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Reclaiming good values in Kenya: what’s your personal agenda?

Apr 26, 2009 Success, Sunday Nation

I went on the attack against the ‘followers’ in this country last week, and asked that we all examine our everyday behaviour rather than wait for ‘leaders’ to sort us out. The attack continues this week.

We heard recently that a magistrate had been killed and his body dumped on the roadside. Newspaper reports now suggest (quite possibly incorrectly) that the gentleman in question had been drinking heavily in a bar, and then forgot he had come there in a taxi. Seeing a car that resembled his own, he tried to force his way into it. The real owner of the car mistook the magistrate for a thief, and an angry mob then lynched the unfortunate man.

If you read that in a novel, you wouldn’t believe much of it. But in Kenya, life is invariably stranger than fiction. The magistrate’s sad demise, if that is indeed how it happened, tells us many, many things about our society: the collapse in values, the loss of tolerance, the suspension of moral behaviour. We live in a world where upholders of the law lose their senses in bars, and where ordinary citizens dispense flawed justice in mobs.

So what are you going to do? I am addressing you, reader, assuming that you are one of the few remaining souls who still wants to do the right thing, who still upholds decent living, who has no interest in stealing from others or destroying them. If you are one of the rest – happy to corrupt and be corrupted, always in it for yourself, not giving a hoot about people around you – then please stop reading right here. Nothing of what follows will make any sense to you.

Even the most ethically degraded society can recapture good values. Moral entropy is not a problem unique to Kenya: it has been part of every country’s history at some time or other. Even the so-called enlightened societies have slavery, child labour, ethnic genocide, robber-baron capitalism and mass destruction of the environment in their histories. But the point is this: no matter how bad things get, it takes a few good men and women to stand up and chart the way out of the morass. Those people need to be guided by their personal north stars, and need to demonstrate great resolve and courage.

I am not advocating some kind of elitist movement here, nor am I offering to lead one. What I am saying is this: our country seems willing to throw itself to the dogs; do we care? For how long will we keep participating in this? So, you ask, what should the right-minded person do? Let me offer three things that are simple, but not easy.

First, do not participate in the degradation. It is very easy, when everyone around you seems to be on the take, evading tax, playing scams, to be tempted to join in. You will be made to feel like a fool for not playing the game, for remaining poor when others advance. Resist! Remember, a shilling earned will do you far more good in your life than fifty stolen. The fifty will eventually destroy you. Remember, the decent person may appear to be coming last, but that is only because he or she is running in a different race. The race that matters in the end is not won by racketeers and charlatans. It is won by people who experience hard work and dedication to a set of principles.

Second, don’t be quiet. Make some noise! Values plummet downwards because of what we say and do. Everywhere around us we encounter the wrong things being said and done. Eventually, our own ears and hearts are poisoned. Reverse it. Put out the good stuff. Talk the good talk, and walk it too. You do have a sphere of influence, so use it. Point out what is wrong with our behaviour: to your family, friends, workmates and anyone who cares to listen. This is not a time for timidity. The antidote to toxic words and behaviour is not passive silence, so start talking.

Lastly: don’t be alone in this. Seek out kindred spirits and get yourself in the company of people who don’t want to go down in history as bigots and swindlers. Organise yourself to be with people with big hearts, who want to turn this country around, who feel for others and want to be of service to them. Small movements matter: they create the seed around which a greater energy gathers.

We all have a choice: we can shrink as human beings, and have vinegary little hearts that care not for anyone else; or we can be better than that. You don’t have to start a political party or a mass movement to make a difference. You just have to start a few ripples where you are. Fight the good fight, and rest assured that others will hear the cry. Good, positive change will come, I know it will. But it starts with you.

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