By Ogova Ondego
Published September 22, 2008
Though dishonesty is now an accepted (nay, ingrained) aspect of national culture in modern Kenya, it is only when a vanquished political candidate is installed as President while the victor is sent away empty-handed that the world appears to pay attention. While political and legal approaches have been suggested as solutions for Kenya’s current political morass, almost no mention of the role of culture is made. OGOVA ONDEGO writes.
Kenya is a deeply-religious country. While 66% of her population claim to be Christian and 26% belong to African Traditional Religions, 7% subscribe to Islam. However, there is little evidence that religion has succeeded in inculcating honesty and fair play among these highly religious people (By the way, hardly any one in Kenya owns to not belonging to any religion. In the run up to the general elections on December 27, 2007, Orange Democratic Movement presidential candidate Raila Odinga had to come out fighting to prove to alnd sundry that he is indeed Anglican and not irreligious as had been claimed by Mwai Kibaki’s Party of National Unity detractors. Kibaki is Roman Catholic.
Not only is lying, cheating, bribery and unbridled self-interest common in Kenya but it is almost impossible for the citizens to access public service without paying someone off.
One can hardly secure an admission for one’s child in school or get a job without bribing someone in Kenya. Yet 38% and 28% of the population claim to belong to the Protestant and Roman Catholic Christian faiths, respectively. So who is involved in the rampant graft, deceit and dishonesty that are threatening to tear apart the fabric of this East African country that was once a British colony? Are the wanton killing, robbery and attack of people that took place in western and coastal Kenya following the swearing in of Kibaki as President on December 30, 2007 perpetrated by the 7% Muslims, 26% ATRs or the less than 1% Agnostics? Perhaps members of the ‘other’ religions like Hindu and Buddhism are to blame? Could the vice have been executed by Raila Odinga’s Protestants or Kibaki’s Roman Catholics?
Whatever the case, the ‘malpractice’ was committed by religious people who–owing to the fact that a common thread among all religions is respect for honesty–should know better. But they don’t.
Why does it surprise any one that Kibaki was secretly (independent media were denied access to the venue where it was announced) declared president and hurriedly sworn in as president in a private ceremony at night without the Kenya national anthem being played?
Why should it surprise any one that only Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni is the only ‘world leader’ who has since congratulated Kibaki for being declared president while the disgraced Electoral Commission of Kenya chairman, Samuel Kivuitu who declared Kibaki president publicly admits he does not know who won the presidential election?
Who can believe Kivuitu’s claims that he was prevailed upon by powerful forces within PNU and ODM-K to release the presidential vote results he himself had doubts about?
While stating that European Union election observers were denied entry to certain polling centres in perceived PNU strong holds and vote tallying at the Kenyatta International Conference Centre, Alexander Lambsdorff who headed the EU observer team, says ECK has failed in “establishing the credibility of the tallying process” and also failed in addressing irregularities about which both EU observers and ECK have evidence.”
The EU mission concludes that these cited irregularities “cast a doubt on the accuracy of the final results that were announced.
Britain’s Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, says his government has “real concerns at the irregularities reported by the EU observers and others.” The UK, he says, “looks forward to working with a legitimately elected government of Kenya that commands the support of the Kenyan people.
Georgette Gagnon, Human Rights Watch’s deputy Africa director, says “Mounting evidence of serious election fraud has helped to ignite violence throughout Kenya. An independent and transparent review of the vote tallying is urgently needed.”
“Kenyan and international election monitors”, Gagnon adds, “have found widespread evidence of vote-counting irregularities in the December 27 presidential poll in which incumbent President Mwai Kibaki was deemed the winner.”
Human Rights Watch then calls for “an independent investigation of the
presidential elections … to avert further violence in Kenya.” The human rights watch dog urges the government of Kenya to “end unnecessary restrictions on the media and peaceful assembly.”
The government banned live media broadcasting and protest rallies in Kenya soon after Kibaki had been sworn in following the disputed presidential poll on December 30, 2007.
In a rare Press Conference at State House in Nairobi, Kibaki “who said he had won in a free and fair election” said he had been ‘informed’ that he had won and had believed those who ‘informed’ him about the presidential contest, hence his acceptance to be sworn in. He however declined to field any question from the media practitioners he had.
But this article does not purport to be a political or legal analysis of the 2007 presidential elections. Ours is to simply show that the culture of greed that is ingrained in Kenya is to blame for the violence that erupted soon after the hurried swearing in of Kibaki.
Financial scandals like the infamous Goldenberg and Anglo Leasing that have defrauded tax-payers of millions of dollars are accepted as normal with those who mastermind them being rewarded with plum public jobs while others are invited and received with great respect as chief guests to preside over ‘fund-raisers’ in houses of worship across the nation.
Cheating in national examinations is rampant as the people entrusted with managing the system circumvent it for quick gains from those who can pay them to release examination papers to them ahead of the exams so they have an undue advantage over others.
It is not uncommon for passengers to demand that the matatu crew pay off traffic police officers who stop public vehicles for inspection to prevent them from delaying them as they go about their businesses.
As we write this article, the Media Council of Kenya has organised special prayers meant to bring peace in Kenya in the wake of the post-election violence that has claimed lives of an estimated 300 hapless Kenyans, displaced about 250,000 from their homes, plundered and destroyed property worth millions of shillings and spewed some 5,400 into Uganda as refugees. The prayers are to be aired by the mainstream media at 15.00-16.00 Hours GMT. (6-7 PM EAT).
For a while, it wasÂ thought that malpractice would be confined to the illegal allocation of public assets such as land, cemeteries, toilets, and houses (locally known as land grabbing) to politically-connected individuals but this malaise has now spread its tentacles to the Copyright and Intellectual Property Rights spectrum whose audio and audio-Visual media material is illegally copied and sold on the streets of Nairobi, Mombasa, Kisumu, and Eldoret in the glare of the authorities. Though this started with the illegal copying and selling of Nigerian home videos, the focus has now turned to Tanzania’s Bongo Flava (music that combines traditional Tanzanian and modern beats such as hip hop and R n B). A versatile cassette disk (VCD) of such music is selling for a paltry Sh30 (half a US$).
Many religious leaders have been swapped into Kenya’s culture of dishonesty. Though giving spiritually-moving sermons, they do not bat an eye-lid as they bribe to have their “not God’s” will on earth.
The mass media, like the rest of Kenya, appear not to be immune to the prevailing culture of dishonesty. Cases of ‘cooking up’ stories and plagiarism are not uncommon among even the so-called ‘respectable’ and ‘leading’ media orgaisations in Kenya. For instance, sme ‘leading regional’ electronic and print media steal and pass off ArtMatters.Info material as their own.
Granted, the country has established the Kenya Anti-Corruption Authority (KACA) purportedly to bring graft under control but this appears to be a public relations exercise that has not amounted to much. If anything, it has only succeeded in further disillusioning the public.
It is only in Kenya where honesty does not seem to pay and therefore more and more people are declining to deal honestly as an ongoing, constant way of life. And what could affirm their preference for vice over virtue more than deceit at the apex of the national leadership, the Presidency? This is likely to further breed cynicism and disregard for the rule of law from which there will be no turning back.
No amount of prayer, no matter how fervent, will get Kenya out of the dark abyss of evil into which it has sunk. Not even severe legislation can do it unless new cultural values are developed and promoted urgently. For that appears to be the only way to save this highly religious but culturally-impoverished country.