Monday, October 21, 2013

A moral crisis

Two events last week demonstrate, rather starkly too, that we are far from becoming a nation of laws held to the same standards regardless of status. A child was brutally attacked and raped; the men who attacked her are walking free, having performed "community service" at the direction of the police. The second incident isn't really an incident and it didn't really happen last week but it was widely reported last week. The Kenya Defence Forces troops sent to the Westgate Mall during the siege by al Shabaab fighters have been accused of looting during the period when they were in charge of the building.

The lazy will blame TV, music, the Devil, witchcraft, laziness, lack of job opportunities, poverty, poor education, focus on the girl-child and a myriad of other excuses for the rising cases of sexual violence against women, girls and children. None will think to lay the blame at the feet of the sexual predators' parents. None will think to blame their elected representatives. None will think to blame their spiritual leaders. None will think to blame their families and clans. We will look for convenient excuses that absolve us of responsibility.

Other than orphans for whom there are no surviving relatives, a child born in Kenya, is born to a parent or two, and joins a family and a community. In our zeal to get the squealing monsters off our hands in the shortest period possible time, so that we can go back to living our lives of hedonism, we have passed on the task of socialising our children to hired maids (whom we treat like shit), television sets (that prioritise cash-generating entertainment at the expense of costly information-provision and even costlier education), FM radio stations (whose morning shows have fetishised sexual adventure to an almost religious art form) and "bouncy-castle sheep-pens for children at the burgeoning shopping malls dotting our fair land). Music videos and "celebrities" celebrate sexual hedonism with wild abandon, teaching young men (and women) that sex is the sine qua non of the nation, the Brass Ring of life. It is common today for many young parents to describe their scions in terms that should make adults blush.

We have paid a steep price in celebrating the sexulisation of media in Kenya. Many young men, freed from the firm guiding hands of their parents or their teachers, receiving their information on sex and sexuality from imperfect school and church instruction, and secret stashes of pornographic material (both in print and electronic form), have become sexual predators of insatiable appetites. sexual assault victims now range in age from as young as three years old to as old as eighty-five. Sexual predators are as young as eleven and as old as ninety. Into this cauldron we dump one of the most insensitive police services in the free world; tales of the police, the courts and the prosecutors colluding to give what amounts to a slap on the wrist to many sexual predators has ensured that boys and men never learn that it is inherently and fundamentally wrong to attack women, girls and children in such a cruel way.

It is the same case, it seems, with members of the security services. In images flashed around the world on TV, soldiers are seen casually walking through the aisles of the Westgate Mall Nakumatt with shopping bags, as if they had just finished shopping for their weekly grocery. And this too while the public is being informed that there are at least ten to fifteen armed al Shabaab gunmen mowing down surviving patrons of the mall with impunity. First, the civilian authorities declared that no wrong-doing took place. Then the spokespersons of the military incredibly claimed that the soldiers "repatriated" property from the mall for "safe-keeping" and that it would be returned to their rightful owners at some point in the future.

The behaviour of the soldiers, lampooned as "lootenants" by Kenya's vibrant and vocal online community, when seen in the context of the rife graft that pervasively permeates the security sector should not be seen as an aberration. Kenyans have become inured to acts of criminality among its police. They had always reposed their faith in the armed forces, now renamed defence forces. But ever since the Mwai Kibaki-ordered adventure in Somalia, the image of the defence forces has began to lose its bloom. the United Nations and other independent observers have documented acts of rapine by the Kenya Defence Forces' troops in Kismayu where they have more or less commandeered the lucrative charcoal-export business. It seems that pride is no longer sufficient to keep the dress whites of the soldiers snow-white clean; now their venality is being caricatured online as their image as a source of national pride takes a shellacking.

We cannot pretend that the manner that Kenya is socialising its young is not having an impact on the institutions Kenyans once had pride in. When we witness men and women in positions of authority flouting the law with impunity and getting away with it - whether it is politicians or judges or civil servants - we imagine that if we too made enough money or gained enough power we would be able to straddle the narrowing defile between good and bad with impunity. Right is no longer fashionable. Wrong is sexier and profitable.

Uhuru Kenyatta, our beleaguered President, is facing crises that he alone cannot resolve. He has made a decent fist of things so far. It helps enormously that even those who would wish to see him spend the rest of his life behind bars is persuaded that he does not have a penchant for dipping his hands in public cookie jars. His financial probity in and out of government is stellar. He has had the misfortune of inheriting a governance structure that has been moulded over decades into an instrument for tormenting the people while robbing them blind. We must stand behind our President if we want to get to the other side where the rule of law prevails, where soldiers are not the butt of cruel online jokes and where women, children and girls are safe from their fathers, brothers, uncles, grandfathers or friends.

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