One of the most spectacular and unfortunate rituals of hypocrisy went down on Saturday. Puffed up by torrent of encouraging media reports, positive slogans from NGO’s and cheered on by a bevy of celebrities, President Uhuru Kenyatta set fire to 105 tons of ivory seized off poachers. Hivyo tu!
His predecessors - Jomo Kenyatta, his father, excluded - engaged in similar rituals in a symbolic protest at commercial trade in ivory and in anti-poaching gesture. Former President Daniel arap Moi did it twice in 1989 and 1991 while his successor Mwai Kibaki walked in his footsteps and burnt the ivory in 2011.
We would have hoped that by now, the myriad slogans- “Hands off elephants”, “Tusks belong to elephants”, their variations and the symbolic burns would have put paid to the practice of poaching, but hey, they haven’t. Instead, poaching appears to be on the rise as the fight against it becomes more commercialised, more sensationalised and more resourced in time and money.
As the country’s leadership gathered to burn the ivory and to chant the slogans, the evil network of poachers and its sponsors must have been scheming on how to down more elephants and more rhinos, how to beat the system. It is a classic case of prescribing the wrong medication to the wrong malady, a zero-sum game. Let me tell you what President Kenyatta should have burnt down on Saturday.
The first ivory President Kenyatta should have burned down on Saturday is the ivory of greed. Every single person in this country, in their rank and file, is on a race to fill in themselves before others. And it does not matter how for the end justifies the means. From young school boys to their teachers, from MCA’s to Cabinet Secretaries, from artisans to touts, from priests to scarlet women and men, from businessmen to herders, all are stuck in a vicious rat race.
The infamous phrase attributed to us by our neighbors of a man-eat-man society does not fit any better than now. People, including leaders are grabbing everything on sight from schools, to cemeteries and to wives. The ripple effect of this orgy which appears to enjoy state sanction and protection is obvious and not limited to wanton poaching of both human and wildlife.
The second ivory that ought to have been burned on Saturday is the corruption. It is pointless to pontificate on the adverse effects of this vice on our society. None other than the President himself has declared it a national disaster and a collective badge of dishonor to the nation.
Corruption is a way of life for Kenyans. Honour and integrity have been thrown to the dogs and officially buried. The hypocrisy of the anti-corruption measures is astounding to say the very least. It has gone to the extreme extent of people calling for official recognition of the vice as a way of life.
The third and perhaps the most important symbolic ivory that ought to have gone down in flames on Saturday is that of impunity.
Again, this is a badge of dishonor among all Kenyans. Anything goes in Kenya now. It is perhaps the only country where notoriety is rewarded rather than punished and crime condoned without fear of the consequences of doing so. Access to public leadership is measured not by the positive values and qualities but through notoriety and vice.
This is what feeds our cycles of violence, our collective shame as a nation. There are many other little ivories we ought to have burned, the ivories of our collective amnesia, deceit, hypocrisy, carelessness and arrogance. These are the ivories which have stood in the way of proper nation building and success as a people.
If we want to cure our disease, we must be willing to burn our vices in the pyre of national sacrifice and genuine dedication. Hype, slogans and emotions will not stop our steep descent into a concrete jungle of zero values, zero “chills” and zero wildlife.