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How we are watering our few good manners and values with negativity

By Njoki Kaigai | Jan 19th 2020 | 4 min read

One of the lessons I remember from my college days was one about societies and their values. Our lecturer at the time used the American society to illustrate her point.

She told us Americans are known for being direct, for keeping time, for embracing volunteerism and charity work; for being loud and for many other things. Over time, we have heard tales about other societies - the Nigerians, the Chinese, the Jews and the list goes on. 

Some recent report even talked about how we Kenyans need to develop a new set of values. This had me thinking - if one were to conduct a values-survey among us, what would they come up with. As we await the research, I dare to hazard a guess about our values, based on my observations.

Firstly Kenyans lack good etiquette, and bad manners, especially in public are standard practice. Let us start with the newspaper peepers - those guys who invade personal space as they read newspapers over the shoulders of their owners.

You have those who walk around plucking and excavating sludge off nostrils; those who consider toothpicks to be facial accessory and those who massage their genitalia in public. I dare not even mention those who add folks to WhatsApp groups without their permission or those who borrow jackets and hoodies to keep them warm during events only to never return them.

I think there is a social and economic cost to our bad manners through our notorious traffic jams. I think behavioural analysts would find our traffic jams are really about bad manners - we do not like to give way, and consider overlapping and ignoring traffic signs as a sign of machismo and think driving on public pavements is kosher.

Our worst side shows up in issues related to time - a majority of us have no regard for time. People show up for events hours after their scheduled start time and see absolutely nothing wrong with keeping people waiting.

I think some Kenyans especially politicians consider showing up late as sign of importance so much so that they despite their tardiness, they still insist on giving endless speeches. Time and punctuality mean nothing to most Kenyans.

There was a time when we were labelled as the Hakuna Matata country, the take it easy country. I think this title has become a curse that prevents us from facing serious issues head on. Whenever a major issue rears its ugly head, we express righteous indignation and our usual over-analysis and pontification.

Instead of figuring out how to fix the issue, we devote a lot of energy to designing very creative and humourous memes and caricatures. I wonder if this approach is informed by our resigned attitude towards issues or is it just a way of avoiding getting our hands dirty.

Our politicians let us down and we refuse to hold them to account, instead taking delight in creating memes and caricatures.

Calamities and issues that would lead other nations to rethink their very existence and which would lead citizens to the streets only cause uproar for a few hashtag moments especially online, before we retreat into the cocoon of the bora uhai tagline or prayer.

Do not get me wrong, some humour is necessary to get us through life but my view is that it has led us to a dangerous place of mediocrity. This meme culture also helps support our other value of not taking personal responsibility where we believe that someone else (not us) is going to fix the issue.

Our homes are flooded because we ignored instructions to vacate, we have nine months to have a child who we had willingly, but when the results of our decision hit we resort to the naomba serikali line.

Last I checked is we are in a democracy so government is by the people and for the people. So that line is so self-defeating - by ombaring serekali you are essentially ombaring yourself. We Kenyans like quick riches and instant rewards. We do not like long drawn out efforts, we like to get our cash very quickly - almost instantly.

That is why most of us fall for the proti maguta maguta schemes, quail breeding schemes and money wash wash schemes. It seems that over time, we have become allergic to long drawn effort and toil. I wonder what will happen now that the protis are running out, the quails did not quite work out and our currency was changed.

I am yet to understand why we have become a country of naysayers and negativity. Nowadays it has become dangerous to tell your friends about your plans or successes for they are bound to discredit them with negativity and analysis.

It seems we do not like it when those around us prosper. When anyone around us finds good fortune, we have a way of throwing bad words, peddling falsehood and wishing them ill.

A guy gets a new car or a big mansion, we say he acquired it by trading his soul to the Illluminati. A woman gets a job, we say it is because she bought it with her body. This negativity is made worse by the fact that we are self-styled armchairs experts.

It is from our chairs that we spew forth random facts that we happily post on WhatsApp groups or on Twitter. Of course there are still many good values we still espouse, like our fierce patriotism that shows up when we win medals or when we attack those Ogas or CNN on Twitter. Yet I fear that the negative ones have become so commonplace that if we do not fix them, then our future as a nation will not be bright.

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