Over Easter, Kenyan economist David Ndii stirred the hornet's nest with a controversial essay that questioned the very basis of the Kenyan nation. In the piece, entitled Kenya is a cruel marriage, it's time we talk divorce, the popular newspaper columnist makes a number of points. The nation was a project and it needed to be imagined into being. In Kenya, as elsewhere in Africa, this has not happened. The elites at the centre charged with the dream-work exchanged those duties for the more lucrative work of securing rents and acquiring wealth. As a result, and this is his main point, the project is dead. A number of historic opportunities to revive the project were missed, mostly because ethnic jingoism trumped national duty. What remains, he says, is akin to a bad marriage in which the embittered couple attempt to go about the rituals of their defunct union without doing too much damage.
Things have deteriorated to the point, says Ndii, where divorce may be the wiser option. Those unfamiliar with the Kenya scene may be surprised at such extreme sentiments. This is, after all, East Africa's anchor state, an island of stability in very unstable waters. Besides, didn't the country pull back miraculously from the brink after a botched election almost a decade ago? Was there not much chatter about a new constitution, a bold experiment in governance that devolved power from the centre to the peripheries? Are Ndii's complaints anything more than a partisan whine?
The state of a marriage is known only to the smiling couple. As far back as the 1960s, US writer, Paul Theroux, described Kenya as the querulous republic. That has never been truer than it is now.
For the past decade at least, the republic's elites have been in the thick of what can only be described as a verbal civil war (with occasional resorts to bloody fisticuffs). And more than in any other era since independence, the parade of ethnic jingoism has reached dangerous new heights.
But it is the dream-work that has constantly interested me. In Kenya, when the writers, artists and intellectuals of the first generation after uhuru were hauled off into detention or economically terrorised...