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Resist the spreading wave of despair

By Muchiri Karanja | Published Fri, September 8th 2017 at 00:00, Updated September 7th 2017 at 22:26 GMT +3

There is a wave of despair sweeping across the country. Just scan through a daily newspaper. “Nyandarua: Police decry high rates of suicides; at least 200 cases have been reported from June last year...” Summarised, the story spells one word: Despair. “Nairobi: Police arrest Form One student suspected to be behind tragic Moi Girls Nairobi school fire. Suspect is said to have tried to commit suicide twice - once by drinking a cleaning detergent and then by trying to suffocate herself using a pillow.” Again: Despair.

I could go on and on, but I do not want to depress you further. For despair is, after all, a highly contagious state of mind. A friend of mine wondered aloud: Why would a 14-year-old Form One girl want to take her own life? A good question that maybe should be broadened to: Why is a wind of such despair blowing across the country?

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You and I might not have attempted suicide at any time. Maybe because we are cowards, or maybe because we love our lives too much. But that does not make us any less suicidal. You do not have to go far. We cross six-lane highways right under a footbridge, ducking speeding cars in the process. That is called being suicidal. We have unprotected sex with strangers before going home to our wives and husbands. That is called being suicidal.

Plastic livers

We drink like our livers are made of plastic and fight like wildcats. That is called being suicidal. We stoke fires of negative ethnicity on all social platforms - from social media to local pubs. That is called being suicidal.

I could go on, but that would be suicidal too. So, let us agree, that Kenya has 47 million people hell-bent on suicide. We are a nation of moths that cannot seem to resist any blue flame. This state of mind can only be summarised in one word: Despair.

I am no counsellor, which is not to say I trust a great number of Kenyan counsellors - there are hordes of charlatans practising witchcraft in the name of counselling. How else would you describe someone who begins to tell you what is wrong with you before you open your mouth? Someone who looks at you and says: “Oh, you had troubled childhood; oh, your parents were poor; oh, you witnessed violence growing up...” It’s witchcraft!

Besides, this habit of confusing any character carrying a leather-bound Bible for a counsellor is only helping many sink further into despair.

Preaching and counselling are not synonymous, especially not the Kenyan brand of preaching, which largely assumes that God is a deaf old man who needs to be roused out of sleep with as much noise as possible.

One thing I am certain about is the resilience of every Kenyan. All we need to do is stop running from ourselves, turn around and confront our fears.

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For it is fear that gives us the suicidal tendencies we see. All we need is a six-foot mirror to look into and ask ourselves the following questions - either as individuals or as a nation: What am I running from? Why is there so much hatred in myself? Why am I posting all that vitriol against people who do not agree with me; who do not belong to my tribe, or my political party?

Positive stories

Then we need to start telling each other positive stories. Nothing lifts a nation’s collective psyche like a positive story. Problem is, we are too lost in our state of despair to see anything positive around us - we have enough depressing news to send 47 million of us to psychiatric hospitals.

But even the most heart-wrenching tale has a silver lining. Take the story of Mary Mokaya, the girl who died rescuing her colleagues in the Moi High School Nairobi tragedy. Even as we loudly wondered how and why a Form One would plan to burn down a dormitory, didn’t Mary’s story introduce a refreshing, heroic angle to a tragic story?

Did it not change the narrative, even if briefly, from ‘How can this happen?’ to ‘Wait a minute, how can a Form One girl be this brave?’

There are many positive stories out there. All we need are spectacles of a positive attitude and a little less selfishness and egoism to see them. But if we really cannot lift a foot out of the puddles of despair around us, if we cannot rise above our base instincts of hatred and fear of the other person, then maybe it is time we accepted that as a nation, we need some help.

 Muchiri Karanja, is a sub-editor at The Standard. [email protected]

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