By Shadrack Muyesu
The failure of public literati to locate the mismatch between our government system and socio-economic identity as the root cause of our governance problems is one that irks me. That we will have a better country if we simply changed our mentality and/or elected better leaders is an idea I find objectionable as it does answer why this shift in mentality has been so hard to come by or why, rather than punish bad leadership, we appear to embrace it.
Yet this idea persists. In one way, on the face of it at least, it forms the ideological basis of the newfound unity between the “2 presidents”. In another, it anchors the resistance – the large majority of respected intellectuals who believe that healing the Republic requires more than a mere handshake. Unfortunately, while each claims to be different from the other, both camps are afflicted by a terminal intellectual dullness. The result is that the Republic remains stuck in the revolving door of impunity that has haunted it for so long never mind the consistent presence of these authorities on good government. And how can it not be when those who shape our opinion are fatally blind.
“Even in America…blah”
Even more repulsive is the fact that the change in mentality they continue to preach is something that cannot be empirically assessed. Simply, while it is true that the Republic needs this change, it is one that can neither be compelled nor convinced. To borrow from the Indomitable Malcolm X, how people think depends on their socio-economic environment. Our capacity for good judgment increases as our situation betters. It’s a gradual change.
When we speak of the success of Liberal Democracy in the West, copy it and expect it to apply as seamlessly as it does there in the name of good practice, we must not forget that the system was birthed in an antiquity of blood and took generations to establish to this marvel we envy. How do we expect it to be as effective in a Kenya that is barely 55, and a mere 8 years old in the assembly of established Liberal Democracies?
With utmost respect, to expect citizens to have a “better mentality” immediately you tell them so, absent a change in their socio-cultural and economic dynamic, is to expect the impossible. To expect them to react in manner similar to their contemporaries in elite democracies and, indeed, to expect the Republic, by dint of its progressive constitution, to function as effectively as the established democracies, is equally ambitious. Why good judgment can’t easily come to Wanjiku as it does to the learned folk is a subject of wonder for them (the learned folk). It’s absurd. Someone please tell them, it’s because our societies are different!
Where effort should be dedicated towards a system that works for Kenya as it is, our intellectuals have prop up the nation to something that it is not instead (and then wonder why it isn’t responding accordingly. It’s a classic case of lying to oneself and actually believing it!). Dr Wandia Njoya and her ilk will argue that “Kenyans can see, are tired and they won’t settle for anything but change”.
Unfortunately, our collective experience till now clearly demonstrates that, in general, Kenyans rarely make decisions based on a logical analysis of utility. If they did, a better man in Miguna would be the governor of Nairobi. If they did, too, corruption and government wouldn’t be long-time lovers. In fact, not only would Kenyans be less corruptible themselves, but they would also be scrambling to report and arrest public officers suspected of corruption as they briefly did at the dawn of the NARC government.
Even more drastically, there would be no place for a corrupt government for a people tired of the status quo. But lo! A supposedly tired populace finds the fun in impunity and conveniently forgets and moves on. That we continue to be lethargic when it comes to dealing with impunity contradicts everything that progressive lot believes when they talk of the principled Kenyan. What’s more, it immediately shows the need for a change in mentality to be nothing more than a romanticism that does not solve anything in the immediate. To say that Kenyans are principled then ask them to change their mentality makes for an embarrassing contradiction.
“What would you have us do?”
Perhaps to escape this conundrum Dr Njoya, Daisy Jerop, Daisy Amdany, Miguna and our other public literati, blame government for setting the pace for this lethargy. In their view, Kenyans are tired alright, only that the principle in them is stifled by the bad government. If President Uhuru Kenyatta was more proactive in dealing with corruption, Kenyans would follow suit and make a demonstration of it. In doing so they cite the citizens’ arrests following the election of NARC (supra) as an example of what a good government can do. In many ways they are right.
Unfortunately, in advancing this argument, they forget that Wanjiku, under the Constitution of Kenya 2010, is more powerful than she ever was under the repealed constitution; in fact she is stronger than government and stronger than citizens in countries where bad regimes have been toppled by the people. How come then she can’t liberate herself? More so, would the reaction of a desperate citizen be defined by government?
