When you write a column you often find yourself in the wilderness

When you write a column such as I do, you often find yourself in the wilderness. You live in a veritable ideological wasteland. Like the man Isaiah in the Christian Old Testament and John the Baptist in The New Testament, you are permanently crying out in the wilderness, engaged in a lonely dialogue of the deaf.

You are perpetually crying out for a just, free and fair society. You want to clear desert highways and to straighten crooked paths. You desire to fill up valleys and to bring down mountains so that there is justice and fairness. You believe in what some see as an outlandish paradise that will never be. You seem to be negative all the time.

Doubts will accordingly assail you from time to time. What does everybody else see that you cannot see? You listen to Hon. Kipchumba Murkomen and to Prof. Kithure Kindiki apologizing for a decadent political dispensation and wonder whether you have not lost it. So they have found a life and are living? Should you also not find a life and begin living?

Amidst your doubts galore, it is gratifying to listen to the Holy Father, Pope Francis. The Papal visit was a critical moment for ethical and moral rearmament. For the Pope said nothing new. He only reaffirmed and validated the things we keep saying to power. On corruption, ethnicity and poverty, the Pope reaffirmed us.

We live in the land of thieves in high office. Our role models are thieves and plunderers. That is why our children have now learnt to steal exams. Yet this does not seem to rattle our conscience and sensibilities. The very philosophy, purpose, architecture and design of the Kenyan State intend that leadership should be about stealing and not service. In ancient Greece they spoke of ‘kleptes’ (thief) and ‘cratos’ (power). The kleptocrat was a thief in power. Has the Kenyan State been taken hostage by kleptocrats? Is ours a government in the hands of thieves? Is our President a later day Ali Baba in captivity, at the mercy of forty thieves?

Don’t be deceived by the trappings of the good life around them, most of the people you see on the high table are disreputable. Now a thief may dress up in purple and furnish a lavish lifestyle in ornate palaces. However, he remains a thief. He may dress himself up in peculiar honorifics and allied aristocratic titles. He remains a thief. It is important that we should never get tired of pointing this out, especially in this age of mega theft by people in power.

Will we get out of this kleptocracy? The prospects are dim, at least for now. We don’t know how to shun and shame the thief. For the prebendal state is very strategic. It thrives on the support of an adoring zombie ethnic population. First, the leaders get into power with only one focus – to empty the National Treasury into their pockets. When they shop around for people to occupy critical offices, the most important credential is whether these people can help them get money out of the treasury.

As the tribe your role is to be the shield and defender. Like everybody else, you may find the times hard. You may complain about the cost of living in  the country and the straits the country has sunk into. However, you don’t ask why. You suffer a mental black spot. Yes, you hate slavery, but you also love the slave master. Like Wole Soyinka and Ayi Kwei Armah have told us, you are the chichi dodo bird. You detest human waste but you love eating maggots.

If you must eat maggots, don’t complain about human waste, or about slavery if you love the slave master. The task before the Kenyan nation is no longer about urging a bad government to do what is good. It is about emancipation from mental slavery. For we are a community of maggot eaters, both in government and outside. Migration from the present kleptocracy must be preceded by a massive national migration from the chichi dodo mentality.

In the end, Pope Francis’s message goes back to the clergy. Where they should be shepherding the flock away from the maggots, they have also joined the party. They drink from the cup of ruin and desolation, like everybody else. Their lowest moments were in the years 2005 and 2007. With a few notable exceptions, the clergy picked up its script from ethnic political leaders in the futile referendum of 2005 and in the trauma of 2007.

I have often said that we are a society whose values a rat has eaten. We are an educated people and a religious people. We are thrilled when the Pope visits with us.  However, when placed on the weighing scales, our education and piety count for nothing.

Fortunately there is hope in the fact that we are willing to be pious. It means that we recognize that there is something grander than the material things that we want to steal. Our positive passion for the Pope is a demonstration that we could still rise up to the dream of a great nation. The clergy must lead from where the Pope left.

Public intellectuals and civil society should not get tired. Our task is no longer about pleading with bad governments to do good things. We must now focus on avoiding bad government and on how to shun thieves, no matter how  powerful or ornate they may be.

Barrack Muluka

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