CHAPTER 2: LACK OF A NATIONAL ETHOS
hen our colonial overlords ruled over us, they amalgamated our different ethnic nation-states to become one big entity dubbed Kenya. They drew boundaries arbitrarily which cut across families, clan spheres of influence and even bisecting tribal identities in absolute disregard to these sensibilities. Of course initially, when colonization came it never portrayed these Caucasian seafarers as the run-of-the-mill cackle of hyenas keen to dominate of our lands, waterways, cattle & other factors of production; far from it. The seminal manifestation was when the missionaries and explorers came here; quixotically discovering and naming physical features, that have no doubt been in our purview since the dawn of time, dishing out the names of their monarchs to these newfound edifices. They found us gullible and unrefined taking advantage to purchase our ignorance with silk and paper all the while easing themselves into our spaces and reviling our cultural identities as devil-smut! Then came the industrialists under the Imperial British East African Company. These ones had an actual pecuniary interest in the amalgamation of population tufts as these would come in handy as sources of labour for their ventures and a market for their manufactured goods. What was initially portrayed as an ‘iron snake’ no doubt snaked its way upcountry opening up our hinterlands to the fairer globetrotters.
Kenya is one country that has the propensity to soar to much greater heights but eternally contrives to relegate albeit stifle her ascent to the pantheon of the most successful African Nations. This is partly due to the fact that we are governed by individuals shackled by mediocrity, greed, tribalism and bloated egos. In actual sense, many of these are men and women sentenced by the gods to die a thousand deaths as the consequence of choosing the coward’s avenue by lying low when authentic ‘sons of the soil’ espousing solid credentials came out in full force and gave up their lives for the liberation of their country in both the independence struggle and the 2nd liberation strife for multiparty democracy. They have unfortunately survived to enjoy the heritage reserved for the noble & valiant which to me is tear-jerking.
What is now clear to all after 56 years of self-governance is that despite congregation into a country, there was never envisaged any congenial universal ideals to bond us together. Our shared struggle for independence, the future endeavour to upstage poverty, illiteracy and disease has proven of minuscule value as a cohesive bond, leaving the tribal extraction as the only unifying factor for many of our compatriots.
Herein stands the crux on which Kenya has had to be crucified henceforth; a lack of a national ethos. From the etymology of the word ‘ethos’, it appears to be a much-vaunted Greek ideal that was bequeathed unto Western civilization and cherished as to be propagated into the succeeding Roman Empire’s Latin language to mean the overarching “character” or “aspirations” existing as the guiding beliefs, attitudes or philosophies that characterize a community or entire nation. It is the characteristic spirit that drives any group which every member is expected to subscribe to for continual existence and maintenance of any semblance of unity vital for development. Post-independence, the fledgling union has had to grapple with this lack of shared identity that has for the most part been our greatest undoing. A once-in-a-lifetime opportunity has arisen to define, develop & subscribe to an unyielding collective vision that ultimately leads to a united Kenya that can overcome not just our historical challenges but the many more we will encounter in future. In repurposing the lyrics of a track by the great rapper and music business impresario Shawn Carter a.k.a Jay-Z called 99-problems, “I have 99 problems but a b***** ain’t one”, as Kenyans we have a myriad of hurdles to jump over but let us never allow the absence of the unity of purpose to be one. This national ethos will beholden to appreciate and honour excellence in our civic responsibilities of leadership and not forgetting our consideration of each other. Respect for the divergence in cultural heritage, beliefs and autochthonous religions will be the cornerstone of this new-found ideal. Like any pathological condition, its remedy begins with accepting that you have a problem and desperately require an amelioration for this offending circumstance.
