The top brass around power is either a cocktail of perfect dissemblers, or they are simply dead. Whatever the case, they are to be pitied. “We are the dead,” Winston Smith says at the moment of rapture in George Orwell’s Nineteen-Eighty-Four. An invisible metallic voice frightfully echoes him in affirmation, “You are the dead.”
Kenya’s crème de la crème frightens you with the thought that they are dead. Do we seem to have lost all capacity to interrogate things, to see issues in perspective? Or, perhaps, we just never had the ability in the first place? We have always subscribed to the school that says, “Ignorance is strength.” Where we are not genuinely ignorant, we must either feign ignorance, or force it – especially in pursuit of narrow political correctness.
We have watched two appalling claptrap events this week. It does not seem politically correct, of course, to talk about the awkward and anxious moment in Mathira, when the nation’s psyche was on the burial of Governor Nderitu Gachagwa. President Kibaki had had an awkward moment with his speech. He got people of conscience worried.
And I kept wondering where his speechwriter was, or what he had done with the speech. This was no way to treat Mzee Kibaki. He was let down badly. Yet the notables around him went on clapping amidst the awkwardness. The less said the better. Suffice it to say that this serves to demonstrate that we are a claptrap nation. We will clap because we think everybody is clapping.
But Nyeri was nothing, compared to Naivasha and Turkana. President Uhuru Kenyatta was in his element, flying off the handle. At a time when everybody thought that the injurious matter of the doctors’ strike was coming to an amicable end, the President went into a frightful and unprovoked outburst with threats and innuendo. Without weighing the meaning of the new trajectory in the impasse, the crème de la crème assembled in Naivasha went into a frenzy of laudation.
Elsewhere in Turkana, an angry President told the people to keep their votes if they thought they could “blackmail him” with the votes. Their sin was to question the agenda of his government in Turkana. The dignitaries with the President thought that this merited a huge round of applause. Others have gone on to justify this in public space. Such are the people referred to in social science as “useful idiots,” justifying the unjustifiable.
We see such things all the time. The doctors’ strike has been handled very poorly from the very outset. An arrogant government and a rigid union have stuck on to their puerile egos. Such is the reward of having untested and unproven youth in government and in the unions. They lack the temperament to deal with heavy issues.
When they say “the government,” it is not difficult to imagine what they mean. It cannot be the paper tigers that have been meeting with the health union officials. These “tigers” have no mandate to conclude anything with anybody. They have only wasted everybody’s time, knowing very well that they could not close any deal with the doctors, without express permission from the very top. Kenyans have been treated to a futile charade from the Executive. You expect that everyone knows this. Yet we pretend not to.
Either we are plain dishonest, or we have cold porridge where brains should sit in our heads. We have surrendered our intellect to the priests of power and gods of instant gratification. Because of the immediate benefits that we hanker for from those who exercise power, we close our eyes to reality. We shy away from speaking the truth to power. We wait, instead, to clap when the President goes off the handle with ultimatums that are doomed to fail.
The intellectual population around power has allowed itself to be part of a massive great unwashed. It has sunk into a mob of plebs who genuinely believe that the government has been negotiating with the doctors. What then is the worth of the education we have had? The great scholar will be writing in the press and speaking on TV and radio, praising the President for “telling off the doctors.”
This intellectual is merely a mouth that utters and a hand that writes whatever is demanded of it. If he has any concern, it is limited to finding out what is desired of the mouth to say and the hand to write. This is why the strike has gone on for three months now. University dons, for their part, are in the second month of a strike. This seems normal in our country. Those who should advise the President are meanwhile waiting to read his lips and echo them, to clap wildly and to laugh uproariously.
In the end, we are victims of the culture of official claptrap and dead psyche. Even when it is so obvious that the situation does not merit a celebration of any kind whatsoever, we outdo ourselves. Rational thinking is too dangerous for us. We have, therefore, refused to think. Orwell says of us, “The mind should develop a blind spot whenever a dangerous thought presents itself. The process should be automatic, instinctive. Crimestop, they called it.” The intellectuals around power have therefore consciously surrendered the power of intellectual effort to an instinctive mental block.
Intellectuals have won the victory over themselves and are comfortable in a zombie role, flowing with the crowd. Martin Luther King would say in the essay Rediscovering Lost Values, “Most people can’t stand up for their convictions, because the majority of the people might not be doing it. Everybody is not doing it, so it must be wrong. And since everybody is doing it, it must be right . . . We have adopted a sort of relativistic ethic.” Orwell caps it, “Sanity was statistical. It was merely a question of thinking as they (everybody else) thought.” If you want to hide the truth, hide it from yourself.