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Let’s reshape our society and not be tied down by culture

By Makau Mutua | January 24th 2016 at 00:00:00 GMT +0300

On December 10, 2007, I predicted that Kenya would be engulfed in civil war after elections that year. I was speaking at a Kenya Human Rights Commission International Human Rights Day event at The Stanley Hotel in Nairobi. Not a single Kenyan media house reported my dire prediction. Methinks I know why Kenyans live in denial about their worst proclivities. They would minimise Armageddon if it stared them in the face. It’s not blissful ignorance. We suffer from a culture of fatalism willful negligence that’s built on an alchemy of mysticism, religion, and ambivalence about modernity. We are too wedded to divine intervention. Avoidable tragedies are met with an expression of abdication and resignation it’s the will of God.

Even the most highly educated among us are tightly gripped by denial and superstition. My prediction at The Stanley Hotel event was met with incredulity and righteous indignation. A well-known human rights advocate publicly disagreed with me and opined that Kenya wasn’t Somalia, or Liberia. My thesis was that Kenya was so tribally polarised that neither PNU’s Mwai Kibaki nor ODM’s Raila Odinga or their surrogates would accept, or countenance, defeat. In an instant, the country was aflame, and human carnage never before seen since 1964 turned Kenya into a killing field. Kenya became hell. Long latent demons were unleashed. It took the African Union led by former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan to put humpty dumpty back together again.

Kenya’s culture of fatalism is responsible for criminal inaction and meek acceptance of mutual atrocities. By any measure, Kenya is one of the “most religious” countries in the world. Our churches, mosques and other houses of worship are fully packed. Even criminals especially them pray daily for redemption. Top leaders gather every weekend their palms turned up in supplication to the Almighty  to ask for more political power. The poor and the barefooted chase after gospels of prosperity. The thief, the looter, the rapist, the molester, and the killer all seek God’s grace. But these sinners seek not the redemption of the Lord, but His complicity in their sin. Their quest is to enlist God in their evil.

Don’t get me wrong I am not saying that the culture of fatalism is derived from a human gene pool, or that it’s a genetic pathology of inferiority. No it’s all environmental, and has been beaten into us, and then nurtured. Africa didn’t have these tendencies of hateful self-immolation before the Arab slave trade and European colonialism. I am not saying we didn’t have other forms cultural sickness. No we did. But the three historical traumas of the slave trade, colonialism, and the Cold War did us in. These traumas convinced us that we are half-child, half-devil. That’s why we converted into Islam and Christianity. That’s why we forsook our cultures and now go by Paul, Peter, Robin, and Jane.

In East Africa, Kenyans are the most mentally enslaved people. That’s because we were the entry port for capital and the anchor-satellite of the Cold War. We are dumb copies of the European. My view is that cultural mental slavery has uprooted Kenyans and suspended them into an unethical orbit. We are moral dwarfs. We have been engineered by others  for their benefit. That’s why we do not know how to act in our national interest. That’s why we cannibalise each other because we only know how to act in the personal interest. This phenomenon isn’t dissimilar from the pedagogy of the oppressed. Professor Ngugi wa Thiong’o, our most celebrated writer, has explored it in world-renowned works of fiction.

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As I’ve written before, culture isn’t cast in stone. It can be reverse-engineered, re-engineered, or discarded. But this can only be done through a counter-culture in a deliberate and national process. The difference between great civilizations and unremarkable ones lies in culture. It’s not that one culture is subordinate to another. No it’s that one culture self-interrogates and revitalises itself whereas another atrophies and collapses into itself. This was the great difference between the Soviet Union and the United States during the Cold War. Elites are indispensable in the construction of culture, but it’s the people the hoi polloi who bring culture to life. Culture may come from below where subalterns live but it must infest society to become vibrant.

To defeat the culture of fatalism, Kenya must do the following key things. First, restore dignity to the teacher the foundation of any civilization. Second, rethink the entire education system. Whose values are we teaching? Third, re-think what’s African. Fourth, make ethics the cornerstone of Kenya’s renaissance. Fifth, re-engineer Kenya as a nation not a collection of tribes. Sixth, punish without pity corruption, tribalism, and impunity. Finally, create an economy of opportunity, not opportunism. These must be individual and collective national obligations.

Kenya Human Rights Raila Odinga kenyan culture
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