Sunday, February 27, 2011

It’ll take long for Kenyans to change mindset

Sunday Nation 27 February 2011

As a professional working in the mental health field in this country, I am slowly coming to the conclusion that our politicians are cleverer than we give them credit for.

They have their finger firmly on the pulse of the Kenyan populace, and there is nothing they do without being aware of the likely reaction of their constituents.

Our politicians have discovered, and I fully agree with them, that the average Kenyan is addicted to drama. Of course this should be very clear to anyone watching the Kenyan entertainment scene, from traditional acts to more contemporary gigs.

The obsession with foreign (and the newer local) soap operas on television is only rivalled by our voyeuristic ogling whenever something is happening in Parliament.

We spend days on end speculating about the intentions of the President, the Prime Minister or some other tribal potentate, often infusing this analysis with our own prejudicial opinions based on our ethnic heritage.

We are unhappy when nothing is happening that is potentially destructive to our national cohesiveness. In all this drama, we are very clear about our priorities – whoever belongs to our tribe is always right, and anyone who contradicts him is wrong and fit to be burnt at the stake.

For instance, last week, after I wrote in this column about the futility of seeking a deferral of the ICC cases at the United Nations Security Council, an infuriated reader wrote to me indicating that he was “highly disappointed” with me as well as other opinion writers.

He went ahead and obliquely pointed at some “big geopolitical game shaping political events in Kenya”, and rubbished most opinion pieces in this paper as mere “village talk cloaked in grammatical finesse”!

Of course the reader had read and analysed my piece with his own ethno-political blinkers on, and failed to see anything positive in an argument running counter to his own worldview.

The debate surrounding the president’s nomination of four men to constitutional offices followed a similar pattern, and it became relatively easy to tell which side of the fence a person was to be found based purely on their surname.

Observing these traits that are almost universal among Kenyans, including the so-called “youth”, one is left to inevitably conclude that it will take us a long time before we see real change in our country.

We will have to patiently wait and hope that the tribal chieftains we elect at the next General Election will be of the benevolent type with at least a vestigial iota of national interest in them.

Finally, it must be observed that we have also run out of ideas to deal with this problem in our national psyche. A good example is the subterranean campaign aimed at rallying Kenyans to make a declaration of unity at one O’clock on Monday afternoon. A friend of mine has dismissed it as a revolution without a cause – shouting just because we can.

Despite the noble intentions of the organisers of the February 28 event, it will take more than just a declaration of national unity to end our strange fascination with politicians whose only priority is how to grab and hold onto power.

Dr Lukoye Atwoli is a consultant psychiatrist and lecturer at Moi University’s school of medicine

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