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Civility must be the new currency of our fire starters and stone throwers

By Rev Edward Buri | November 14th 2021
Youths scamper for safety after police lobbed teargas during Deputy President William Ruto's rally at Kondele Kisumu County on November 10, 2021. [Collins Oduor, Standard]

Adolescents are no longer playing with fire–they are speaking with it. ‘Kondele-scents’ are supposed to be speaking the peace language by now, but instead they are speaking the language of stones. A starved moral sense chokes the sense of the sacred.

Educational institutions are shrines of knowledge with a history to be revered. Small businesses run on faith-fuel given the large families they feed. This reality should invoke respect for the kiosk. The school and the kiosk carry a sacredness that makes them deserve preservation. But when the moral compass is lost, chaos blindly overruns them. 

Adolescence and Kondele-scents–what do these two have in common? They point to the state of our moral sense. Kenya is morally poor. The tragedy is that we are used to borrowing to fix our problems but an International Moral Fund does not exist. We must look elsewhere for our moral fix. The irony of our moral bankruptcy is that our traditional cultures take pride as moral hubs.  But these hubs do not have a bridge to our high streets. Like the cutlery in many homes that remains unavailable to family members and is kept only for visitors, morals are restricted to a romanticised part of our history that is narrated and performed for tourists. We have our moral banks but we do not draw from them.

There is a problem when students intentionally burn down a school. The explanations for this criminality are as many as there are people and interests. But before students burn an external building, something already blew up in them. The darkness inside manifests darkness on the outside. It is clear that all is not well at the bottom, where a new generation of citizens is forming.

These school-burning adolescents are neighbours to the seven million who are unconvinced that voting will change their lives. The youth neighbourhood is demanding more attention than the present political wit is able to decipher.

If dawa ya moto ni moto (fire puts out fire), what fire will put out the school fires? Who will roll away the stones? Politicians on vote-hunt tours passionately swear how their ideologies will save Kenya. They are the loudest self-proclaimed grand solution providers. Their models assume that these school-going youth should present no problems. But they are becoming a shocking problem. While their models promise to help those outside school, what model will help those not yet on the outside? The existing political write-ups appear not to have a paragraph on how to put out the teenagers’ fires.

Economic models cannot be all there should be. Money has never been and will never be everything. It need not always take money to revive a community. For some countries, promoting the family has been placed at the heart of national progress. Kenya could import this model that emphasises family from its rich cultural past and tune it to a contemporary accent. The family is the base–the fundamental unit from which a community goes up. Where families are not held in honour, the nation fails to prosper.

Delicate peace

Kenya’s peace remains delicate. Kenya cannot afford even the slightest break from peace. We need to be on peacetime fulltime. Anyone who plays with fire is a fool. There are those who make the plans, ignite the fires and throw the stones. These are those who make the news as they appear in court. But equally lethal are those who silently agree with the burning and the stoning while seated behind TV screens far away from the scene. But they will not escape the court of conscience.

Violence is a no-go zone. It is the duty of every government to fortify peace. One measure of a successful government should be the strength of peace it leaves behind. Strong peace benefits all. Ideological rejection does not need physical ejection. All other parts of the country should reject the Kondele reaction. That said, our leaders should not conduct unwise peace experiments. As they go everywhere they must be caring enough to enter in peace and leave in peace. It is wrong to meet people in calm and leave them in chaos.

The ambition to open up every part of Kenya to every Kenyan should never be dropped. Kenyans of different persuasions should be able to settle anywhere without the tag of a foreigner. This will take continuous work, and every leadership season must leave behind a heritage of a stronger peace. Though the tribal ink will remain, it should not be used to paint boundaries of hostility. Tribe must serve nationhood. True, the colonial history that thrust us together is not pleasant but retreating to tribal boundaries is not possible. Now that we are together we must learn to be neighbours–not only by proximity but, more critically, by the spirit we carry. The gravity of nationhood should continually draw the tribe into itself, ridding it of its hostility sting.

Civility must be our currency. All of us must embrace the fact that for the sake of peace, seasons must shift. The fight must move from the street to the ballot box. Street battles are unnecessary when we have scheduled visits to the ballot box. Voting should not rhyme with violence. Ideologies are welcome. Violence is not. This integration struggle is not unique to Kenya. Many countries in the world battle with threatening divisions of different kinds and are often drawing up bridging formulas. But their peace laboratories must remain open and busy computing new cohesion formulas. Bridge-building is a duty we must never abandon. From experience, there is no one method to dissolve negative ethnicity. But we must keep beating swords into ploughshares and spears into pruning hooks. We aim at an existence where we will not learn war anymore but instead we will be students and disciples of peace.


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