This week a senior police officer was lynched by a mob in Tongaren, Bungoma County. Paul Kerich, Deputy OCS, allegedly shot and killed George Simiyu, a 27-year-old boda boda operator demonstrating against poor roads in the area. This tragic story is an illustration of the simmering tensions in the grassroots that will one day visit the national stage, with likely disastrous consequences.
The public is slowly getting angrier at the brazen impunity of our cultural, religious, business and political leaders as they gorge themselves silly in the trough of grand corruption. Our councils of elders no longer move people’s hearts and minds. They are seen as merchants of votes amenable to the highest bidder. They switch sides as frequently as they change clothes. Similarly, from the established “mainstream” churches to the evangelical newcomers, our religious leaders fritter away their moral authority with Harambees. Many have become money-launderers for the high and mighty, forgetting their call to serve God and his longsuffering people.
Kenyans are also alive to the blurring of lines between business and politics. Known drug lords hold public office. Corrupt businessmen get lucrative contracts to deliver air. Conglomerates have become little more than fronts for vast smuggling enterprises that traffic in contaminated and counterfeit products that kill thousands of jobs here at home and endanger the lives of Kenyans.
Instead of being able to discipline our politics, the private sector is hopelessly reliant on our inept and corrupt politicians for profit. While there are hardworking businesspeople throughout the country, it is also true that a non-trivial proportion of our so-called “titans of industry” are nothing but smugglers, money-launderers, and tax dodgers. And they get away with all these crimes because our politicians have lost all sense of self-respect and vision.
This state of endemic impunity coupled with total moral collapse among leaders has left Kenyans with few options but to take action in their own hands. It is why Kerich and Simiyu lost their lives. What is one to do when the Kenya Bureau of Standards is willing to let contaminated food products into our supermarkets? How does one react to the reality of incessant and systematic plunder of public resources?
The failure of the legal and institutional mechanisms of dealing with these problems has left Kenyans will no option but to take matters in their hands. While we should not condone mass lynching of corrupt and abusive public officials, Kenyans should collectively make their lives difficult at every turn.
Special scorn should be reserved for religious leaders who cavort with thieving politicians and who have corrupted our churches and mosques. They should be treated with the harshest forms of social sanction. At the same time, we should remind ourselves that there was a time when religious leaders served as our collective moral lodestar. To that end we should celebrate the legacies of Maurice Otunga, David Gitari, John Henry Okullu, Timothy Njoya, Ndingi Mwana wa Nzeki, and others who have served God by defending the weak.
The writer is an Assistant Professor at Georgetown University