As a result of a lack of shared identity, our nation is poised in some sort of quasi-purgatory state between our traditional heritage and the undeniable worldview touted superior to the former called globalization. Many still have a sensation of disconnect from our pre-colonial societies, the broken historical narratives infused upon us that our way of life is inferior to those of other jurisdictions. Kenyans are a resilient people that have adapted to change each time acquitting ourselves better. A National ethos will further act to expand our circles of brotherhood so that every Kenyan will view his continued membership in this sovereignty, as a thing of pride worthy of commitment and ownership. We will need initiatives to innovatively marry the young, dynamic and urbanizing culture with the enduring folk-wisdom of our diverse cultures. This will ultimately be a bottom-up initiative commencing in the family unit and local community up to local leadership, culminating in the Institutions of State and Executive Authority. Along the way the support from the civil society, private sector, academia, the media among others will be much appreciated. It will most certainly not be a single note from one composer but a multifaceted song; an acapella of sorts, where every note and voice will be sampled individually and weaved in unison to create a melodious harmony. We need a country where virtue is not reviled and ridiculed rather emphasized as a path to prosperity. Hard work, integrity, respectfulness, justice and an unerring predilection to peaceful co-existence should not just be noted and nodded to in appreciation instead promoted and even feted. We need a logical system where he who exerts the most effort is expected to reap maximum return. In building an enduring national ethos let us also be cognizant of previous efforts that resulted in what now corroborates a mixed bag of success. Previously concocted slogans include: Uhuru na Kazi, Harambee & the Nyayo Philosophy of Peace, Love & Unity. In hindsight, the state was more often than not thoroughly at odds with the philosophy it preached with its functionaries sempiternally contradicting sentiments they themselves loudly mouthed off at public rendezvous. The absorption of this national ethos ought not just be a top-down endeavour but also a bottom-up policy interspersed by diverse approaches in respect of our cultural origins but with a keen eye on globalization so that we don’t sacrifice solidarity with the rest of the world; probably a greater ideal, at the altar of nationalism. A balance should be sought.
The Recommendations touted to encapsulate a national ethos among our people include:
- Think Big and Long term – Needless to say Elections will oft come and go but Kenya will endure! We need a unique vision that will produce the archetypal Kenyan civilization that must be a product of meaningful, inclusive and multisectoral ideas. We need ideals not slogans that will outlast election cycles and even the party manifestos of the rulers of the day.
- Need for an Official and Inclusive History – Rename the Kenya National Archives as the Official Historian & National Archival Service and broaden its mandate to work in consort with Libraries, Universities, Museums and individual historians to research, analyze and present a thorough and definitive Kenyan history. The Institution should be led by an acclaimed scholar of African history or world-class expert on Library science/curating having participation from private curators, artists and elders. Our history should accurately be traced as far as 1000 years back, providing a definitive account of settlement in Kenya. Not to be denigrated in this initiative should be the roles of philosophers, anthropologists, theologians and political scientists. Presentation should be in a form understood by Kenyans from all walks of life.
- Finding Comfort in our own African skin – Harmonize the modern Kenyan identity with our diverse cultural heritage to eschew the prospect of living in disparate worlds. Strengthen the Ministry of Culture and promote its initiatives. Devolution of Traditional Knowledge and cultural identity as per Schedule 4 of the Protection of Traditional Knowledge and Cultural Expressions Act of 2016. Replace Boxing Day on 26th December with National Culture Day. Public participation and expert knowledge will be vital in codifying an official pantheon of Kenyan heroes. Officially recognize and enshrine into law the provision of state support to recognized living paragons of national heroism if deemed vulnerable and destitute. Heroes are to be henceforth defined as men & women that selflessly gave themselves up as a fragrant sacrifice in our crusade against colonization, the modern-day strife for democracy & civil liberty and outstanding achievement in human endeavor. These heroes should forthwith, be pictorially displayed in museums and academic curricula.
- Development of a sense of responsibility – It behooves us to have the senior ranks of leadership being the prime-movers of this national moment. At every twist and turn, they should preach this gospel but also espouse it in the way they live and interact. Lessons on morality & the sacrosanctity of truth from the domestic level will be valuable. Civic Education must forthwith be an integral part of cultural initiation into adulthood. The 4th Estate should play their keynote role in education, promotion of national identity, lionizing the distinctiveness of every soul and keeping the powerful to account. The virtue of service to humanity should be inculcated from an early age and formalized through the National Volunteer Service. Structured volunteer activities will be enhanced to reflect compassion, cooperation, empathy and responsibility among the youth. Religious leaders should adjunctive to the tenets of their faiths, also preach the inalienable role of a national ethos. This rooted in morality, ethics and integrity must become part of the academic curriculum.
