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We should all benefit from the current political crisis

By | April 1st 2012

By Ng’ang’a Gicumbi

Recently, I visited parts of Kenya that many pundits have accurately described as ‘forgotten Kenya’ – the North Eastern counties.

But what particularly touched me was my encounter with a mother and her ten-year-old son. I was taking water under a when a discussion between a Somali mother and her son intrigued me. The boy appeared to be lecturing his mother in a noisy tone, which appeared to me to be out of the ordinary.

Since I couldn’t understand a word of their language, I took enough courage to ask the mother in Kiswahili what the fuss was all about.

I wasn’t sure whether she was going to answer me. To my relief, however, she answered me in perfect Kiswahili what the discussion was about.

Unable to fend for the family after the death of their father some two years back, she told the son she had reached the end of the road as she had exhausted all the family savings.

This is what the boy was telling the mother: "Mother, you cannot give up on us now; when you look at your children, you want to tell me you can’t see hope for tomorrow in all of us, really?" I was left mouth agape with amazement; ‘forgotten Kenya’ had its own share of gems of beauty.

Today, the word political crisis is on every Kenyan’s tongue and thoughts. While it is not the first time we have had political crisis, this one is seemingly special with the prospect of a foreign trial for key political players hanging around as the sword of Damocles.

Yet, it will surprise many Kenyans to know that just as the Chinese saying, ‘a calamity is a great opportunity’, they too and not the politicians, can and I dare add, should benefit from the current political crisis.

This is because, like the Somali boy, we need to look at each other, especially the youthful members of the society, and see our hopes for tomorrow. To achieve this, we shall need to do a number of things.

One, we will need to overcome over reliance on the political class as determinants of our future. Herbert Marcuse, a leading philosopher, writing on liberation and slavery said: ‘all liberation depends on the consciousness of servitude.’

There is a true sense in which the political consciousness of an average Kenyan is hard to liberate due to his dependence on the political class for his thinking. But it is equally true that the elite, especially those whose livelihood is politics, are desirous of the status quo to remain because it is a great service to their pockets and egos.

Two, we will need to seriously take advantage of avenues of knowledge that are emerging phenomenally around us in: new school systems, universities, media, Internet, the list is growing.

There is little doubt in my mind that the age of enlightenment is one opportunity, which we must seize now to help understand many of our dilemmas. Indeed, as the social theorist Philip Slater has aptly said, ‘real hope begins with recognition and identification of dilemmas.’

But how can people recognise dilemmas in their environments if they lack the requisite conceptual skills and tools? Some of these societal dilemmas are crookedly hidden from public consciousness by their beneficiaries, mostly the political class.

Once dilemmas are understood and recognised, it is only a step away to tackling them.

Three, we need to remember that knowledge is not just a good thing, but a risky thing as well. Acquisition of knowledge is meant to transform the acquirer so that he too can transform his surroundings through assessing inherent risks.

Some of these risks refer to our newfound Constitution and pertain to the ongoing existence of the political status quo, including its values, institutions, its distribution of wealth and power.

We should take a cue from the Chief Justice who has affirmed the independence of the Judiciary by standing up against perceived bullying by the Prime Minister.

Kenyans will need to encourage the growth of independence of character in each other so as to achieve communally fulfilling interdependence that will help move Kenya to the next level of enlightenment based on new values and new institutions that will provide everyone with opportunities for self-realisation. That’s how we shall midwife Kenya into a future full of hope.

The writer is a behaviour scientist based in Nairobi

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