In a worrying indictment of the current state of morality in society, Titus Murakaru, father of two of the suspected KCB Thika bank robbers mused that his sons were "inspired” by stories of corruption and impunity in Kenya.
"When our children go out there and hear of people carrying money in sacks and nothing happens to them, what prevents them from engaging in that kind of vice if they can also get away with it?”, he posed in reference to the Ksh 791 million National Youth Service scandal, in which one of the suspects reportedly carried cold cash in gunnysacks.
This was a crudely sincere remark by a frustrated parent. You could feel his pain, wrapped in rue - perhaps of good days gone by when honesty was the best policy-, or perhaps because of his sons, whose academic records showed they were 'A' students, now face lengthy jail terms if convicted.
The remark should stir debate over the general erosion of morality in our society. One Twitter commentator described Mr. Murakaru's comment as "quote of the year." I couldn't agree more. As a society, we have hit the dregs of immorality when stealing is seen as a "normal" behavior, aped from our so-called leaders.
As long as the leaders are stealing, then the behavior can be tolerated, if not condoned. And as long as they aren't convicted, let alone prosecuted, then it’s a free for all. In Kenya today, the end justifies the means. Might is right, and without money, you've no rights and no voice.
As a consequence, the country has become a validation ground for 18th-century French writer Honore de Brazac's timeless quote, "Behind Every Great Fortune Is a Great Crime".
The pursuit of a "great crime"- whether with an encrypted laptop, gun or digging tools- has replaced the merits of a hard day's labor, industry, the toil of one's sweat and basic good manners that dissuade one to keep one's fingers off other people's property.
However, we must look beyond the flimsy notion that young people are acquiring such audacity as to drill a tunnel to a bank as a reaction to the rampant theft of public resources by those in political power. There is a wider problem. A problem of erosion of morals, right from the roots. The family, church, and school units.
The good book of Ecclesiastes informs us, "What is crooked cannot be straightened; what is lacking cannot be counted." A tree whose stem is bent at a young age cannot be straightened. Where are we going wrong? The unspoken reality is that a corruption and theft mentality are wrought at a young age.
Most parents and teachers pay little attention to it because it comes wrapped in other seemingly harmless actions. At the dinner table, for example, parents mutter to their children, "finish that food daddy, if you want a toy". A bribe right there.
When Education Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i bust the national examinations theft syndicate, it transpired that parents were the main enablers of this racket. They would pay for the exam papers, as much as Ksh10, 000 a paper, so that their children got good grades.
Such orientation shows a child that shortcuts to the 'A' grade are okay, a sort of "behind every 'A' student is Ksh10, 000 slid to the exam officer below the table".
To such a child, a shortcut to the bank, below ground becomes a, well, walk in the park. And when he carts away the free millions, the end truly justifies the means - at least in his mind.
Even as we address corruption and theft at a national level, it’s high time we went back to rediscovering our ethical roots and roots in ethics. As American social reformer Fredrick Douglas said, "It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men."
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Mr. Waithaka is the founder-director of Roots In Ethics