“Our constitution says”…which constitution?
As I have argued severally, the powers the constitution gives Kenyans are enough to punish impunity even when government does nothing. Inter alia, citizens have the right to picket and demonstrate, to seek for and obtain information from public agencies, to influence legislation through fronting bills for discussion in parliament, seeking interpretation of laws and requesting that bad laws be declared unconstitutional, the power to elect good leaders of their choice, and to recall bad leaders, among others.
A number of these powers can be exercised singularly. As such, the question of capacity does not arise. Instead of taking advantage of the progressive constitution and exercise some of these powers a majority of Kenyans would rather type away their frustrations on social media or simply mind their own business. Other than the duty to vote (as they are told) Most are not even aware of these powers never mind that they voted for the Constitution. If they are yet fail to take advantage of these powers, isn’t it an obvious sign that they do not identify with this constitution they call theirs?
I do not make these arguments in a vacuum. In her blog post Media and academia: Cambridge Analytica’s strange bedfellows, Dr Njoya goes at great lengths to demonstrate that the idea that Kenyan voting is influenced by biases other than principle is one that is propagated by disingenuous elites and foreign entities.
The aggregate of her submission, that Kenyans are anything but naturally tribal, is classic case of the romanticism I have cited above. Her rallying call for Kenyans to rise above a tribalism imposed on them (in which she quotes her intellectual twin Ms Amdany) is the contradiction I have also discussed. Dr Njoya, Ms Amdany and Dr Miguna (whose views on Kenyans with regard to this subject are public knowledge) represent a larger group of revered minds who have failed so spectacularly to separate the ideal as they have learnt it, and taught from reality.
If I may borrow from the Positivism of Prof Herbert Lionel Adolphus Hart, of all their good intents in having a better republic, they take society as it ought to be as a functional existing truth, thereby negating their solution as a mis-prescription that must be spat out. I deign not talk about Prof Macharia Munene Peter Kagwanja – the pens of impunity whose thoughts on this issue can only be described as intellectual prostitution.
Ignorance hidden in eloquence
Dr. Njoya’s views represent an underlying eurocentricsm that has colonised our minds and broken our continent. She may describe herself as African, complete with the dressing and choice of name. She may even despise the Western view of our society (consider the article cited supra https://www.wandianjoya.com/blog/media-and-academia-cambridge-analyticas-strange-bedfellows). Unfortunately, her thoughts on government betray a more westernised view than most. On government, she and her ilk, at best, are white people trapped in black skin, or at worst, persons with a confused identity.
Apart from being over-defensive of Africa’s problems and failing to pinpoint what is wrong with the continent, these men of letters and a cabal of intellectuals have subconsciously become self-appointed, patronising experts on what direction we should take.
These, dear reader pose the biggest threat to the prosperity of the Republic. Collectively, their damage is greater than every natural hazard for it is has formed the basis of the erroneous construction of the state. Isn’t it they that pushed for and saw the delivery of liberal democratic government never mind that such a system of government has proven to be a failure in countries as diverse as ours? While they sing its reviews, will they also deny that corruption is worse than at any time before the promulgation of the new constitution despite its novelties? To borrow from Ken Walibora in his timeless Swahili novel, “Siku Njema”, “enzi za falsafa hizi zimekwenda na wakati na wala hazirudi tena… kuzishikilia kikiki ni sawa na kujigeuza chachandu anayejipalia makaa…”
It’s time we disregarded the “one size fits all” philosophy. As Chika Ezeanya writes in Real Africa Emerging, just like any other knowledge, Western knowledge has been demystified and shown to be just another variant of knowledge to be respected and studied but not deified. What this country needs is for the likes of Daktari to think harder and deliver a system of governance tailor-made for Kenya, not an insistence of best practice. Instead of elevating Kenyans to something they are not, they need to ask themselves, “why are even the most educated Kenyans seemingly blind to government excesses?”
Doing otherwise buttresses the view that, for all of their knowledge on many things, they are intellectually vacuous. (