Monday, June 27, 2016

Burning down the school

Rules are meant to be applied fairly. When we permit a few to play by a different, laxer set of rules, we encourage many to seek such accommodations, whether they are "entitled" to them or not. Rules are meant to guarantee a fair outcome for all, not privileges for a few at the expense of the majority. Kenyan public administration is a study in how unfairly rules are applied, how privileges are distributed and how conflict is managed when the outcome is less than optimal. In Kenya, the privileged few play by a set of rules that elevate them over their fellowman.

The results of the Kenyan way are evident. Conflicts are not easily resolved. Conflict has become hardwired among Kenyans and dispute resolution has become more difficult to manage. Whenever disputes arise today, the option readily to hand is violent confrontation sometimes with tragic consequences. The privileged elite ask why it is not possible for groups in conflict to peaceably negotiate to find solutions forgetting that they themselves don't negotiate for the privileges they enjoy. Young Kenyans are internalising this way of looking at things: if they don't get their way, they will burn down the house even if it means that they will sleep outside in the cold.

That is what happened last night. A boys' residential school's administration refused to allow the boys to watch a football match. If this boys' school is anything like my alma mater, it is likely that the manner in which the decision was communicated to the boys would be described as "high-handed," which is not how you address boys who have been cooped up in school for weeks on end. As evidenced by the rise of school-burnings in recent months, the outcome was predictable. The boys protested the decision without succour from their teachers. The protest escalated and ten dormitories were set ablaze. It could have been worse if the mob had somehow managed to "invade" a nearby residential girls' school. When the blood of a mob of boys is up, there is no telling what the boys are capable of.

What these boys did was what they think they have seen on TV and read about on the internet, that if their demands are not met, they have the right to "strike" and in striking, anything goes. After all, that is what their teachers have done on numerous occasions, using some of the most incendiary and unlettered language possible. It is what doctors, the epitome of academic excellence, have done on numerous occasions. It is what their political leaders have done since time immemorial without paying a price for it. Most importantly, it is what their parent do every day, sometimes to survive and sometimes to obtain an unfair advantage. The social compact that we are supposed to have made with each other - to live by the rule of law and to respect the equality of everyone - has been abandoned at the altar of individual need and greed at the expense of the greater common good.

With the ;spread of modern communications technology and media, young Kenyans are shown the benefits of bad behaviour by everyone. When inebriated pastors run down and kill other road users, they lie about it and use their positions of leadership and authority to escape from the consequences of their actions. Then they justify it at the pulpit on every subsequent Sunday. When politicians suborn murder and violence, they are not arraigned in court; instead they are celebrated as "liberators" and "champions" of the people. When civil servants extort from the poor and the vulnerable, their bosses do not demand, at the very least, their resignations; they ask for forbearance because the civil servants' service is too hard. Bad deeds, young Kenyans know, need not have bad outcomes. It is almost certain that unless we change how we relate with each other - how we respect the law and uphold our equality - more school dormitories are going to be set ablaze.

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