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We’ve betrayed civic responsibility

By | September 3rd 2009

Okech Kendo

It should worry you that university lecturers, who should add value to society, rather than recycle lecture notes, have surrendered to apathy.

The ‘studious’ ones gain visibility only during elections when party politicians hire them for assorted consultancies. Even then their views, often packaged as intellectual analyses, are tattered, like society.

Lecturers are chasing money and beer, rather than ideas and ideals. When two or three gather over beer, the talk is most likely partisan politics. Raila this. Kibaki that. Kalonzo lies in between.

They run across campuses looking for money. A Nyamira Express ride by night for lectures at Kisii campus, then a matatu to Maseno for another class, a rush to Masinde Muliro University in Kakamega, then back to Nairobi for a session at Kimathi House campus, is exhausting. One must blame the economy for the dearth of ideologues that had time and courage to challenge the status quo.

Lecturers dare not take national positions on critical issues in public because they do not want to disturb the order of things. Many play safe, expecting political appointments or doing business with Government.

They have seen the politically networked get political appointments that are better paying than scholarship.

If lecturers are sleeping as the reform wagon stalls, their students long disappeared from the national radar. Either because intellectual babes cannot mix cramming with civic responsibility or they have fallen to the lie that their moment lies in the future.

The dearth of civic responsibility among students is deeper. Universities admit anyone who can pay. Standards have been devalued. With it has gone the deeper insight into society that comes with academic excellence and critical thinking. With lower standards of admissions, the young feel they have been accommodated enough and it is not in their interest to disturb the status quo.

Knocking closed doors

The right thinking are out-numbered. Analytical thinking, and engagement with society have been blocked. With admit-all-who-can-pay policy, universities are no longer abodes of free spirits. Posterity, which is their future, is in jeopardy if the youth do not rise up to demand accountability.

Not even Universities Academic Staff Union, which claims to speak for rundown lecturers, has found reason to speak on other issues other than knocking against closed doors for better pay.

Teachers wake up only when their personal professional matters are at issue. They shun larger society, which demands of them civic responsibility. Teachers have left politics to politicians at a great cost to everyone.

If this country has stalled, like an aging engine starved of service, it is because many critical national constituencies have absconded. Farmers are quiet even as forests are plundered. Fishermen are silent as waters masses are destroyed.

In Lake Victoria, fisherman and fish traders watch helplessly, as water hyacinth carpets the world’s second largest fresh water lake. The lake is losing its ecological balance. Fish stocks are dwindling. But fishermen are cheering as transporters compete for the little there is from trawlers, boaters and hookers. Fish eaters watch as exporters rush for the diminishing daily catch.

Pastoralists move farther in search of greener pastures because rich people uphill have destroyed water towers. You are yet to see pastoralists demonstrating because rivers have been diverted to irrigate private farms.

Peasants are not complaining as prices of subsistence commodities, including water soar, believing it is probably the will of god that they should suffer.

Critical masses the country needs to recharge have abdicated; leaving national destiny in the hands of politicians, a lot whose majority is largely driven by self-interest.

Politicians are the know-it-all and be-all crowd driving the country to the precipice. President Kibaki, their leader, whose other name is business-as-usual, has just confirmed contempt for public opinion by reappointing Aaron Ringera to preside over the moribund Kenya Anti-Corruption Commission, without recourse to the KACC advisory board and Parliament.

Do not expect Law Society of Kenya to challenge presidential breach of the Anti-Corruption and Economic Crimes Act. Lawyers, like other conformists, understand wealth lies in getting tighter with the Government. If in doubt confirm why former ‘human rights’ and ‘good governance’ activist Senior State Counsel Gibson Kamau Kuria is silent.

Ringera conspiracy

Also find out what became of Prof Kivutha Kibwana and Dr Mukhisa Kituyi. They have understood civic activism is not a career; it is a strategy. They hit gold and have kept their peace in the face of Executive-executed national regression.

Now, where is Canon Peter Karanja of NCCK to split blame between a ‘moribund’ President, and an ‘ineffective’ Prime Minister on the Ringera conspiracy?

Politicians have enslaved us because citizens have allowed them. Sadly, even if some of these politicians were ejected, another lot, even more rapacious, would emerge. But things cannot get worse than they already are, unless you allow it. You must rise up, to ask why, and why not.

The writer is The Standard’s Managing Editor, Quality and Production.

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