Sunday, October 11, 2009

Bringing home the reality of our moral vacuity

Sunday Nation 11 October 2009

Last week I had a glimpse into some of the things that make it hard for Kenyans to get ahead in anything they try to do collectively at the national level.

Quite apart from our pathetic politics, everyday occurrences point to the true soul of the ordinary Kenyan. By studying the motivations behind the everyday behaviour of Kenyans, it will be possible to predict what to expect in the various situations facing our nation now and in the future.

During a prime time documentary on national television, people living next to a cemetery were shown desecrating graves and building their dwellings right on top of these so-called ‘‘final resting places’’.

In another location, residents were exhuming dead bodies ostensibly to create space to bury their own, and skulls and bones littered the cemetery in a caricature of some Hollywood horror movie.

Everybody in these communities continues to go about their business as if nothing out of the ordinary is happening around them, and they would be mystified by any fuss made over their activities.

This is a clear demonstration that we are slowly normalising events that were anathema to us only a few years ago.

In the face of many such acts of extreme moral decadence, we shrug our shoulders and blame everything on our national excuse: poverty.

We blame poverty for thefts and robberies, for violence, rapes and even poor governance! It is left to the imagination of the outsider what sort of poverty is being referred to and, after close examination of the matter, one may correctly conclude that it is moral poverty and not material poverty that is being discussed.

Civilised states

History teaches us that individuals and nations evolve from primitive to civilised states over time. Often, the evolution involves learning to understand the needs of others and taking care of the most vulnerable members of a society.

Civilisation further entails development of certain values that define the nation, a moral compass that must be followed by all that would like to be known as members of the group.

In this regard, the foundation of the Kenyan nation seems to have failed, for we gained political independence and founded a state without a solid moral background that could outlast the ‘‘founding fathers’’.

The respect of institutions and laws was left to the individual whims of the rulers, leading to a situation where a law could be interpreted in all possible ways depending on which side of the argument one chooses to endorse.

Since independence, we have been experimenting with various models of national ideology as our moral guides. We have struggled under ‘‘African Socialism’’, capitalism and even flirted with a ‘‘go East’’ philosophy. Each time we only manage to borrow the clothes of our new ideological master without his manners.

If we had managed to embrace the philosophy and morality of the socialist in the same way Tanzania did at independence, we would not have the current back and forth arguments about what system of governance best suits this country.

Borrowing the capitalist mentality together with its moral underpinnings would have ensured that we base competition on a flat platform that offers opportunity to everyone at the beginning and eliminates unfair advantage.

Even if we had seriously decided to ‘‘look East’’ and take on the values and systems of the ‘‘Asian Tigers’’ and their successful neighbours, we would also have inherited the severe moral sanctions that characterise these nations.

It would, therefore, not have been uncommon to hear of ministers who jumped off cliffs over their involvement in political violence!

Kenya perfected the art of inheriting the outward appearances of a system of governance without internalising the associated values and morals.

It is this moral emptiness that allows murderers and thieves to dine with erstwhile moral beacons like religious clergy and other national opinion leaders. Today, masterminds of ethno-political violence in Kenya sit in judgment over the survivors of their atrocious acts while mouthing off about truth, justice and reconciliation and historial injustices.

The television documentary last week brought home the reality of our declining moral standards and the elasticity of our behaviour such that nothing is impossible any more.

We can now understand the national pastime of ‘‘grabbing’’ any unsecured property, knowing that if in future one is called to account, they may fall back on their tribesmates for support, or just blame poverty for their misdeeds.

In the interest of securing a prized inheritance for posterity, all Kenyans who still nurture that vestigial moral fibre must stand up to be counted. We must reassert the superiority of the moral compass over the demands of the moment, and demonstrate that we are a nation that cares for the future generations just as much as we care about ourselves.

The alternative is unimaginable.

Dr Lukoye Atwoli is a consultant psychiatrist and lecturer, Moi University School of Medicine

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