We are not the West; let’s chart our own path

We are not the West; let’s chart our own path

At this time great social transformation in the country, we are reminded of how, as a people, we should aspire to the standards of our illustrious peers in the West. We are told that the country would be much better if our politicians practiced ideology politics and if the people voted based information rather than sentiment. Even in our schools, we are wired to prefer justice as applied in the West (in fact, there isn’t a Kenyan definition of justice per se apart from the laws and traditions we inherited from our colonial masters and more progressive peers elsewhere). And then, at the end of this lazy analysis, we are reminded that the Republic would be much better if we simply changed our attitudes.

There is something contemptible about a people who make up their mind without first listening to what you have to say. That is Western politics in a nutshell, the good practice we are challenged to adopt. Republicans and Democrats, for instance, have long held opinions on almost every topic which don’t change regardless of the strength of the opposing party’s argument. The election itself is a farce, a choice between two dominant positions with a rather predictable outcome.

And when you look at their courts, what is the point of having a judge who has already decided your matter depending on the ideology they subscribe to? A judge should have a method, not a fixed ideology. Ideally, the judge is supposed to be a neutral arbiter who applies herself to the issues before her with an open mind and decides accordingly depending on the law and the weight of evidence. But in some jurisdictions, a conservative judge will look at the court papers and make up her mind without even looking at the litigants, then she will carefully work backwards to justify her conclusion. Creativity helps if you are to be considered brilliant.
In Kenya, no one has a fixed opinion on anything. We move where the wind blows. And while it may look primitive at first, it is culture that has allowed alternative ideas to compete on an equal platform. Ideology for us means, hustler politics, the Building Bridges Initiative, and everything in between because therein lie our problems. The sophisticated can worry about liberalism and conservatism; here we worry about a meal, access to resources from the State and holding onto our ancestral land. Whatever parish is addressing these topics, we will attend- and there is nothing wrong with that.

You may have heard, that there is absolutely nothing magical that a new constitution will do for us. I understand, but more important is to ask ourselves why people behave the way they do and why they find it hard to abide by this constitution they ‘overwhelmingly’ enacted. Answer this question and we will find the peace we are all looking for.

In a fight amongst brothers if an alien third party comes up with a peace treaty for them to sign, they will sign but later go back to fighting when they discover that after all, they do not agree with the some of the provisions of the treaty. The Anglo-Maasai Treaty of 1904 and is the ensuing land crisis in Kajiado is an example. But if the brothers actively participate in the creation of the agreement, the development of each clause and sign it on their free will, the treaty will stand the test of time because they will have no problem obeying it- after all, they know its contents and they accept them.

I have no doubt that the Constitution of Kenya 2010 is a spectacular document. But whether it is a Kenyan constitution, I am not convinced. Our (constitution) is a collection of best practices elsewhere: the drafters identified a problem and canvassed for solutions from places that did not share our socio-political and economic dynamic, the result is a good constitution we neither understand nor appreciate. What will stop us from defying it?

If we appreciated the Constitution, we would have no qualms implementing the 2 thirds gender rule; Kenyans would not helplessly tweet about bad governance and a lack of action from the President when they could simply mobilize and remove misbehaving politicians from office as the Constitution contemplates. There are many more examples.

Tribal politics is our staple because ours is a highly differentiated society consisting of many tribes that are only learning how to live with each other. As an underdeveloped society whose citizens rely on resources coming down from the national government, we will always care who is at the top managing these resources. And in the same manner, we will always be suspicious of the other tribe because in our minds, there is too little to go around. You don’t tell Kenyans to forget out their tribes, you give them a solution that accommodates our tribes.

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