Monday, February 20, 2012

Civilisation, not tolerance, is what Kenyans need

Sunday Nation 19 February 2012

As we enter the campaign season with its enhanced risks of violence and disorder, it has become common to hear politicians and other opinion shapers asking Kenyans to exercise tolerance. We have been asked to be tolerant of opposing religious or political opinions and, significantly, of other tribes as well.

Though well-meaning, it is doubtful that those asking for tolerance have really examined the real meaning of the word. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, one of the meanings of this word is “the act of allowing something”. Others include “the capacity to endure pain or hardship”, and “sympathy or indulgence for beliefs or practices differing from or conflicting with one’s own”.

Unpleasant situation

In other words, that which is tolerated is often unpleasant or objectionable, and the tolerant individual endures the situation for only as long as is necessary. When the opportunity presents itself to eliminate the unpleasant situation, tolerance is no longer necessary, and the situation is changed accordingly.

Hence, for instance, many Kenyans only tolerate their politicians, and at every General Election, they get rid of roughly two-thirds of them, unfortunately in exchange for yet another bunch to be tolerated for another five years.

Tolerate minorities

Exhorting Kenyans to tolerate each other is akin to asking them to pretend to love one another, and allow the unpleasant “other” to exist only as long as the opportunity has not presented itself to eliminate them. We are urged to tolerate minorities, as if they are not Kenyan, and exist only because we allow them to.

We are asked to tolerate people who believe in different gods as if we have the power or authority to stop them when we feel that they have had this freedom for too long. We are implored to tolerate members of other ethnic communities as if we have more claim to the land than they do.

It is my contention that what we need in Kenya is not more tolerance, but a healthy dose of civilisation.
Currently, we are behaving like beasts right out of the Stone Age. As demonstrated by the events of early 2008, most of us are in fact wild animals constantly straining at the leash of law and order, waiting for an opportune moment to break free and indulge in our debauched fantasies.

The current violent disagreements over electoral boundaries clearly illustrate this point. One tribe has even gone to court asking for its own constituency, oblivious of the fact that it will not be possible to restrain members of that tribe from registering and voting in other constituencies.

Further, it is not clear what will happen to members of other tribes living in that constituency. Will they be denied the right to vote and vie for political posts? Finally, will they ask for more constituencies in future when the tribal population increases?

County politics

The division of county political posts along tribal lines in the spirit of tolerance further demonstrates this problem. Obviously, then, tribe has this uncanny ability to bring out the uncivilised beast in us.

If we had even an iota of civilisation in us, we would recognise that none of us has any perpetual claim on the land we call “ancestral”, given that all our ancestors migrated in and out of this region in the past.

Depending on how far back one goes, we are all “foreigners”.

Dr Lukoye Atwoli is the secretary, Kenya Psychiatric Association and lecturer at Moi University’s School of Medicine

No comments:

Post a Comment

Say something about this post!