Sunday, June 26, 2011

Collapsing old order will result in a better Kenya

Sunday Nation 26 June 2011

Two buildings collapsed in Nairobi in the past two weeks, killing several people and injuring many more.

Although this was not the first time such a tragedy was happening in our ill-planned capital city, government officials dutifully trudged to the sites of the misadventures and promised to do all in their power to help prevent similar problems in future.

Nairobi’s Town Clerk had particularly choice words for judges, accusing them of issuing quick injunctions without examining the merits of the cases or the threats posed to human life.

Subsequently, the Local Government ministry indicated that it would move to demolish all city buildings over five stories that did not have an elevator, as required by the law. Of course one wonders how this will remedy the subsisting poor planning and workmanship that result in buildings collapsing even before they are completely built!

The police promised to offer security to council officials inspecting building sites for compliance with established codes.

Other senior government officials offered their condolences and prayers to those affected by the tragedies, and hoped that they would find peace in these trying times.

After this show of government concern and commiseration, we were all supposed to crawl back into our miserable holes and forget about this whole unfortunate incident.

We were expected to go back to cheering our favourite ODM or PNU politicians, and planning the annihilation of our political enemies in 2012.

The odds are that this ruse succeeded. Our political class comprises some of the shrewdest people in this part of the world.

They know how to play with our love for drama and entertainment. It is, therefore, quite conceivable that most Kenyans have already forgotten about the victims and survivors of the collapsed buildings, and have moved on to more entertaining things.

In many ways, events such as these are signs of what is wrong with our country as a whole – the culture of carelessness and a shauri ya Mungu (leaving it to God) attitude on the part of citizens, and the well-developed leadership culture best exemplified by the Sheng phrase, uta-do (what will you do)?

Our carelessness is manifested in the habit of ignoring details in all aspects of our lives.

Unless one is carefully supervised by the eventual service user, the quality of much of our work is way below expectations.

Our use of language is another spectacular example, as are our manners on the road and in public places. And, of course, whenever anything goes wrong, God is always available as an explanation of last resort!

It is also pointless to give the numerous examples of the behaviour of our ‘‘leaders’’, including the exaggerated sense of entitlement in all spheres of life, leading some of them to even threaten the country with dire consequences should they be required to pay tax like ‘‘ordinary’’ citizens. Even in the face of overwhelming evidence of wrongdoing, they take to public platforms and declare “I would rather die than resign!” In other words, mta-do?

Unless there are significant changes in these Kenyan attitudes, the clamour for change and the resultant promulgation of a new Constitution will have been in vain.

Hopefully, the collapse of the old order, symbolised by the unfortunate events in Nairobi, will result in a better Kenya for posterity.

Lukoye Atwoli is a Consultant Psychiatrist and Lecturer at Moi University School of Medicine.

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