Poor reading culture has limited our world view

In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king” Desiderius Erasmus

Kenya has one of Africa’s highest levels of literacy, yet its citizens habitually make choices that are not based on cogent thought.

Personality cults appear to hold more sway over citizens than well-reasoned arguments based on facts. 

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From the church to the State, decisions are made that baffle any rational mind so that it seems people are held in the thrall of magicians of sorts, rather than by the spell of well-articulated solutions to problems.

Sample this; recently, a preacher in one of Nairobi’s evangelical churches went on a 30 minute rant castigating his congregants.

Degenerating into vituperation, he hurled abuse after abuse in a language that was certainly less than ethereal.

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Video clips doing the rounds on social media showed a captive audience, sitting meekly, beholden to the man of the cloth, never minding that they were the objects of his tirade.

Yet another video clip revealed the governor of a county in the Rift Valley leading his constituents in uprooting tea bushes from a privately owned farm managed by a multi-national entity.

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This is notwithstanding that there is a case in court over a dispute on the land and that there are two orders prohibiting the invasion of the land by county residents.

More knowledgeable 

A theory has been spawned, which posits that though Kenyans are largely literate, they do not have a vibrant reading culture.

Consequently, their world view is insular or at best, informed by those who appear a little more knowledgeable on religious, communal or national matters.

These are the views that become hard and fast convictions even when they are based on an economy of the truth or a portrayal of facts with a slant.

For instance, some members of the clergy have a salad bar approach in selecting Biblical scriptures that suit their “not so godly” pursuits while neglecting others. In these instances, the “prosperity gospel” does not find a counterbalance with that of holiness.

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But because many Christians are not acquainted with the Bible, they are easily duped into financing the lofty lifestyles of those who “break down the word” for them.

Then again, many of the most vocal critics of Christians are people who have never read a page of the Bible.

What perverted version of the faith they entertain is gleaned from hearsay; second or third party accounts that are an absolute departure from Biblical standards.

This is akin to holding fake currency as a standard at the expense of the bonafide.

The situation in the nation’s political affairs does not differ greatly from that of the church. Political views are entertained through the prism of individual leaders’ views.

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At a plebiscite that eventually lead to the promulgation of Kenya’s Constitution in 2010, many people confessed to not having read the document.

They contented themselves with the opinions of their favourite leaders and voted accordingly.

Greater good

This myopic perspective has suffused every national election with the deleterious effect of unsuitable candidates ascending to national offices.

How else does one account for the curation of those facing criminal sanctions? Or of governors who are self-confessed convicted felons and jail-breakers? Even when those elected are of moral and ethical probity, they display no statecraft or acuity in governance. They appear unable to utilise the levers of power for the greater good.

Because a referendum to amend the Constitution has been touted as the elixir that will cure the country of its ills, Kenyans must begin to read between the lines that define it. Its nitty-gritty should be examined to determine that it is not just an attempt to curve out political positions for a select few. Nor should it seek to perpetuate power for a others.

A good start would be in the scrutiny of the country’s electoral body, the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC). 

As it stands, the IEBC is improperly constituted, many of its commissioners having resigned under a cloud of suspicion.

Moreover, aspersions have been cast over the remaining commissioners because they have not yet complied with a court order to open the servers that hold the disputed results of the election of 2017.

Constituting the IEBC afresh would be a test of the Government’s mettle in breaking from the old and complacent belief that every political act must be seen through the eyes of select leaders. 

That has been the trouble with Kenya. Citizens should empower themselves with 20-20 vision so that the one-eyed man can no longer be king!

Mr Khafafa is Vice Chairman, Kenya-Turkey Business Council

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IEBCLeonard Khafafa