- Round the clock focus on ethics – The EACC should not only be tooled to impede economic crimes but also accorded the requisite constitutional protection. The National Cohesion and Integration Commission should be subsumed in the Ethics Commission and have a specified mandate inclusive of monitoring, reporting, advising state, surveying all government entities with regards to adherence to ethics and publicizing the results, conducting civic education on morality and lastly enhance the link between cultural systems of ethics and Kenya’s Constitutional strictures.
- Link Cultural values & current norms of Kenyans – Formalize cultural rites of passage and benchmark them with the newly acquired national ethos.
- Enforcement of our National Ethos – This is to be reactivated or modeled if non-existent along the lines of Chapter 6 capturing National values and have functional mechanisms for enforcement. Bullying, misinformation, demeaning public office & discrimination should be deemed breaches of our constitutional order and be severely reprimanded if not prosecuted.
We must no doubt understand and be ready to defend the ideal of Kenya being bigger than any of our individual parts and be promoted as even greater than those singular entities that constitute it living in appreciation of a common national ethos.
CHAPTER 3: RESPONSIBILITIES AND RIGHTS
As has been demonstrated by both empirical and experiential wisdom, democracy is the best system of government though the most expensive as such never delivered to the polity on a silver platter. This is because politics and by extension democracy is run by politicians. Contrary to popular belief, being a Politician and leadership are mutually exclusive entities. James Freeman Clarke, an American Theologian once sagaciously opined, “A politician is subsumed by the worries of the next election while the Statesman mulls about the next generation, as a Statesman seeks to steer the vessel keenly a politician is at home drifting in the current!” Many here in Kenya go into politics uninitiated, seeing this as a rapid conduit to amass riches, personal aggrandizement, create business for their personal enterprises & associates, a clear representation of their selfishness, egoism and vanity as human beings. Historical evidence is clear that even a great leader of the mettle of Julius Caesar continually had creases of worry on his forehead during his period as an elected consul in 59 B.C which vanished when he became Emperor and Dictator for Life. With this in hindsight, a politician may more often than not be forced to even trample on the rights of his electorate for self-preservation. Consequently, vigilance is urged on the part of the plebeians with regards to their Rights, Obligation & Responsibilities because no one else will act on their behalf, not even those constitutionally mandated to do so. Kenyan soldiers brave enemy troops defending our territorial integrity, many making the ultimate sacrifice to protect our liberty. Who is blind to the numerous IED attacks on the policemen patrolling our porous frontier with Somalia in recent times? I have suffered personal loss of good friends but this is definitely no arena for my tears! Many of these sacrifices have not and can never be captured by TV cameras or lauded in the dailies as patriots rise to encourage, heal, rescue and sacrifice it all for the sake of their compatriots.
Despite all these, it’s an appalling statistic how few people are actually aware of their responsibilities as enshrined by law. As a break with tradition, it’s incumbent upon us all to dispense with this outmoded system where we take a back seat and have politicians read important documents of national concern for instance, our own Constitution and now this BBI document on our behalf then dictate to us the position to take. This is dereliction of our hard-earned liberty to exercise our volition at junctures that may never be available to us again. We have deprecated ourselves to those who ask, “What will Kenya do for me?” instead of taking matters into our more than capable hands as our progenitors did and more importantly our future progeny expect us to. We think of there being a caste of ‘wenye nchi’ (Owners of the country) while relegating ourselves to mere spectators – ‘wananchi.’ Consequently, the siren call of corruption and dishonesty compromises public service as the ravenous try to bridge the gap to whence the grass is greener! This has left us vulnerable to insecurity and even disasters.
