Sunday, June 30, 2013

On hypocrisy, again.

If you intend to argue that it is immoral for the 47 governors of Kenya, or the National Executive, to spend like drunken sailors, please remember that the moral argument holds no water in Kenya. We are living through straitened economic times, but you would not know it. Looking at the huddled masses attempting to lift themselves up, not by their bootstraps, but by hook and crook, what Aden Duale claimed seems apposite: if the Members of the Eleventh Parliament are thieves, so too are the millions of men and women that elected them to office.

There is no argument that is designed to appeal less to Kenyans than the moral one. Kenyans have long since given up any hope of applying moral values to their day to day lives. While we bristle in faux indignation at the rapacity of the ruling classes, we have little sympathy for the workers at the Kenyatta National Hospital who are demanding a little more from their employer; we claim solidarity with the teachers of the public school system in Kenya, but in reality we will not join in a general strike to ensure that they get the deal they were promised. A few weeks ago, the Deputy President spent tens of millions of shillings in shuttling around Africa in a private jet; now we will spend tens of millions more in refurbishing the half-billion shilling palace that we build for the Deputy President last year and which is yet to be lived in by anyone.

Kenyans are yet to link the cost of their government to the hefty taxes they pay mostly because the "middle-class" that pays the taxes that sustain the government is pitifully small. Mwai Kibaki left office with ringing praise in his ears about the "booming" economy. But this image is a false one; if Kenya's economy was booming, the millions of Kenyans that live below the official poverty line, inflation, the cost of basic goods and services, the largely decrepit public infrastructure, the lethargy and animosity of the public service...all these would show improvement of one sort or the other. The truth is that we are not seeing the benefits of a booming economy; it seems to be benefiting the elite, especially the very wealthy political elite that wants to get richer but not die trying.

Strong institutions and the rule of law are the bedrocks of a strong, functioning democratic society. Kenya has neither. The rule of law is based on morality. In an immoral society, the rule of law is more like a figment of our collective imagination. When we as a society revel in the petty offences we commit on a daily basis, we show contempt for the law and contempt for the rule of law. We do not consider petty offences as symptoms of our casual acceptance of petty unfairnesses. The petty offences we commit are rooted in our innate selfishness that remains untrammeled by any institutional or statutory framework. And so while we pretend to be outraged that the government is going out of its way to make ever more money for its high officials at our expense, we secretly wish that we were in their shoes. In our secret heart we wish we were in a position to get something for nothing. This explains why Kenyans are getting snookered daily by convicts residing in our maximum security prisons in get rich schemes of dubious provenance. Like Gitau Warigi cheekily states in today's Sunday Nation, "Stop being killjoys and allow the party to go on; Wanjiku is a rich lady!"

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