The demons of ethnic animosity and graft

Good morning, Mr President! I turned around to see who the greeting was coming from.

It was a well-dressed man; 35 at most. He was standing in the queue behind me at a supermarket on Ngong Road, Nairobi.

Next to him was a pretty young woman, who I guessed was his wife.

“Good morning,” I replied in a low, measured tone. I turned back around, struggling to remember where I had met him before.

“That is Pete Ondeng,” I overheard him whispering to someone.


I wasn’t sure how best to respond to all this publicity.

“Your Excellency,” the young man spoke up again. I turned around, waiting for the question.

“Forgive me for asking, but why did you drop out of the race?” he asked.

I looked at him and smiled. “Meet me outside, and I will tell you,” I replied.

I paid for my groceries and walked out. I was amused by the number of people who were now calling me “Mr President” or “Your Excellency”, even though I was not on the ballot.

My expression of interest in the presidency had caught many people by surprise.

It had elicited both praise and criticism in equal measure.


Some people commended me for taking such a bold step. Others told me that I was out of my mind to even imagine I could stand up to the two “horses”.

My decision to endorse another candidate only raised more questions.

What inspired you to get in the race? Did you really believe you could win?

Who is your core constituency? How were you planning to finance your bid?

Are you not afraid of being hurt or killed? What led you to throw your support behind Joe Nyagah?

I stood there, mulling over the questions as young couple came out. We shook hands. The young man was Nderitu. His companion introduced herself as Njoki.
“I am going to have a cup of coffee next door,” I said to them. “Do you want to join me?” They accepted my invitation.
Our conversation was light and very superficial at first, and then I decided to go straight to the question Nderitu had asked me in the supermarket.
“Nderitu, I did not quit the presidential race,” I said. He gave me a puzzled look. “I am not on the ballot this year,” I said, “but I am still very much an aspirant.”
I explained the difference between being an aspirant and a candidate. I had made a public declaration of my aspiration to vie for the top seat, but after a lot of consultation, prayer and reflection, I chose not to put my name forward to be declared a candidate in the 2017 elections.
I shared with them why I had developed such a passion for Kenya. “I love this country,” I said with a tinge of emotion. “But this country is on a course of self destruction.”
I talked about the two “demons” that had perennially inhibited Kenya from becoming a truly happy, productive and prosperous nation: Ethnic animosity and corruption.
“What we need,” I said, “is a change of heart. We can change the Constitution and enact all manner of laws, but without a genuine change of heart, we will continue down this path of self-destruction.”
Njoki had been quiet for most of the conversation, and I wondered what she was thinking about. She blinked her eyes a couple of times, as if fighting back tears. Her question took me off guard. “Mr President,” she began. “Are you going to be a candidate in 2022?”
I paused for a few seconds before answering. I wanted her to know that this was not about me. It was about something much bigger than all of us. “I don’t know, Njoki” I said finally. “I really don’t know.”

Mr Ondeng is a leadership and governance expert [email protected]

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