermarket to buy a packet of maize flour for my family's dinner. But to my surprise, the maize flour counter was emptier than a combination of Liverpool, Arsenal and Manchester City's trophy cabinets, and this forced me to revert to the neighborhood kiosks where the price of the commodity is significantly higher.

However, the neighbourhood kiosks were also out of maize flour, and it was not until I crossed to the next neighbourhood that I found a shop with flour in stock, retailing a 2kg packet at a whooping Ksh.150. I did not have the extra Ksh. 50 and the kiosk had a big sign which said 'If you want credit, come tomorrow with your great-grandmother' over the counter. Thus that night, my family went to bed hungry.

For almost two months, my family went through hell as the country grappled with acute maize shortage. Later, I learnt that this was because high-placed personalities in the Ministry of Agriculture had colluded to fraudulently export maize from the country's strategic reserves, in what later came to be known as the Maize scandal.

So in a nutshell, I personally paid my taxes, which I'd like to think was used to pay farmers for their maize. But thanks to corruption, this maize was illegally sold abroad, and I was therefore forced to personally walk long distances and pay exorbitant fees for flour, and that was when I was lucky enough to get it. When I was unlucky, which was often, I personally had to go to bed hungry, and even more galling, witness my own family, including very young children, go to bed hungry. And someone then has the audacity to suggest that I don't personalize the war against the graft which forced me to personally go through all that?

Sorry, Mr. President. But for me, to quote Liam Neeson, it is entirely personal.

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