Hurrah cheats, extortionists, adulterers, lynch mobs
By Jenny Luesby | June 4th 2013
By Jenny Luesby
It is said too many times that Kenya has become a ‘dog eat dog’ culture. No-one says it of the majority of our neighbours — even in lands where civil wars have raged. But about us, they say it over and over, and there is a reason for that: because we have let it become, at least partially, true.
Somewhere along the line, Kenya has emerged with a uniquely ruthless value system, built on an endemic lack of compassion, respect and civility. The point is to grab and have, regardless of all others. We have become greedy and narcissistic.
Strong statements for sure, for which reason let us only dig into the evidence. Last week, a woman visited us who we had previously written about at The Standard.
Clear as a bell
She had raised donated equipment from a small town between Boston and New York, for four Kenyan orphanages. But when her carton arrived, it became a bean-feast for ‘eating’, shillings demanded from the word go, to get her files ‘to the top of the pile’.
It took that woman four months and Sh354,000 to get her carton released, with its computers and school equipment, T-shirts and other donations. The last five days of that she spent with the Kenya Ports Authority. She related how at one point she was pulled in about a packet of malaria tablets listed on the docket.
‘Why are there medications in the carton?’ For her, she answered, prescription malaria drugs. ‘But why one packet?’ Because that was her supply for the next six months, she explained. ‘But how is that possible, one packet can’t last six months?’ But it does, it is one tablet a week. ‘No, malaria tablets are once a day.’
Not these tablets. ‘Well, we will need to open the carton and search for them to check they haven’t expired’. And on went the fight over the malaria tablets.
Really? Four months of processing for orphanages and the Ports Authority needed to check one person’s prescription drugs for their expiry date?
Of course not. We all understand this kind of blockage: and we all know how it’s supposed to be resolved. While the orphans wait.
But when did our officials, so many of them, lose sight of the moment when goods should just go to our very poorest, and there be no ‘eating’?
Even several years ago, when a procurement officer from Pumwani Hospital told me how he had built up his car hire business with appreciations he put ‘in his sock’ in the course of official purchasing for Kenya’s most overstretched maternity hospital, I remember wondering: at what point does humanity kick in?
That officer must see the babies dying, the mothers dying: he must know that many are finished just for the lack of resources, in attention and equipment. And yet he lives right inside that and anyway steals himself money to buy extra cars!
When do we as a society condemn such greed, and when is the point that we all put ourselves to the rear and say: ‘This is for those who need it more’?
Yet, profoundly, our disregard for each other spans much more widely than stealing from the poorest. Each morning we listen to radios full of machismo about how any man who is a man is running several women — cheating is the in-thing.
Even Christianity doesn’t seem to be holding up our values on basics. The Commandments are as clear as a bell that adultery is a forbidden sin, and our Churches are full to brimming every Sunday.
But, seemingly, the same Kenyans who go to Sunday Mass are breaking the Lord’s Commandments Monday through Saturday, if we are to believe the prevailing view that adultery is just fine when it comes to Kenyan manhood.
Yet where does it all stem from, this free-for-all of hurting others?
Perhaps illustratively, just over a week ago, a man was killed outside my house. He was one of five who had jacked a car farther up the road. They were chased from the village — it being outside Nairobi — by motorbikes and villagers, and the car crashed into a field on a sharp corner just beyond my house.
The carjackers took off, but one of them was caught by neighbours. He was brought back to the road, where a fire was started. They poured petrol over him and jeered as he ran in circles, burning to death. Afterwards, they burnt his body on the pyre.
No-one wants to be carjacked. But did those people do right to burn that youth to death?
‘The trouble is,’ a colleague told me, ‘they have lost hope in the justice system. They will hand him in and he will be released and just keep doing it, so they eliminate him.’
True. But was it humane? Or are we all to become ‘dogs’ until our systems start to play fair?
And, if that is the case, where does it begin, the ‘getting to fair systems’? Does it begin with regulation, and checks and balances, or with we who staff them, and enforce them, and are the systems?
Does it not begin with our own value systems, and what each of us will and will not be part of? Does it not begin with our own sense of fair play?
Or is it always someone else’s fault, when we let ourselves become dogs eating dogs, until that is how the whole world sees us?
The writer is Consulting Editor at The Standard Group.
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