Loss of the ability to feel ashamed is the loss of everything. It is the loss of the self, the ultimate loss. You are dead. It does not matter that you can eat, walk, laugh, and do all the things that the living do.
Moral laryngitis and ethical paralysis is death. This is what Wole Soyinka talks o f in the treatise The Man Died. There are a lot of walking dead persons out there. Zombies, you would say. Ken Njiru of Ungwana Foundation is in the habit of making a dichotomy between what he calls Ungwana and Ushenzi. Ungwana is the ability to feel ashamed. It is the capacity to be sensitive and sensible to other peopleâs presence and needs. Ushenzi is quite the opposite. The mshenzi is a dead fellow. It doesnât matter that he drives in the latest Lamborghini, dresses in purple and feasts copiously. He is dead if he is insensitive. Could anything be more obvious?
To be sensitive and sensible to other peopleâs presence does not mean that they must be there with you, physically. Even their futuristic presence in this place, and in your own absence, matters. That is why you have seen where it is written, "Leave this toilet as clean as you should like to find it." The thought of using the washroom and leaving it decent for other peopleâs use belongs to that dying faculty. The ability to be ashamed â in essence the ability to remain human.
If you should take a biblical approach, you will see Adam and Eve covering themselves with leaves in the Garden of Aden. They are conscious of Godâs approaching presence, hence the need to cover their nakedness. The merits of what they had done aside, it is this consciousness that defines them as human.
The Adam and Eve that we have seen before this event are noble savages. This is what Statist philosophers like Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and John Locke and Thomas Hobbes before him, would call them. They are asocial characters. Their entire concern in life is self-centric; no wonder they eat of the forbidden tree. To the extent that the noble savage uses his might to get whatever he wants, he is satisfied. It does not matter whom he tramples upon in the process, whose head he steps on.
Such were the thoughts that visited me while I was stuck in traffic on Mombasa Road, Nairobi, for close to three hours, on Tuesday evening. Mombasa Road has enjoyed some broadening of sorts in the past two years. This critical artery is many an international visitorâs first impression of Kenya, leading as it does from the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA). It is also the exit vein for such a visitor.
The broadening of the road was among other things meant to take care of the local and international traveler, relative to JKIA. Needless to say, many have missed their flight whenever it drizzles along Mombasa Road.
But it is not only along Mombasa Road that you will get stuck in unending traffic in Nairobi for the simple reason that it is drizzling. People were messed up in traffic everywhere in Nairobi, on Tuesday. The reason was not that it rained.
On the contrary, it is just that we have evolved into a very hostile, selfish and shameless people. It only takes a gentle evening shower to rankle these base attributes in us. As a rule, Nairobians will not give you way in the traffic, even when common sense would suggest that it is in everybodyâs interest.
Every so often, you are stuck alone on the side road, waiting for a gentle spirit to allow you to join the traffic. Eventually, you have to elbow your way in by force, occasioning primitive honking.
If you should be the gentle soul that tries to give way to another motorist, you will attract not just hostile honking. The fellow behind you flashes at you with perfect primitive impatience. He pulls out of the traffic and swings by your side. He utters obscenities and executes rude finger signs. Then he pulls off just as violently and primitively as he came. In the process, he almost runs into other people and blocks oncoming traffic. This is a dead fellow. That is why I donât bother sink to his level, to answer him back. There are many like him, everywhere. You sink to their level if you answer them back.
But why should there be a traffic jam on the superhighway that is Thika Road? When Eldoret North MP William Ruto was Minister for Higher Education, he said that in order for Kenya to realise Vision 2030, we needed to train more engineers and less liberal artists. I strongly disagreed. The reason we dither and flounder behind the rest of humankind is not that we do not train engineers. It is simply because the human being within us is dead. Our problem is not that we do not have superhighways. We simply do not care to be human.
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