Never let anybody say Kenyans are not a caring lot. Our collective empathy played out on a global scale this past week when we donated the “Haki Yetu” phrase for use in the #BlackLivesMatter demonstrations in the United States, which were sparked by the death of a black man, George Floyd, who was cuffed and asphyxiated by policemen.
Nobody can forget the infamous Alex Ndiritu from Nyeri who exported rage to America when, in replying to a post by CNN about the protests, urged Americans to “burn the White House”.
Kenyans joined Mr Ndiritu and the world in speaking out against police brutality and racism. Raila ‘Agwambo’ Odinga also Tweeted a Martin Luther King-inspired message about the same, and the irony of global versus local empathy did not escape anybody.
Beyond the apparent hypocrisies, the show of concern and solidarity was a beautiful example of what “If my brother’s in trouble so am I” looks like. One can only hope the support for #JusticeForGeorgeFloyd yields an everlasting change in race-inspired violence world over.
Like any other “hotbed of terror”, Kenya is no stranger to unlawful killings by policemen.
On June 1, a homeless man in Mathare, known as Vaite to his neighbours, was walking home when a policeman shot him dead. Moments earlier, policemen had shot in the air, ostensibly to disperse the residents and force them to adhere to the 7pm curfew.
Nobody seems to know Vaite’s real name but most Kenyans on social media have seen the graphic images of his body by now. As painful as it is to say it, even his death was not as significant as Mr Floyd’s.
The Independent Policing Oversight Authority (IPOA) reported that in enforcing the curfew, the police have to date killed 15 people and injured 31. Perhaps it’s bullet-proof jackets Kenyans need and not masks.
Vaite is just one of the 16 people shot dead every month by Kenyan police, according to the Deadly Force database run by the Nation Newsplex team.
The project monitors local media, social media and human rights and IPOA reports to track the demographics of each person killed by the police and the circumstances surrounding their deaths.
The number is most likely much higher, according to human rights groups, as 16 only accounts for the reported cases.
Given that the unlawful killings are concentrated in the slums and low-income areas, one is tempted to conclude that while racism bites America, classism is what bites us at home.
The question then is: why is there so much apathy about what’s happening locally and so much empathy for events occurring thousands and thousands of kilometres away?
It shouldn’t be surprising, given how pervasive the American culture is in our lives: from the music, language, dressing to TV shows.
If this does not give any insights, then the police spokesman’s responses about police brutality during an interview with NTV certainly do.
Mr Charles Owino said police officers who were accused of brutality were “probably young and drunk from the little power they have”, adding that may have been provoked by errant civilians.
Provoked? Maybe President Trump shared his script with him. Or vice versa. You can never tell these days.
If American novelist and activist Lydia Maria Child was alive today, she would tell Mr Owino that the US is a warning rather than an example to the world. Kenyans were rightly outraged by Mr Owino’s sentiments.
But the insights lie in what Mr Owino left unsaid: That the culture of violence from policemen in Kenya is so entrenched and normalised that not even a photo of a bloody body is enough to summon rage that could meet the proportions Mr Floyd’s death inspired. Certainly not enough rage to make the #JusticeforVaite hashtag trend for long, if that’s a valid measure.
The tragedy is that everything will soon be restored to factory settings as we separate ourselves from empathy and work ourselves back to the familiar story of policemen killing and maiming innocent people. What a pity.
Ms Oneya comments on social and gender topics. Twitter @FaithOneya; [email protected]
A thief for all seasons: Not even Covid-19 will stop the corrupt
Albert M’peti Biyombo, Democratic Republic of Congo’s Deputy Health Minister, is a very brave man.
In a leaked letter to the prime minister, he accused Cabinet members of receiving kickbacks on contracts for the coronavirus response, while health workers went unpaid for months. He said Covid-19 funds are being embezzled by a “mafia network”, which are taking kickbacks of up to 35 percent off contracts for virus supplies.
Biyombo might also have a death wish. Remember in that same DRC, in May Judge Raphael Yanyi, who was presiding over the corruption trial of President Felix Tshisekedi’s chief of staff Vital Kamerhe, died suddenly of a “heart attack”. Kamerhe has since been found guilty and sentenced to 20 years’ hard labour on charges of embezzling almost $50 million.
Turns out, Judge Yanyi didn’t die of a heart attack, after all. He died of stab wounds to the head. When $50 million is at stake, things like that happen in DRC – and many other countries. DRC is not alone.
