What you need to know:
- What is the responsibility of the ordinary man for the problems in our country?
- How have we contributed? What is the trouble with the average Kenyan?
A man of knowledge — an avid reader who has sold me books for many years — called me yesterday with a somewhat unique request. He said that we have blamed leaders, the elite and other big people for the problems that our society confronts.
Don’t the people also bear at least some, if not the bulk, of the responsibility? If the we as a people were not at fault, would those that we blame for the ills confronting us be able to sin and continue sinning?
My interlocutor challenged me to take a position on the matter and write about it, a challenge I could not resist.
What is the responsibility of the ordinary man for the problems in our country? How have we contributed? What is the trouble with the average Kenyan?
Our biggest failure is our tolerance of corruption and veneration of ill-gotten wealth. There was a man, an alleged rapist and operator of pyramid schemes and other get-rich-quick schemes in which honest working people lost their savings, whose story once spread far and wide.
Contempt for the rule of law
Other than a sweet tongue and an illusion of great wealth, which he had cast over himself like a cloak, the man appeared to have no saving grace. Yet he was elected the Member of Parliament for my constituency. My neighbours, friends and relatives spoke of him with an indulgent, affectionate disapproval. A he-is-a-rogue-but-such-a-darling type of attitude. A suspected rapist and rampant thief. Tolerated and loved because he was perceived to have money.
The people of this country have an excess of tribalism which, in many cases, robs them of the ability to take rational decisions. It’s now an accepted fact that elections are not really a matter of whether one can govern but whether he or she is from my tribe, or whether he or she is the candidate that my tribe is supporting.
Here, I must say that there are moments when we are able to rise above tribalism and that, increasingly, I see evidence that the days of that foolishness are numbered. But it cannot be denied that we still manage, even in the midst of our apparent sophistication and learning, to create primitive enclaves of nativism and primordial kinship from which reason and good judgement are exiled.
We have contempt for the rule of law and only obey for fear of the authorities and punishment. Many people break the law without a second thought. Rarely will you find someone who complies because it is the right thing to do.
At other times, we have an almost criminal ignorance of the law. It is up to you as a driver to know that you can’t drive on the wrong side of Thika Road, drunk on shots and high on marijuana — and distracted by crowds of half-naked people attempting to sit on your lap. You don’t wear a face mask only when you are in areas that have police presence.
Ignorance of the law
We constantly fail to recognise and stand for our common interests. Officials of a communal organisation have misused the property of members. But rather than joining hands to punish them, members sympathise and help the culprits, especially if they’re personally benefiting. A man steals billions of shillings from the people, he gives a small fraction of that money to its owners and they worship him. A man sells the village cattle dip and gives some villagers a couple of thousand shillings. They think he’s a great, generous man... until their cows start dying of disease.
It shows that sometimes we suffer an excess of selfishness and can be destructively greedy; that a venal love for material gain runs in the blood. This is not to say that we are incapable of the most outstanding generosity and sacrifice. We are. But the default setting is to make money at whatever cost. We’re not the worst in the world but we are not the best either.
I find it strange and frustrating that, in our planning and thinking, we rarely take into consideration what is going to happen to our descendants 100 years in the future. We don’t build cathedrals for our grandchildren to worship in. We build grass-thatched huts to sleep in. We do not do the hard work of building a future for the generations to come; we take the easy route for our current enjoyment and pleasure. Really big feats cannot be achieved this way.
I think it’s a serious flaw that we worship politicians and fail to judge them by their performance. Because we make emotional decisions, we fail to see that they are sometimes lazy and some of them are crooks. And so we put our wards, constituencies and even counties in the hands of the most incapable and incompetent folk and sit back expecting miracles that will see the work done.
The avaricious leader swathed in expensive, tasteless, garish attires, maybe with gold chains, golden shoes and cars with their names on the number plate are a mirror. When you behold them, what you see is you. By Mutuma Mathiu, Editorial Director, NMG