Should Kenyans cheer as the US and other European powers dress down our government and tell it what to do?

If we don’t, our politicians will continue in their culture of impunity. And set us up for Armageddon in 2012. If we do, then we empower other nations to treat us with disdain – yes they say all they really want to do is help the common Kenyan, but you try and visit one of their embassies and you’ll see the real view that they have of this common Kenyan!

A little story: We had a fire expert come to the office to teach fire management skills to our staff. He was of British descent but has lived in Kenya for the last 30 years. His presentation was quite helpful. But during the entire time, he kept making disparaging remarks about City Hall, the way things work in Kenya etc. You could tell he didn’t mean to offend. He’s probably made these comments before to other Kenyans and they laughed and agreed with him. And so he felt safe repeating them to the thirty of us.

In retrospect, I should have taken him up on it. Maybe I still will.

You see, I may be fully aware that my family has issues. But when an outsider comes in and starts to tear them down because of said issues, then I take offense. All they said may be true, but that’s for me to say, not them! And shouldn’t there be a quid-pro-quo? An opportunity to point out their dirty laundry?

Anyone feeling me?

So is there a different way? Maybe the reason outsiders can comment so casually about our affairs is because we don’t do so ourselves. We foster impunity by doing nothing about it. Whether its matatu passengers not speaking out when the driver picks up too many passengers or cuts traffic. Whether it’s not standing on principle when a cop asks for a bribe. Whether it’s not speaking out when a close friend makes a disparaging remark about people from another ethnic group. Whether it’s shrugging our shoulders when those in leadership act without integrity.

Impunity is all around us. We are all responsible for it.

Maybe we need to stand up and be counted.

Ideas & thoughts for or against welcome; from Kenyans and non-Kenyans alike!


17 responses to “Impunity

  1. Great post! When you wrote”…matatu passengers not speaking out when the driver picks up too many passengers or cuts traffic.” I thought of West Africa (I lived in Liberia) where passengers are much more outspoken in making drivers behave. I’ve often wondered about that particular cultural difference. Why do people here seem to put up with and tolerate so much of this misbehaviour?

    As an American, I try to be aware of my own racist and colonial intuitions and try to be careful to accentuate the positive and point out the shortcomings of my own country (which are legion.) The majority of the US population seems to be no different in falling prey to the gimmicks of our politicians (witness the completely insane rhetoric of recent political debates or the “tribalism” you noted on your visit there last year). Perhaps we are saved from ourselves a little bit because of systems and institutions that are already in place and a greater economic cushion.(I think you mentioned the importance of systems and institutions in a post a year or so ago.) Our “corruption” tends to be of more legalized variety–e.g. formal political contributions (soft money), Wall Street excesses, influence peddling, etc.

    When I look at churches like yours and some of the corporation here, I see Kenyans at the cutting edge of global innovation. When I look at things like business entrepreneurship, music, education, I see Kenyans more broadly taking the bull by the horns and working hard for change. But in the political arena or societal areas requiring systemic institutional reforms…Is it that people feel completely helpless to effect change? Is the legacy of colonialism and political oppression so deeply entrenched that individuals collectively don’t feel like they can make any difference? Have the politicians and corrupt police managed to corner the power balance so people really can’t do much?

    From a church’s perspective, is it that Christians generally don’t see societal change as part of their mandate? Ralph Winter has some interesting thoughts on this as it relates to the history of American Christianity and missions:

    I’m really interested in your insights as you pursue this question further.

  2. Pastor M,

    Your post struck a chord with me. I keep getting frustrated about the system here, but I really don’t know what to do and how to go about it.

    I keep telling people that the reason why our roads are such killers is because we let drivers drive they way they do. The other day I tried to be an instrument of change and challenged a bus driver who was driving like they usually do – and I got hit and it cost me! I think you can transpose this scenario into any industry in Kenya, but being the catalyst for change is a difficult thing.

    Who’s ready to stand up and be counted with you? I get frustrated because folks don’t seem to care – and so trying to be different is like singing on key when the rest of the choir is off-key!

