Not many people today are familiar with the English educational writer William Edward Hickson. An educator, philanthropist and author, he made a noted contribution to the study of education, before his death in 1870.
Above all, Hickson is remembered for one short proverb that provides comfort to hundreds of millions of people around the world (although it is debatable whether he actually wrote the line, or merely popularised it): “Tis a lesson you should heed: Try, try, try again. If at first you don’t succeed: Try, try, try again.”
The genius of this proverb is that it explains so much about life itself and the human experience. It tells us that people are able to change, that however talented one might be, there is a value to good old-fashioned hard work, and most of all, that through refusing to give up, anything is possible. This is an important lesson for all of us.
It is also the prism through which it is best to understand Uhuru Kenyatta’s second term, almost a year to the day since he won re-election (although of course his actual inauguration had to wait several months for the re-run).
This is not to say that in Uhuru’s first term there was no progress. Far from it. In the 20013-2017 period, we saw aggressive reforms to improve the business climate, huge infrastructure investment, an unprecedented investment in healthcare, major improvements in the education sector, and a new wave of devolution.
Yet despite this, there was a sense that in the realm of corruption, arguably the most crucial area for Kenya’s economic and societal development, not enough had been done. This perhaps explains why despite Uhuru’s victory, the majority of the public felt that things in Kenya were going in the wrong direction (For example, Ipsos’ final poll prior to the 2017 election, published on August 1st 2017, showed that only 38% felt that things were going in the right direction, while 50% felt they were going in the wrong direction).
In his second term however, there has been a marked change in Uhuru. He has been decisive, bold and fearless. And on corruption, he has been ruthless.
Each week it seems a new big fish is arrested for graft.
Last week was the turn of former Nairobi Governor Evans Kidero, considered an Uhuru ally, who was arrested for mismanagement and embezzlement of public funds, while National Land Commission chairman Muhammad Swazuri was also arrested for the alleged purchase of dubious land for the standard gauge railway.
They followed in the footsteps of other ‘big shots’, such as Busia County Governor Sospeter Ojaamong, former Kenya Power CEO Ben Chumo, and National Youth Service (NYS) Director General Richard Ndubai, who have been arrested in recent months.
Also last week, the multi-billion South End Mall in Westlands, owned by influential proprietors, was finally demolished after 24 years. For many, the prolonged existence of this structure, despite being built on riparian land, served as a constant reminder of the fact that successive Kenyan governments had talked tough on corruption, but not followed up with action. No more.
There are debates among analysts and commentators about what prompted this newfound commitment to the anti-graft fight. Some say that the handshake with Raila emboldened Uhuru with the knowledge that he had now united Kenya’s three leading political strands behind his leadership.
Others claimed that without having to run for re-election, Uhuru was now more confident about his ability to take on powerful interests, without worrying about the electoral consequences.
A third possible explanation is that Uhuru realised that his bold Big Four agenda for his second term – in which he committed to achieving universal healthcare; 500,000 affordable homes; food security for all; and revitalising the manufacturing sector – would prove impossible unless he freed up resources by clamping down on graft.
Who knows which, if any, of these explanations are correct. Perhaps it is all much more simple than any of them – in his first term, Uhuru tried to fight corruption, but was unable to succeed. But in his second term, with four years’ experience to call on, a political class united behind him and without the pressures of re-election, he remembered the legendary proverb, and tried again.
If Uhuru continues to succeed, and becomes our first president to effectively fight back against corruption, W. E. Hickson, a man few of us have heard of, will deserve the thanks of a grateful Kenyan nation!
The writer comments on Topical issues.
Views expressed in this article do not represent the opinion of Kenya Broadcasting Corporation.