Zambia’s Health Minister Chitalu Chilufya was arrested last month on suspicion of corruption after he suddenly came into a lot of money and went on a property buying spree.
Zimbabwean Health Minister Obadiah Moyo had his snout deep into a $60 million Covid-19 contract scandal, and just got fired by President Emmerson Mnangagwa. You know it’s bad if Mnangagwa, like Robert Mugabe before him, fires someone for corruption.
South Africa just announced a probe into allegations of corruption involving 500 billion rands ($26.3 billion) relief fund to ease the impact of Covid-19.
In Uganda, several officials were jailed over coronavirus supplies theft. Not too long ago, in Kenya the hashtag #MoneyHeist trended on Twitter for days, after a parliamentary committee sniffed high corruption in the use of KSh1.3 billion ($12.2 million), a big chunk of it donated by the World Bank for the fight against the pandemic.
Where big money goes, corruption usually follows, so perhaps it is not surprising that the Covid-19 bounty is attracting crooks. What is surprising is that even in the face of a pandemic that has taken so many lives, ruined millions of livelihoods, and set back the progress of most of our countries by decades, the corrupt aren’t able to draw a line and say, “no, this we will not steal”.
For that reason, coronavirus-related corruption is a barometer of just how deep the rot runs in our governing structures, and how broken public morality is. It also raises the question of whether anything is left that is so sacrosanct the corrupt will not touch, or would wish to but are too afraid.
Our corrupt don’t even fear God, perhaps only the wrath of the president. They wouldn’t steal from the president’s pot, or would they? Ask Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni. The biggest pot every five years in Uganda is Museveni’s re-election war chest. At the last election, word is that it was plundered by his minions so much, to save his campaign, in the last stretch he literally had to keep the money under his mattress at State House. So, the corrupt have nothing left that they fear.
We can pick a few leadership lessons from animals
George Bernard Shaw made the following observation: “If history repeats itself, and the unexpected always happens, how incapable must Man be of learning from experience.”
Flipping through my WhatsApp messages, I was captivated by one video post in which, lions were collaborating in a hunt. I paused to watch what was a really intense moment of life and death. The lionesses took the lead, with their matriarch seemingly guiding them along every step. A dazzle of zebras, fifty meters away, were unaware of the plan. In a split second, the lead lioness crushed one zebra into the ground. The rest joined to finish the job.
As the zebra wriggled for its last breadth, a male lion appeared with a roar that sent the lionesses scampering for their lives. Although the male lion takes the leadership responsibility of the pride and was part of the strategy, its role in the kill is often minimal. Often, males have been known to drive the targeted animals towards the ambush of the lionesses, but they always appear to unfairly benefit from the kill more than the real workhorses, hence the phrase, “the lion’s share.”
It struck me that this was analogous to life. That no matter how history repeats itself, we always elect leaders who tell us the same things our grandparents were promised. At independence, leaders told us that we elect them so that they can bring development. We always expect them to build roads, schools and hospitals, but then the unexpected always happens. Is it possible that we are incapable of learning from experience?
In the lion kingdom, it is expected that male lions will eat first, followed by the lionesses and the cubs last. As we work like lionesses and taking salary cuts, some of our leaders have other intentions. Since March, Members of Parliament (MPs) and Members of Count Assemblies (MCAs) have been quietly pushing for more allowances although some of the allowances they want were scrapped by the Salaries and Remuneration Commission. This is in total disregard of the prevailing conditions of stalled global economies as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.
I have since discovered that even in the animal kingdom, some animals’ behaviour patterns are better than that of lions. I watched a pack of wild dogs hunting a gazelle. Their strategy centers on stamina and positioning themselves in such a way that they can eventually wear out the fast-moving gazelle. Once they manage to make the kill, they share the meal peacefully and even remember to take the meat to their elderly, the injured, the sick, cubs and the caretakers that didn’t join them in the hunt.
Leadership of a pride of lions and a pack of wild dogs determines the outcome. Many of the leadership theories come from studying behaviour pattern in order to predict leadership outcomes. Prior to the advent of Western civilisation, Africans had their own methods of choosing their leaders.
The process often took very long as the community studied the behaviour patterns of potential leaders – sometimes based on lineage – but what they sought to know was always if the person had the interests of the people at heart. This they referred to as Mtu wa watu (Swahili), Omonto bwa abanto (Kisii), Mundu wa andu (Kikuyu), part of the Ubuntu (Nguni Bantu) worldview.
