Discontent is bred of half-truths, social stratification
Published on February 27, 2008, 12:00 am
By Muthoni Thang’wa
Kenya, by any definition, comprises of many nations — often referred to as communities — that make one nation state.
However, it also comprises of two types of people, who see their world from one angle, regardless of community, political affiliation, religious inclination or economic status. These are defined as those who are looking into the 21st century and others who will not get out of the 18th century.
People in the latter group have a mental attitude that remains in the colonial era, when an African was expected to give up their culture, religion and way of life for what they thought was the ‘promised land’. They were able to get jobs, medical attention, some semblance of education and the joy of attending the white man’s church. In other words, life was based on a carrot-and-stick system: You do as you are told and you get a reward.
On attaining independence, the political elite did not make it clear that much as Kenya was adopting the colonialists way of life — such as the Constitution, the concept of urban environment, education system and so on, independence means taking responsibility for the self, the family, the wider community and our nation.
Since Kenya adopted its rules from colonial masters, we have no choice but to play by those rules, even if the reward is not guaranteed.
The idea of law and order is very elusive. For example, hawkers refuse to leave the city centre, claiming that the Government does not care about their needs and woes. Once the Government build a market for them, some expect it to charge no fees for its use while others believe that customers can only be found on the street.
In other words, they understand enterprise and that one has to work for a living, but completely refuse to understand that this cannot be at the inconvenience of others who run their businesses from the city centre, or walk the pavements as they go about town.
Crying wolf all the time
Also in this group are the non-governmental organisation-types who are best at using the donor-provided catch-phrases of the season and cannot think beyond the current trends in donor funding.
They seem to think that being progressive constitutes permanently criticising the Government of the day. Admittedly there are many things to critique in any government, but when these types get an opportunity to make changes from within, they spend all their time crying wolf, wolf. In the end they often leave public service with much acrimony and without any substantial changes that can be credited to their time is service.
A distinct difference can be seen in other less loud Kenyans who occupy Government offices and parastatals and draw up and implement policy changes whose benefits will be enjoyed by Kenyans for a decade or so.
The former comprises the political elite who spend all their time convincing stuck-in-18th-century Kenyans that there is a reward system that can only come to a community by through the presidency. Never mind that post-independence Kenyan presidents only perfected that art of rewarding those few individuals — of various communities — strongly affiliated to them.
The biggest problem is that these Kenyans are easily convinced that communities are beneficiary of a presidency, making their struggle self defeatist given that majority members of any community are struggling Kenyans, just like themselves.
The middle class is another perfect example of this category. They work hard, play by the rules and accumulate enough wealth to give them comfort. At that point they disconnect from other Kenyans.
Woe unto such a Kenyan should they work for a foreign mission or an international body because they do a better job representing the imperial thoughts of their employers better than ambassadors do. To their credit, they understand current global political and economic trends, but seem completely unable to apply this knowledge in the local environment.
The roses are always in bloom out there which may be a fact, but which is supplemented by the fact that there are nationals of that rosy country that sacrificed much and identified with local problems in order to find lasting solutions.
It seems that Kenya may have a difficult time moving forward as long as these two groups remain with such a wide gap in between. Kenyans shall continue to seek solutions in national reconciliation, constitutional review, a strong opposition and change of the system of government or even change in the government itself.
Real success will only be sustained if the 21st century Kenyans can slow down, the 18th century hasten their steps or the two groups find common ground form which to build nationhood. The vacuum between the two is what is being filled with hatred, untruths and discontent on the state of nationhood.
The writer is a curator at the Karen Blixen Museum