Kenyans must question more than clap when leaders issue directives

President Willliam Ruto addresses the nation at State House, Nairobi. [PCS]

Kenya is an embarrassing clapping nation. Our propensity to clap speaks of an abused people who will apologise for those who abuse them.

Derogation of the people’s natural rights over the years has reduced citizens to uncritical riffraff that claps at just about anything, even nothing. They laugh when they should cry.

Our people seem on a perpetual lookout for opportunities to clap.  The clapping is probably a tension coping mechanism when listening to people in high office. Or, perhaps, we just want to please the big boys, even when they have said nothing. We clap at things that require critical interrogation, and possibly even rejection. 

The announcement has hence been made this week, that all schools will reopen on Monday, next week. The message from President William Ruto required critical reflection, in the wake of the present troubled times. The gathering, instead, burst into applause.

They sounded like the sheeple in George Orwell’s Animal Farm bursting into, “Two legs bad, four legs good.”

Only a day earlier, Education Cabinet Secretary Ezekiel Machogu, had announced indefinite suspension of reopening of schools. What changed within 18 or so hours? Is this a case of random government in dissonance? There seems to be little consultation and consensus.

One authority says one thing, another one says something quite different. Rather than burst into sheeple applause, we should return to our thinking chambers, to wonder about what is happening. The CS thinks the rains and floods will go on indeterminably.

The President, for his part, says he has been advised by the weather people. It is encouraging, of course, to see that the government seems to be listening to weather people, finally. When the same people warned, last year, about the wet times we were expecting, the top brass took offence.

They accused them of being alarmist. Deputy President Ragathi Gachagua paraded in public the CEO of the Metrological Department and directed him to apologise to the country, for his caution on improbable floods.

But now State House says the weather people have advised them that all is well ahead. Apart from the possibility of the rains receding, however, there are other concerns. Images of over-flooded schools remain.  Some are in decrepit state, with broken walls and fallen roofs. Books and other teaching aides have been destroyed, the routes to school messy. Some children are marooned in rickety locations with their homeless families.

It is not clear what the thinking is about them as they are advised to return to school. If they are day students, are the liminal spaces where they are stranded to be understood to be the homes they are going to commute from? How do they hold together the daily ebb and flow of school life and home life? What about the teachers whose families have been caught up in the mess? Are they ready to go back to work? Some are likely to be trapped in this quagmire, too.  

The predicament of the borders is at another level. Do they have the funds to return to school? What of those whose books, linen and even fees have been lost in the floods? And when they have gone to school, where do they come back to as home during the holidays, now that their homes are demolished? 

We are in the throes of a complex challenge that requires coordinated thinking and multiple interventions by a disaster management team. The government has been conspicuously absent when the people have needed it most.

If the floods are considered a national disaster, their management does not reflect that thinking. For, a national disaster is equal to a country at war. This is where trained disciplined forces are brought in to help the rest.

A national disaster team under disciplined uniformed command is the right outfit to clear and rebuild roads and bridges. They would know how to resettle displaced populations in quickly constructed dignified temporary shelters. They are equipped to put up temporary functional camps with basic comfort conveniences. 

Properly coordinated with Ministries of Education, Health, and of course Interior and the National Treasury, they would minimise the suffering through transitory settlements that mirror normal communities, but now with temporary schools (using available teachers in the displaced populations), clinics and dispensaries, police posts and other essential facilities. 

Instead, families are being commanded to move to unknown higher ground, and prepare to go back to school on Monday. And someone is clapping. Are our heads right?