There is no direct translation of these words but they are variously thought to mean a person with humanity in them or in other words an empathetic person who has a worldview that is larger than himself. Africans could see these qualities in a young person who will go through apprenticeship for several years before they take up leadership.
Dylan McGarry says that apprenticeship is perhaps the oldest form of education and is closely related to transformative leadership and intergenerational learning, as traditionally it consisted of the transfer of knowledge from skilled (usually older) and more experienced members of society to younger generations. Parents too were supposed to take their children through apprenticeship.
It is this leadership process that we have destroyed in favour of other approaches to leadership development assuming that traditional education as we know of it today will produce the leadership we want. In leadership, it is not how much education you have or how little educated you are. It is how much humane you are. It takes time to see this in people before they are bestowed with leadership.
There are indeed theories of leadership that come closer to the old African model of identifying and apprenticing leaders. J. Robert Clinton carried out several studies of Christian leaders—Biblical, historical, and living. His work, The Making of a Leader, centered at formulating a method of identifying the incidents involved in the development of a leader’s capacity to lead, which he referred to as leadership emergence.
He eventually realised that “a great leader is shaped over a long period of time, and that this formation is not automatic”. He defined his theory of leadership emergence as “the overall process in which God is at work in selecting that leader. It is the broad life-time process in which a potential leader expands capacity for influencing to become the leader God wants him or her to be.”
Further, he noted that throughout the life of a leader, certain incidents happen that shape the leader’s character, leadership skills, and leadership values. This is not a one-off thing, but an ongoing process. His conclusion was that “Leadership selection is a lifetime process in which God continues to ‘select’ leaders for leadership responsibilities at higher and higher levels.”
The kind of leadership that we have is one where individual force themselves into leadership positions based on either money or education. The outcomes have always been disastrous. As we approach the 2022 elections, many prospective candidates are busy looking for consultants to identify issues in counties where they plan to run for office.
Many have no clue about the history of their constituencies and care very little about the problems of the people they want to lead. They say their money will give them the seat. That is not the leadership we want. Such leaders just want to be the king Lion, which eats before those who are more deserving. Let us be more thoughtful as we make our electoral decisions this time round.
The writer is a professor of entrepreneurship at University of Nairobi’s School of Business.
Guidance on lengthy school closure crucial
The initial shock at the prolonged closure of schools by the government over Covid-19 fears is ebbing but the harsh reality is beginning to dawn on learners, teachers and parents.
This is the first time in Kenya that a whole generation of learners has lost an entire academic year. Even during some of the worst moments, such as the aftermath of the aborted military coup of 1982, schools were not closed for a long time.
Only universities were closed for nine months to deal with restive students, some of whom were allegedly involved in the insurgency.
The learners’ greatest challenge now is coping with the reality that they have to repeat a class, irrespective of their academic abilities, and what they should do with themselves for the next five months.
That is quite distressful and dispiriting. In the same vein, parents have found themselves in uncharted territory. Staying with their children at home since March, without a proper plan for their schooling and academic progression, is discomfiting.
Most of them are thoroughly disoriented and unsure of what to do. Equally troubled are teachers, who have to stay out of work for months, worry about their learners and are unprepared to deal with the challenges brought about by the coronavirus pandemic.
When schools were closed, the Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development (KICD) embarked on an intensified school broadcasting programme to fill the void. To its credit, many programmes have gone on air and, more than ever before, the public is much more aware of the online lessons.
However, there are discernible loopholes. In the first place, the broadcasts to schools were conceived as supplementary to face-to-face learning. In the absence of physical classroom sessions, the programmes are inadequate in delivering the curriculum.
Secondly, the programmes do not reach all learners, given the logistical challenges such as lack of access to the requisite gadgets as well as connectivity.
Additionally, the mode of delivery is traditional; there is little interaction between teachers and learners. Yet modern learning is two-way: Interactive and participatory.
Having deferred school reopening to January, the government has to give direction to learners, teachers and parents. The ministry should mount communication campaigns to sensitise parents and communities on what they should do to support children.
We are faced with unprecedented challenges and it is not sufficient to postpone school reopening without providing guidance on how to cope with it.
The psychological, social, academic and economic ramifications of the long closure of schools will reverberate for years. That is why we call for psycho-social support to learners, teachers and parents.
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