By Ruth Lubembe
Kenya: Two Kenyans were on Jeff Koinange’s bench last week — Boniface Mwangi, an award-winning photojournalist turned activist, and Ekuru Aukot, a prominent and well-spoken lawyer who participated in the drafting of the new constitution.
As both talked, their love for their country and its people was clear; both have made great contributions to this country albeit in different ways.
Even their clothes were different –— Aukot wore a well fitting formal suit and tie, Mwangi was in a casual top and trousers. Their dress was reflected in their manner — Aukot was articulate, polished, and pushed a somewhat intellectual argument that expressed his thoughts on the government of the day’s misfired (or misguided?) actions.
Mwangi, on the other hand, just spoke. Blunt, shooting from the hip, plain talk, including allegations that were a little on the wild side. Somehow, I was taken by Mwangi because he had the guts to look into a camera and say what many Kenyans are too afraid to say in the open; the ones who do say it too often hide behind social media pseudonyms.
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Both bench guests were pointing to what is increasingly evident to all who care about this country —there is a problem. And it is growing because nobody seems able — or willing — to do what desperately needs to be done to solve it. In Mwangi’s words, the government is not doing its job.
He went so far as to name individuals in government, including the President, and described their various misdeeds — which may not necessarily be untrue given the fast falling state of affairs we can see all around.
I want to take Mwangi’s argument a little further and say the problem with Kenya is Kenyans, and not just the ones at the top. The sad truth is that few Kenyans actually have the moral authority to bash anyone, let alone our leaders.
I have been on a quest for authenticity, part of which I believe entails saying what I really think rather than what I think others want to hear. Sounds pretty straightforward but if you have been raised to be socially and politically correct so you can fit in, then authenticity is challenging.
A few days ago I interacted with a businessman who had something I needed. We were actually meant to have met the day before but he had been caught by police talking on his mobile phone while driving to meet me and so the meeting was postponed to the next day.
As we talked, he expressed his irritation with the policeman whom he felt had wasted his time. I feebly tried to point out that he had actually flouted a traffic rule but it fell flat. Please understand I am still taking my baby steps into this new space of calling a spade a spade.
My protestations were swallowed up by his energetic justifications of why he eventually had to bribe the policeman because he was in a hurry.
He went on to tell me how last Christmas he was caught doing the same thing, which he found extremely inconvenient because he had no money and was eventually “forced” to dip into his M-Pesa account to get rid of the pesky cop.
I should mention that as he shared his tribulations with me, he was driving and making as well as receiving calls!
Everyone has a sphere of influence or an opportunity to speak up against a wrong, and that was my opportunity. It could be your neighbour’s child who needs correcting for using foul language or bullying the other children in your compound. For a teacher, it could be reinforcing good manners in the students he or she teaches.
Maybe you have a neighbour who regularly batters his (or her) spouse or engages in unsavoury behaviour in a compound full of impressionable youths. Perhaps it is a workmate you know is moonlighting for the competition, or dating a married man or woman. Or a landlord who is putting up an illegal extension to get more tenants…
Ask any Kenyan and they will tell you that what is ailing Kenya is corruption. Few, however, are willing to admit that corruption is a moral issue that starts with the individual, no matter the status, occupation or social class.
Fewer still are willing to speak out against immorality because that would amount to interfering in other people’s business, which amounts to bad manners. No modern society wants to be caught out on bad manners. That just wouldn’t do.
So we maintain the age-old but highly useless maxim of see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil.
To all my family, friends and neighbours, consider this a friendly warning that if you are involved in something immoral, no matter the scope, I will point it out. I will try to be as loving as possible, but I will do it. And yes, I am willing to take as much as I dish out so let it be reciprocal, if you dare.
We cannot; indeed, we should not, criticise government when we ourselves lack the moral authority to do so.
The writer is Revise Editor at The Standard.