  3. This is my every day struggle as a christian.Am passionate about justice however i always wonder how to handle it as a christian.What you say above is true,we condone many things we shouldn’t however if we decide not to we shall probably we’ll probably end up making noise and doing many things and later our christianity will be challenged.The balance we are told is to use legals means but again this is Kenya.

  4. Pastor M,

    My view regarding impunity and Kenyans cheering when foreigners tear us down is born I think out of desparation.

    On the one hand we are a begging Nation and those that have been tearing us appart know that no matter how much they tear us appart our begging bows are still stretched out to them.
    Not to long ago the Prime Minister was in a meeting requesting the donor communuity (dont use the word development partners, they are donors and we are the beggers!) to assist Kenya in rehabilitating the Mau and other water towers. Yet we all know who the actual receipients of the Mau forest were.
    As long as our begging bows are streched out then we will get the lashing.
    I view this scenario as where two brothers; one a drunkard and the other organized. The organized brother pays fees for his kids.The kids of the drunkard brother are sent home due to non payment of school fees. Both brothers are summoned by thier father who implores the organized brother to bail out his sibbling just this once. The drankard promises to be more organized next time. If this happens every year I am sure the organized brother would first lash out at his drankard kindred before parting with school fees. The drankard brother is Kenya for me and the ambasadours are the organized brother.
    Would the children of the drankard brother cheer when thier father is lashed out at?
    Kenya sank this low when we claimed to be a sovereign country and we should be left alone to mind our business. If we cant manage our business and will stretch out our beging bow at every opportune moment then we have sold our birth right and cannot talk about sovereingty. In any case our politicians do not represent Kenyas view. They live in a different world.
    The Rinegera case is a prime example of a political class that is completely out of sync with the grassroots. I even wonder whether we even have an intelligence any more who I beleive ought to let the political class know of the mood. I would buy now expect that since most radio stations and tv stations periodically carry out surveys of curent issues the political class would be keen to benefit from such surveys. ( you realize I am using the words political class and not leaders)


  5. @all, thanks for the conversation!

    @Ben, thanks for thoughts and the link – I definitely intend to look it up. And I agree with your thought that Christians need to see societal change as part of their God-given mandate.

    @ Wangu, pole about your car! I liked your metaphor about singing on-key when the rest of the choir is off. Maybe it points to the fact that we need to sell the vision to others so there are a few more singing on-key? Vision begins with one person, but when shared with others can cause revolution. May also be important to pick one or a few key issues at a time so as not to be overwhelmed.

    @BS, people may disagree with us when we stand up against what’s wrong but Christ’s model (e.g. Matthew 21:12-13) suggests we need to do the right thing regardless of the consequences.

    @Ed, I feel your frustration! But I remember that the ‘political class’ are our elected representatives and thus an image of what the rest of us would probably look like if we were in their place! Remember 80% of MPs were replaced in the last election and the results are as we see them. So as we express our frustration at them, we also need to ask what about our own day-to-day conduct is similar in a smaller context. Plus how we can take responsibility for what is within our power. Or what do you think?

  6. @Edd, I share your frustration but if change doesn’t begin with us in the church, then who? Frustration should not hold us back. Time has come to encourage every believer to be responsible for their actions. Right from family, friendships, church through to the market place.

    I keep imagining what John the Baptist and Jesus would say if they were to speak to Kenya’s leaders and the church. They were not politically correct in their day and like them we need to stand up and be counted.

    Jesus said believers are the salt and light of the world. If so, is our flavour spreading through the broth or our light truly penetrating the darkness that’s Kenya today?

  7. Pastor M,
    I feel you when you talk about the Briton Fire Expert and your relating to a family situation.

    My father was a diplomat, and so we lived in many different parts of the world. The bottom line is, no foreigner disparages where he visits, those countries wont let you, and i dont know why we let others do it to us.

    Amazingly, another thing i came to appreciate (in retrospect), is that Kenya is (one of) the only country that has problems it knows how to get out of / solve. I suppose thats why we get foreigners talking down at us.
    … Just a thought. Lets keep talking.

