Where is our sense of shame?
Following the recent tragic events at Westgate mall, many of us were momentarily relieved to see the Kenya Defence Forces, Kenya Police Service, General Service Unit and other security agents arrive at the scene.
I say ‘momentarily’ because, while the show of might was reassuring, many people still had loved ones trapped in the building and, therefore, could not relax until the hostages were freed and safe. The presence of the so-called disciplined forces in any crisis has always been encouraging, as we expect nothing but protection and help from our disciplined forces.
But the tragedy of the attack has been aggravated by the insidious manner in which the events revealed a moral vacuum that underlines a serious state of cultural confusion in Kenya. It is apparent that we do not have a sense of cultural certainty or a concrete cultural identity, which would demand respect, honesty and a certain modicum of integrity.
The aftermath of the Westgate crisis has, unfortunately, left a bitter taste in many people’s mouths, as we have to contend with a glaring show of dishonesty and dishonour. If it is true that the people who were involved in rescue efforts at Westgate — KDF, police, GSU and shoppers — were actually engaged in looting, and that nobody is willing to take responsibility, where is our honour, truth and integrity as a nation?
The terrorists, clearly, did not loot the shops. The terrorists we saw on television were so pious, they even took time off their busy schedule to pray! Who, then, did it? Was it ordinary citizens, security agents, paramedics, shop owners or workers? What about the uniformed officers caught on camera walking away with plastic bags full of stuff? What were they carrying? The remains of terrorists? Perhaps they just did what we would all have done in such circumstances — stash our pockets with whatever goods were available.
The lack of proper information on what really transpired or is happening; is this honourable? Are these, really, the marks of a truly sovereign state? Anybody serving the public should do so honourably.
What did the security agents really do once they secured Westgate? What about our immigration officers? How is it that none of them can convincingly explain how terrorists gained entry into our country? Why has the Kenyan media continued to project clipped news about the attack? All societies in the world have certain ethos about how people conduct themselves. In the traditional African societies, for example, one’s conduct was supposed to protect the honour of their age-set.
Doctors swear the Hippocratic oath. The Constitution is clear about how public officers should conduct themselves. Schools have rules for students and staff. Religious texts are loaded with texts that preach honour.
Even family members protect the honour of their families. Honour, truth and integrity are part of the ingredients from which a civilised society is constructed, but these are lacking in Kenya today. It would actually have been surprising if businesses at Westgate were not looted.
Aren’t we the people who rush to rob accident victims instead of helping them? Don’t we shield criminals in our families and neighbourhoods? Don’t we turn a deaf ear to screaming victims of muggers? Isn’t it in our midst that fathers defile their daughters? Aren’t those young men who recently gang raped a teenage girl and threw her in a pit latrine our brothers and sons, and yet they have not faced the law? Isn’t it in our midst that pastors hire ‘miracle recipients’? Aren’t we the country whose leaders loot millions from public coffers and watch nonchalantly as children die of treatable diseases because public health facilities have no supplies? Are we not the society that cheers politicians as they utter obscenities in public rallies and on national television, regardless of the fact that our children are watching and listening, too? Are we not the people who exchange words and blows at funerals in total disregard of the bereaved? For a country that claims to be highly religious, it is disturbingly dishonourable and shameful that a security officer was arrested and charged with stealing from the victims at Westgate.
Where is our sense of shame? Where are our values as a nation? As we turn 50, can we truly stand up and say, “Najivunia kuwa Mkenya” or “ Kenya hakuna matata?” Fifty is a respectable age, and many 50-year-old Kenyans are grandparents. Has ‘Grandma Kenya’ laid the kind of moral foundation she would like her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren to inherit 50 years from now? The recent events portray us as morally decadent: We have no sense of collective respect, discipline or integrity. Our behaviour is a sign of degenerative culture or lack of a culture. Why? Because cultures have injunctions. We need to be careful so that we do not lose our honour because, as Nicholas Boileau once said, “Honour is like an island, rugged and without shores; we can never re-enter it once we are on the outside.” We should, as Shakespeare says in Julius Caesar, “love the name of honour more than [we] fear death.”