by Rasna Warah
Monday, November 26, 2012
Every now and then, I ask myself what it is about Kenya that turns people into shameless, greedy, cruel human beings.
I don’t think Kenyans (myself included) are inherently bad people. I don’t think the average Kenyan wakes up in the morning and plots ways in which to harm, maim or steal from others.
I don’t believe Kenyans are born with an evil gene. But I do think we have created a society that has an extremely high tolerance level for unethical behaviour.
I don’t know many countries where more than 40 police officers can be killed in the line of duty and the chief of police and the minister in charge of internal security do not tender in their resignation.
In fact, resignations are virtually unheard of in this country, both in the political and corporate sphere; the buck never seems to stop anywhere. Hence, donor funds intended for school children can disappear without a trace, but the minister in charge is not responsible.
It is only in Kenya where victims of terrorist attacks and accidents get robbed while lying dying or bleeding, as happened to victims of the Eastleigh blast last week.
In our beloved land, suspects accused of crimes against humanity feel entitled to the presidency, while the victims of those same crimes languish in camps for internally displaced people.
Yes, Kenya is a country whose politicians are so drunk with power, they think nothing of awarding themselves hefty send-off packages while their constituents grin and bear a life without roads, electricity or piped water.
Yes, it is only in this country where a mobile phone thief goes to jail while one who steals billions from the State coffers roams freely and shamelessly like a peacock.
In this most unequal of societies, VIPs get special toilets in slums where residents defecate in paper bags.
In some parts of the country, people are killing each other for livestock, just like they did centuries ago, because there is no other means of survival.
Other parts look like New York, with smart i-Pad carrying folks who hang out in coffee shops and jazz bars, contemplating the stock exchange.
Ah, yes, my country’s diversity is unmatched. We have beautiful mountains, lakes, rivers, deserts, and savannah (after which we have even named a high-tech city).
Tourists love our wildlife and beaches, and the “warmth and hospitality” of hotel staff. But do they know we are not warm or hospitable to each other, and can, at the first provocation, pick up a machete and slit each others’ throats?
Do they know that at the height of the 2007/8 post-election violence women, children and men were gang-raped because they belonged to the wrong tribe? Do they know that one of the raped women was a bed-ridden grandmother?
Perhaps I am being too hard on us. Maybe I am only seeing the dark side, the glass half-empty. What about our star athletes who make us so proud, you might say, or the woman who set up a home for orphans using her own money?
What about the brave men and women who fight injustice, as part of civil society, or within their professions?
I don’t deny that they exist; it’s just that we as a society don’t recognise them. We don’t splash their photos on the front pages of our newspapers. We don’t give them awards for exemplary service. Hell, we don’t even know their names.
There is one young man, though, who has restored my faith in this country. His name is Boniface Mwangi and he is photojournalist-turned-political activist whose murals of “vultures” all over Nairobi have caught the attention of local and international media.
Boniface and his fellow protesters recently carried 49 coffins to Parliament, as a symbol of the 49 years politicians have enjoyed impunity. Not only have his photographs won international awards, he has also started an online magazine, www.mavulture.com, that unearths the rot in our society.
How did this 29-year-old father of three have the courage to do all this? I don’t know. Maybe he was raised properly, or maybe his conscience is more developed than the average Kenyan’s. I wish he was running for president.