Long ago as children, we used to be warned of a three-eyed scary monster trawling the night ready to snatch those who defy parents’ order to either stop crying or sleep. The ogre ominously had the one extra eye at the back of the head to browse what was happening behind. The conscientious characters that many have today are rooted in the fear of consequences of breaking societal norms instilled by parents. The enduring effect lay in the fact that there was the belief that a force in the outer space, beyond human comprehension, would strike when we defied what was considered good and appropriate behaviour.
These ‘fears’ were instilled to regulate relationships with parents, those older than us, those in positions of authority and those that we related to through the wide web of communal bloodline or even marriage. But above all, they regulated not only our appetite at the fire side as we shared meals, but also sharing and distribution of wealth and checked the excesses of some. It was, for example, untenable that brothers would dispossess their widowed in-laws, or that one in a vantage position would let unbridled appetite kill his conscience and steal from the poor, or even from the community.
As we have said before, it pays to look at Kenya as one vast family with unique members bound by contradictory and competing interests. But then the reason why we have laws and the Constitution is to ensure order and civility in the way we relate to each other and how we share that which the divine God has put at our disposal.
We would therefore flinch at the prospect of being on the wrong side of the law because of its dire consequences. On this front it shouldn’t matter our individual status in society, because no one is placed above the law to the extent they become a danger to the majority. There was also permanent strive to be a person of honour and respect.
People strove to have a reputation that would outlast their days on this earth. It was believed and many still do that the offspring or the chip of the old pot would reap off the blessings of a decent man and woman long after their physical existence is vapourised by the short and brutish nature of life. That is not to say there was no stealing, incest, rape or all manner of ‘sins’ like murder and assault. They were there, but then there were severe laws to deal with them. In Mount Kenya communities for example, the aggressors would be tied up and burnt alive with dry banana leaves. In some communities the thieving hands would be chopped off. In most of our communities the hands or ears of the certified criminals would be chopped off as eternal reminder that they were up to no good in their society.
But there were two dominant features of this traditional justice system; compulsory participation of the family of the criminal in the punishment, and the banishment or ostracisation of the errant man and woman from the village (nation!) or community. By the monstrosity of that which they did, which assaulted and desecrated the society, they lost the right to live in it!
Why have we come this far? The answer is that we have sunk too low as a country because we not only have betrayed our traditional value system and do not even respect the Western laws and justice system we subscribe to because we apply them on the basis of our position in society. That is why criminals beat up an innocent man on live television, their pictures are splashed across the country, and police put a prize on their heads, but they are never ‘caught’. It is why monies keep ‘disappearing’ at select ministries, departments and parastatals with succulent cash kitties, and nothing happens. It is why we no longer vouch for the integrity of our sacred systems such as land titling and education system. It is why some of those we elect are known criminals and thieves.
It is why MPs raise their pension seven times over and the public universities are closed and no one cares. It is why the public hospitals lack water, medicine and electricity but the big-wigs running them belch and scratch their ballooned tummies in offices of bank branch managers as they are given personalised service.
It is also why today you arrive in Kenya, which had elections last August and in December, and you think we have similar exercises every one year because of a 12-month presidential tenure rule! We live for elections, we breathe and eat elections because it is the only apparatus in our hands allowing us to elbow our way and have the hungry snout on the trough!
We long lost feeling ashamed and so feel nothing wrong with what our leaders are doing. We have joined them in the jostle. And, very dead are the values that kept our greed and selfishness at bay.
Mr Tanui is Deputy Editorial Director and Managing Editor, The Standard