Leaders should be thinkers, and thinkers leaders. Because they think, they know what to say and what to leave unsaid. They even know how to say a bad thing in a good and decent manner. While Africa is the original home of thought and thinkers, it is tragic that the continent thinks no more.
More tragic is that leadership is now the reserve of those who seem to be the most intellectually challenged among us. They act and speak not on the effort of the intellect, but on generous impulse and inborn appetites. That is why in political circles in Kenya, there is now hysteria around mothers, breasts and sundry parts of feminine anatomy.
National expression of unhappiness should never descend to diatribe about gynecological and maternal anatomy – no matter whose. When this happens, then society has hit the nadir of its collective moral and ethical fortunes. You couldn’t sink lower. On this, the entire political fraternity in the country is guilty. The foremost assets in this class is a cache of insolence. The more lurid and base the verbal artillery is, the more heroic the leader seems to be. It is hypocritical to wax righteous just because of the latest outburst. Not a single Kenyan should raise a finger, except those of us who were openly shocked when someone asked a sitting governor, “Do you think the money you are asking to go to the counties is your mother’s? It is not your mother’s money, mister (pesa si ya mama yako).”
This column has addressed this matter of “pesa si ya mama yako” several times in the past. When you occupy high office, you are behooved to be intolerant to such dirty language among those around you. If you seem to condone it when it is conveniently used against your perceived enemies, please be informed that it is only a matter of time before the same idiom is turned against you. Don’t cry foul when that happens. For you are part of the system of insults. It is a disturbing system, incapable of thinking.
But why is thinking so important? Seventeenth century French philosopher Renés Descartes’ cryptic remark, “I think, therefore I am,” is a useful reflection here. The remark is considered a major contribution to universal human thought. I will spare my reader the complicated debate that Descartes was contributing to, in what philosophers call knowledge about knowledge (epistemology).
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Simply put, however, Descartes was responding to the question, how do you know that you know? He said that it is by doubting what you think you know. This man of knowledge was inviting us to think and to question. We should question even our very own existence, in order to prove that we exist. “I doubt, therefore I think, therefore I am.” When you have doubted, you also doubt the doubt. You begin knowing that you exist.
We live today in times when we have refused to think. In Kenya, an MP may equate himself to a cow. He may say on the floor of the House that he follows others, the way a cow does. He confesses his surrender of the faculty of thought to someone else. His is, therefore, a zombified existence.
The rest of us will let it pass, and continue to accept this latter day Neanderthal as one of our leaders. If your spouse has reserved her right to think, she may even reflect, as you get home in the evening, “Here comes the cow.” This gentleman has gone millions of years back through time and space. Archeologists tell us how humans evolved 4.5 million years ago from species that walked on four legs, like cows.
These apes could not think. They did not use tools. They lived at a basic animal level, capable only of the most essential biological functions that their bodies dictated.
The homo erectus (the man standing on two legs), the homo habilis (the tool using human) and the homo sapiens (the thinking man) evolved between 1.5 and 5.3 million years ago. When a legislator tells us not to think, that is how far back he takes us in our evolution. We should not be surprised, therefore, that his colleague insolently reduces serious national conversations to maternal anatomy.
When he says we are cows, he shifts us from our family of apes to that of bovines. We know that our cousins – the gorillas and monkeys – may go on four limbs, yet they can also use their fore limbs as hands. They are ahead of cows that are still on all fours exclusively for walking. This is where the political class would like us to be.
The rest of us are willing players in this insult against our common humanity. We sing along in uncritical choruses of condemnation, when we are told that our person has been offended. We have seen unthinking demonstrations against two MPs for use of uncouth language against Kenya’s First Family.
When another MP dragged dogs into obscene sex-loaded public insolence against the enemies of Opposition leaders, we did not raise a finger. We have no moral high ground to stand on today, in holy outrage. We are a society whose values a moth has eaten.
We need to begin thinking again and to collectively address this morass from the very top. If not, let us just drop the hypocrisy.
- The writer is a strategic public communications adviser.