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We are creating a society where anything goes and nothing grows

“The rules are the rules, and they cannot be broken.”

So said the Deputy Speaker of Kenya’s house of parliament last week, and many of us applauded. He was blocking MPs from attempting an infringement of parliament’s rules, and doing so with ironclad certainty that neither he nor the Speaker would permit any laxity.

Hear, hear. As this column has argued here many times before, rules are what bring sanity to human life. We need rules because without them we would have a free-for-all with everyone trying every damn thing to get ahead. Without rules we would have the worst kind of jungle economy where anything goes and nothing grows.

Certainly in our august house of parliament, if order was not imposed on those characters we elected to represent us, the whole place would descend into chaos. MPs give every impression that the only thing that contains their behaviour is the rulebook and the Speaker’s readiness to impose it.

But here’s the thing. Why do we accept the importance of good rules in parliament, but are forgetting it pretty much everywhere else? If rules matter to our leaders in the house, why have they ceased to matter on our roads, in the economy, in the corridors of government? I trust the Deputy Speaker NEVER instructs his driver to overlap on the roads?

Consider the state of matters economic in Kenya. This is a country increasingly run by the rule-breakers rather than the rule-makers. It is a place where those who know how to break every rule enjoy the gain, and those who abide by them feel only the pain. We reward those who short-circuit the rules.

And so the biggest businessmen are also the baddest, those tycoons who know how to evade every duty and tax and secure every lucrative government contract. This abject neglect of the rules of fair play are turning this nation not into a regional hub of economic activity but a glorified gangster state where drug lords and fat cats call all the shots and influence the workings of the state. This, more than anything else, could derail our takeoff into sustained development at a time when the underlying economy is ready to rumble.

Look at our roads: whatever happened to the rules, and whatever do we still pay traffic police to do? It seems these days anyone is free to drive anywhere and anyhow at will: ‘overlap’ on any lane; mount any pavement; block any junction. Most disgustingly, those leading the bad behaviour are those who should be preventing it: cabinet ministers, civil servants, assorted head honchos. Even our lecturing, hectoring foreign ambassadors have joined in, overlapping every morning and exhibiting the very impunity they claim to condemn.

It would take nothing other than the will of the police to stop this anarchy in its tracks. But that will is evidently lost, and the result is chaotic gridlock every single day of the week.

Who suffers? Only the decent, rule-abiding ordinary Kenyan. The one who pays all his or her taxes; the one who plays business by the rules; the one who would not dream of doing anything obtuse and offensive on the roads. The very person on whom economic growth is actually founded.

So, Kenyans leaders, is this really the society you have been mandated to create? A society dominated by snarling, grasping rule-breakers? It is really time every person of consequence stood up for the rules, rather than sit back in vapid docility as things disintegrate around us. We the ordinary people can’t enforce the rules – we employ the agencies of state to do it. What we must do is demand very loudly that they do the job we pay them to.

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