To turn Kenya around, we must become moral heavyweights

Chaos during the Juja by-election at Mang'u High School tallying centre on May 18, 2021 [Edward Kiplimo, Standard]

“It’s easier to be a parent this morning. It’s easier to be a dad. It’s easier to tell your children character matters. It matters. Tell them the truth matters.”

These were the words of Van Jones, a CNN political commentator, when Donald Trump lost the US election. A noteworthy angle to his response is his linking Trump’s loss to parenting. Von gives a critical insight that Kenyan leaders should ponder over.

Our leaders should know that they make it difficult for parents to talk to children about truth. Their lies carry the image that to be a good leader you have to be a good liar. Their association with scandals communicates that to be a leader you must know how to steal. Their scattered display of family affirmation makes it appear that to be a leader means detaching yourself from family values. Their frequent fights and shouts in chambers of conversation make it appear that to be a leader is to lay down your peaceful spirit.

The lacklustre quality of Constituency Development Fund projects makes it look like to be a leader is to master construction short-cuts but still put up big, bright coloured billboards with the name of the self-credited politician in bold.

This underwhelming culture has trickled down to some accomplished entertainers. Upon being asked why they brew and serve X-rated content, they have boldly declared in public that exemplariness to children and young people is not one of their goals. There is evidence that many accomplished people read from a script that demonises positive values as stumbling blocks to greatness. You are serious about accomplishment? Sacrifice your values.

It is a fact that a weighing scale of what is wrong and right is critical for any community to be able to assess its progress. The value sense is inevitable. That is why we constantly wrestle with the Kenya we are and the Kenya we want. Ironically, to people from other parts of the world, Africa invokes less of a geographical location and more of an oasis of value-driven cultures. But we who live here wish this romanticisation was true. The reality in our country is that the moral centre no longer holds.

Unlike a financial crisis where we have mastered the run to the International Monetary Fund, a values crisis has no ‘International Moral Fund’ to rescue us. If such an institution existed, borrowing frequently and heavily–even beyond recommended thresholds–would be encouraged. Truth is that we must build the moral bank for ourselves. Our catastrophe is that while morality has many associates, it remains homeless.

Like the arms of government, we can assign four epicentres of morality: religion, family, nature and law. Religion and family are couriers of culture, nature speaks to conscience, and the law superintends an orderly community. These epicentres are rickety; religion is tainted, family is distracted, conscience is seared, and the law is handcuffed. Morality is therefore suffocated and there is a multitude who would happily attend its burial.

More and more people are walking away from conversations on morality, not because the subject is bad but because it threatens them. They are ambassadors of the gospel that conversations on morality in the contemporary world are not only impossible but outdated. They would rather abandon all moral scales and resign to versions of hedonism. Moral advocacy irks the demons within them and irritates their conscience, rousing an angry restlessness.

Hirelings of chaos

But such pessimists are hirelings of chaos and not worthy of disciples. That morality cannot be legislated does not erase its inescapable necessity. Though hated, the moral question is hard-wired, inescapable and will always rear its hated head. No country develops without established regard for order. That Kenya is so law-heavy yet a moral lightweight points to the need to go beyond legislation and embrace inspiration.

Inspiration is the element that contributes significantly to exhibition of outstanding values in secular countries while our notoriously religious country is sinking in vices. Trust, when exhibited, plays a critical role in igniting public inspiration and with it, a resurrection of the moral sense. When trust is rare, where it appears, it is baptised to carry the name of those who embody and exhibit it, for instance, Michuki Rules and Magufulism.

When people know they can trust an individual or a system, respect is initialised. Respect gives people the confidence of protecting an institution, even cultivating a benefit of doubt in the instance of poor performance.

The revolution Kenya seeks will come the day when we are bold enough to base our leadership choices on the moral scale. The good news is that the moral records of our leaders are in the public domain. No one needs a microscope to perceive their moral fabric. Many have been bold enough to repeatedly sin in public in the name of ‘mta do’? Their stories are on all walls, written by their own hand. If we insist on having the tribe as the prime factor in our leadership choice, we will be doomed to this same sorry state of fighting the same demons 50 years from now.

It is time to declare the end of an era of tribal experiments. It is time to open another laboratory and embark on an era of experiments of values-based leadership.


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