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There’s an epidemic of anxiety and despair upon our country

By Makau Mutua | Published Sun, February 4th 2018 at 00:00, Updated February 3rd 2018 at 23:03 GMT +3

Kenya was once named among the most optimistic countries in the world. That was way back in 2003 – the year after Narc beat Kanu by a landslide to capture state power. That was then. Today Kenya brings up the rear in the World Happiness Index. We dwell in the cellar among some desolate places on the planet. If Kenya were the picture of a person, she would look miserable – an ugly scowl on her face, an emaciated body, and a cascade of unprintable expletives issuing from her filthy mouth. I know what you are thinking – it doesn’t matter whether she’d be Jubilee or NASA. There’s an epidemic of sadness, anxiety, and despair upon the land – utter despondency.

Let’s start with the good news. Kenyans are generally an entrepreneurial people. They are resilient and survive the worst predations. But many parts of the country look no better than they did in 1964 at independence. Many of our people still live without amenities of modernity. We are still ravaged by diseases of poverty, such as cholera. Nairobi, our most developed city, sometimes resembles an open sewer – often literally – in many a place. You can tell a developed country by whether it has pedestrian sidewalks. Kenyan cities and towns, including Nairobi, have virtually no sidewalks. Autos, many of them deadly weapons, emit the most nauseous fumes as they murderously careen on our roads.

Political deathtrap

We are locked in a political deathtrap. All you need to do is look at commenters on social media. As a general rule, our names betray us. You know in a political debate, if one even calls it that, on which side certain names will line up. We are notorious tribalists. It doesn’t matter our level of education. We are all in the gutter together. The university professor is as rabidly tribal as the village idiot. We might be worse than Rwanda or Burundi, two countries that have been convulsed by genocide. We sit on an evil genocidal cliff – the only question in my mind has always been when do we tip over and the demon consumes us.

The world knows we have the cancer. Tanzanian President John Magufuli lectured us in the sanctity of State House. It was telling neither Jubilee’s Uhuru Kenyatta, nor any of the Kenyans present, could gainsay Mr Magufuli. Instead, the Kenyans present looked impish. Yet we keep on telling the lie that we are one country.  No – we are not. We only share a passport, or national ID. Nothing else. Even abroad – in America – Kenyans congregate in tribal cocoons. Most attend ethnic churches. It’s really stunning that Kenyans have imported their notorious tribalism to the United States. But I applaud Prof Kefa Otiso, the President of Kenya Scholars and Studies Association (KESSA), for creating the only non-tribal Kenyan organization in America. We should clone him.

In political lexicon, we think of ourselves as Jubilee or NASA. The NASA side blames the state for treating it as second class. The NASA brigade is raving mad. It’s an understatement to say NASA is unhappy. On the Happiness Index, NASA doesn’t register on the Richter Scale.

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On the Jubilee side, there’s an outward bravado, a braggadocio that superficially oozes confidence, a superiority complex, and impudence. But while this Jubilee cockiness is a mile long, it’s an inch deep. Jubilee knows it’s sitting on an angry volcano that could explode any minute. But political myopia born of tribal nativism is a blinding intoxicant. I’ve seen it elsewhere – Egypt and Burkina Faso come to mind – just before a cataclysm.

I blame us all. Our citizens must shoulder the blame. European thinker Joseph de Maistre said that “in a democracy, people get the government they deserve.” Common Kenyans have an inclination towards fascism.  I’ve seen them beat “thieves” to death in what is euphemistically called “mob justice.” They allow themselves to drink the tribal Kool-Aid dished out by the malignant political class. I blame the political class. It’s a thieving, lying, ravenous political elite that bestrides Kenya like colossi. They have a chokehold on the state. They’ve driven us into the ditch. Soon, Ethiopia and Tanzania will lap us in the economic field. The stew of a fascistic citizenry with a malevolent elite is our collective national damnation.

Embrace virtue

What’s to be done is the age old question. I know this – no one will save Kenyans from themselves. We will either sink or rise together. Recently, I saw a Facebook post by prominent lawyer Donald Kipkorir in which he said in jest that the poor shouldn’t “invade” Karen, Nairobi’s tony neighborhood. He was alarmed elite spaces are shrinking in Kenya. I don’t think he was joking. Our whole country will become a slum if both the elite and common citizenry don’t forsake fascism and embrace virtue.

- Prof Mutua is SUNY Distinguished Professor at SUNY Buffalo Law School and Chair of KHRC.  @makaumutua

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