Speaking about what promises to be a hotly election next year, President Mwai Kibaki recently advised Kenyans to “eat politicians’ money if it is offered”, but to vote with their heads.
Last year Uganda’s opposition leader Dr Kizza Besigye made the same argument during the campaigns for the presidential elections early in the year. And, indeed, African voters have shown themselves to be cynical and cold hearted. Stories of politicians going into debt and “pouring money”, but losing the election nevertheless, then running mad, are not uncommon.
The idea that money does NOT always buy you the heart of the person you give it to is the basis of free enterprise and, indeed, some elements of democracy – you accept the leadership and enjoy the benefits from the policies of a president who is elected by the majority, even though you don’t like him or her.
Thus, if I own a shop or a pub, I will take your money, sell you what you want, but still detest you.
The sharp edge of this happens in the prostitution industry. A sex worker doesn’t have to love the men she sells her services to – she wouldn’t be able to function if she did so.
So just how far does this “neutral” or “amoral” role of money go? Some evangelical churches, for example, reject tithe from “sinners”. The idea being that if the money was obtained “immorally”, then it can never be clean even if, for example, it was used to buy food for a hungry child.
A naughty veteran Ugandan journalist, the late David Musoke, told my favourite dirty-versus-clean money joke to me many years ago.
A Catholic and Protestant bishop appeared on a TV talk show. The presenter asked the Protestant bishop if he would accept to rehabilitate the church from money given by a prostitute.
The Protestant bishop was outraged: “That is money made from sin, it is dirty, I would never accept it”, he said.
Then he asked the Catholic bishop the same question:
“Who am I to judge the Lord’s plan”, said the Catholic bishop; “All things on Earth are placed there by God. It is him who knows best. I would take the money”.
Some years ago, Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni used to say that the Bible had spoken on this dilemma. Somewhere the Bible says (I don’t know where in the good book), he would claim, “I am with you, not of you”. That is the equivalent, as the expression goes, of sleeping in the same bed and having different dreams.
I doubt though that this dilemma is really resolved. For example, taken too seriously, it would undermine the obligation of citizenship – e.g. you don’t have to love or give back to your country, even though you do well by it.
Or, you can claim to be both a tribalist and nationalist. And, corruption would be justified, if the proceeds were put to good use, like building a hospital.
Perhaps, Kibaki and Besigye’s advice applies everywhere else except in the area they recommended – politics.
• email@example.com / twitter@cobbo3