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How our cultural roots predisposes us to corruption

By Walter Chesang | June 29th 2018 at 12:00:00 GMT +0300

In his book A Man of the People’ Chinua Achebe aptly describes our Kenyan situation.  “Once upon a time a hunter killed some big game at night (Vision 2030, Legacy Projects and Jubilee Manifesto). He searched for it in vain and at last he decided to go home and await daylight (our struggles as a Nation)

At the first light of morning, he returned to the forest full of expectation (Like all Kenyans) and what do you think he found? Two vultures fighting over what still remained of the carcass (Tuko Pamoja). In anger, he loaded his gun and shot the two dirty uneatable birds (Corruption cartels).  You may say that he was angry (as we are) and he wanted to wipe out the dirty thieves fighting over another man’s inheritance (our future).  That hunter is yourselves.

Public education

By and large, the president’s desire to slay the dragon of corruption must be accompanied by intense and extensive public education on how, why and when is corruption bad and to who and where does it hurt and for whom is its elimination going to benefit. The essence is to win the propaganda battles first. Then the police can swing into action to break and mop up the economic saboteurs and their networks.

The perceived siege mentally on a highly conscious and extremely agitated and restless society is both dangerous, explosive, bloody and deadly.

Notoriously religious

John Mbiti in his book The African Religion and Philosophy wrote “Africans are notoriously religious.. they have a long past, a present and virtually no future. A careful analysis of the indigenous worldviews and cosmology reveals a strong involvement of African theology and beliefs to their economic activity and economic life as well as the social fundamentals. Indeed, knowledge about African worldviews is very essential in the fight against corruption.

First, Kenya is primarily a country of three major linguistic groups – the Nilotes, the Bantus and the Cushites.  The three major linguistic groups are divided into two major economic blocks. The pastoralists and the agriculturalists and the minority dukawalas. The two economic worlds have world views and cosmologies that are curious and paradoxical in nature. The clash of civilizations is at the political sphere, the struggle for the instruments of power and State control. Pastoralists follow their livestock in search of pasture and water.

The animals will reward them on a daily basis with handsome returns, milk – a balanced diet.  To enjoy a sumptuous buffet of beef, a bull weighing almost one tonne is killed, even if the liver is all that one wanted to eat. The “project” must be killed for them to enjoy the product.  In modern management parlance, a pastoralist would rather bring down a great public entity (corporation) so as to acquire the company stores and furniture. In many ways, this is a predatory economic model that is baffling and frightening.

The agriculturalist must till and tend the land, wait and pray with the patience of a saint for the elements. Their return for investment is annual not daily.  The “project” must be preserved and conserved for them to enjoy the products. To the agriculturalist, the management philosophy is to grow the entity (corporation) and finally reap the fruits.

Of coffin makers...

The dukawalas sit and wait for customers. Perhaps to hasten their prosperity, they can “cause” demand for their products through an artificial shortage or manufacturing a “crisis” for the demand of their goods. That is why the coffin maker will dare say with audacity, that business is really bad when deaths are not reported in the week. To this minority “the end justifies the means.” Ethics and integrity are subordinated to the houses of worship and the heavenly hosts.

When we “elect” or “send” our men and women to Nairobi, we tell them to “arise, go forth and conquer.” They have to engage in epic duels with the “other” sons and daughters of men for wealth and power. When they come home in dizzying choppers, dazzling fuel-guzzling four-wheel pieces of engineering marvel, Servile Row suits and crocodile leather shoes for their homecoming bash, we sing serenades for them with melodies that surpass human understanding.

We jostle for a selfie and vigorously shake their hands punctuated by the words Pongezi. Pongezi. Pongezi. The best seats and the juiciest goat ribs are preserved for them.  Everybody wants a piece of them – their company, phone number and association.  They are venerated, decorated, adored and worshipped. The “failures” are frowned upon and considered “kimeri” – good for nothing. They have to serve food and bottled water to the “real men”.

Warped thinking

This warped societal thinking is both mind boggling and disturbing.  University professors and dons as well as the most revered men of cloth are reduced to the master of ceremonies and court poets of these larger-than-life buffoons with dubious academic history and perverted business acumen. The most holy places in the church and mosques is where they are allowed to stand and pontificate to us on how God is good all the time.

It is on the lifestyle audit that the lowlands meets the highlands. Counting a man’s wives and concubines and children, cattle and goats, huts and bans is both repugnant and taboo.  What he has is ours and what he is doing is for our benefit.

Simply put, the wealth amassed by our men and women whom we “sent” to Nairobi to fight for us are communal not individual. These are our ambassadors. They represent our hopes, fear and aspirations in the high stakes game. Every one of them (from the office messenger to the most opulent predator) as long as they bring back dividends and take our phone calls and fight for us, we pray for them day and night.  For to tell us that this “Man had used his position to enrich himself” we would ask you; “Do you think a sensible man would spit out the juicy morsel that good fortune placed in his mouth?”

 Mr Chesang is a historian

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