A walk down memory lane clarifies the fact that in pre-colonial times our individual nation-states used to be egalitarian in nature built on the enlightenment that ‘I am because you are.’ Brotherhood and good neighbourliness was our raison d’etre. Sharing of responsibilities created a system where human rights were inherent and everyone was reliable of the other man such that one provides security against external aggressors while his neighbour works on the farm to grow the food that will feed them all. And for centuries this ensured the continuity of our communities. Taking up these responsibilities was concomitant with adulthood in many jurisdictions. After colonialism, we were westernized and our longstanding socio-economic traditions were lost in the interest of preserving white hegemony upon us. Our indigenous knowledge-base petered out. Post-colonialism we were left in a chasm as we retained a superfluity of our traditional system but felt the predilection to formal legal rights that were promulgated as our Independence Constitution in 1963. This new supreme law failed in its entirety to capture eons of folklore and conventions choosing to majorly ape the systems of our former oppressors. Consequently, today we have a rights-heavy and responsibility-light dispensation with civil society replacing the use of our personal consciences. These missteps have seen us almost stumble into the cauldron of chaos albeit National Armageddon in 2007 and in 2010 a new constitutional order was formulated.
What recommendations does this chapter have on our continued nationhood?
- Cognition that Responsibilities and Rights of Kenyans are inherent and promote knowledge & attitudes that enhance responsible citizenship – The spirit of interdependence must become our observance again! Rights exist side by side with responsibilities and prudence dictates that where my fist ends is where your nose begins! This should be knowledge infused as a life-long odyssey as opposed to one or two course units in the curriculum. New systems to fight malfeasance in government will be promoted i.e. a whistleblowing culture or reporting malevolent elements of society to the security apparatus and such efforts forthwith be rewarded. Communication channels for this will be open and manned by personnel espousing integrity. Civic (Citizenship) Education will be prioritized in government policy and initiatives in both the County and National government. The culture of taking responsibility must never again be deemed intuitive but be deliberately inculcated in the Kenyan upbringing. Initiation ceremonies will be integral in edifying the newly-minted adults into a world where responsibility is the key marker of their succeeding stage in life.
- The Culture of ‘Skin in the Game’ and ownership in leadership – ‘Skin in the game’ mirrors the age-old adage stating “What is good for the goose is also good for the gander!” There has been a superiority complex in the leadership cadre where national hospitals and schools cater for the proletarians while for our rulers only treatment or tutelage outside our borders in the western world will make muster. If you deem the handiwork of your regime sufficiently good for the ordinary Kenyans then the same must be estimated as functionally effective by you Mr. Politician, your wife and children. Double standards have bred discord as chalk-circles demarcate the respective castes in society. A Ministerial Code and policy statement must have included within an enforceable clause that Ministers are compelled to use the social services under their purview without fail. These principles must also percolate to the Counties.
- Teach Effective Parenting – This will be pivotal in raising healthy and enlightened children in the dynamic Kenya of today. Just like marriage counselling in many churches pre-nuptial, efforts should be made to strengthen parenting by means of a generic & simple curriculum. Parents are meant to be their children’s principal role models & mentors.
- Entrench ethics awareness, training and accountability in civil service – Integrity and Ethics Charters should be the tapestry of every office.
- Life-long Service – This is the best way to inculcate responsibility into all of us. Kenyans should be encouraged to voluntarily give 6 months of service to the republic in early adulthood (18-26 years).
- Operationalization of the African Charter on Popular rights to develop civic awareness on responsibilities – Unbeknownst to many, Kenya is actually party to the African Charter on Human & Popular Rights.
As per Article 27: Duty of care must be exercised by every individual towards his family, society, the state, the international community and other legally mandated communities. Rights and Freedoms of each individual will be exercised with due regard to those of others.
Article 28: Mutual Respect and tolerance devoid of discrimination is our way of life.
Article 29: Preservation of the harmonious development of the family, respect for parents and maintenance in times of need.
- Have yourself at the disposal of state for service.
- Never compromise the security of your state.
- Strengthen and preserve national solidarity.
- Protect territorial integrity and preserve national independence in accordance with existing law.
- Work to the best of your abilities and remit taxes religiously for state benefit.
- Help preserve positive African culture emphasizing dialogue, tolerance and consultation for the moral health of society.
- Promote the attainment of African Unity.