  8. I think the main issue here is our apparent powerlessness in terms of expressing our disgust, and demanding change in the way our public institutions in Kenya are managed. We seem to have no way of challenging and demanding sustainable change from public officials apart from election time.
    But this is not in Africa alone. I live in the UK and even though there are better systems here that can provide checks and balances for politicians (for example a UK government minister recently lost his job because he paid for his girlfriend’s train ticket using his official government allowance – mixing business with pleasure. Would that ever happen in Kenya?), nevertheless, there is a huge apathy in existence here reflected in the fact that a very small percentage of the voting population actually go out to vote. Some have, however, suggested that this is because there are other ways such as joining and engaging in pressure and lobby groups, that people get involved in as a means of bringing about change other than the traditional democratic election route. There is an element of truth in that because politcians only serve for a fixed term and therefore cannot be relied upon even with the best intentions to bring about change.
    One big difference between the UK and Africa is the style of leaderships and leadership cultures that are in existence. In Africa, the ‘Big Man Syndrome’ is still very much alive and could be the unfortunate by product of colonialism where the man in top position is also entrusted with all the power. Levelling off this power and empowering people and communities to not only hold the government but also every other public body accountable and transparent seems to me to be the main challenge. And Kenyan politicians do their best to make sure this does not happen as is evidenced by the way they seem reluctant to effect a new constitution which treats Kenyans as equal before the law. Our political systems are in need of a complete overhaul. We are still considered third class citizens in our own country and that feeling of powerlessness, unfortunately, still persists.

  9. Hmmm… Gitau, you are on to something and I agree.

    Was once at a Sunday service where Pastor Linda prayed against the spirit of demonic powerlessness. I was very shocked that such a thing even exist, but alas!!!

  10. I think that giving an opinion on leadership is a welcome thing from the west just like Edd said. The only shortcoming of them imposing pressure on our government is battering our ‘sovereign’ pride. but as a citizen i do welcome that, because the pressure may actually yield results (i.e. post-election doesn’t turn to Rwanda 2.0). My issue comes with why kenyans have adopted such a submissive culture that we let anything happen without question, then get annoyed when the ‘west’ critisizes. one might argue that the cost of raising your voice is too dear (i.e. you get locked up, or vanish mysteriously), however i beg to differ, i think fear must be overcome before we can expect change. Ghandi overcame the british empire with non-violence and fearlesness. we must all be ghandi’s in our small ways..i.e be fearless to tell the matatu driver they are driving wrong (you’ll find sympathizers most likely), challenge your MP on resource allocation, protest harrasment by mungiki and other vigilante groups.

    Overhauling politics will do nothing, just bring in new thieves. The cure is bringing in a culture of fearlessness! the west have the same issues like we do…as Gitau noted, the only difference is they speak out and this time they are speaking out for us!

  11. Pastor M I totally feel you. I get so outraged when foreigners comment about our affairs. Not because what they’re saying is not true but because as a foreigner they have no right to tell us how to run our affairs. The very least they could do is find a diplomatic way of doing it rather than going to the press. It’s just as you said, if an outsider comes to critisize my family I will be offended whether what they are saying is true or not. And to tell you the truth I can’t understand Kenyans who say that it’s okay because our leaders need to be told. If they need to be told then we are the ones to tell them. The most I can tolerate is a fellow African respectfully telling us something (e.g. Kofi Annan) but a Westerner, no.

    On the other issue of Kenyans remaining silent when evil happens around them, I know I am one of the culprits and your post has challenged me to change. The other day I sat down with a group of people and there was a deaf person in our midst. Some of the people started mocking the deaf person and I just couldn’t believe it. But imagine I said nothing. Then the other day at the bank two people were making fun of each other’s tribes but the jokes were not really jokes because what they were saying were nasty comments. I really wanted to tell them guys we are all Kenyans but…I didn’t. Ai, I need to change.

  12. Impunity and corruption will never end…
    Impunity and corruption are synonyms (i.e. different words that mean the same/similar)
    As long as there is a giver, there will likely always be a taker.

    These are comments that I have heard, more times than i care to count.

    Impunity means people get away with murder… and that too on our watch.
    Many times we profess helplessness … like “what can we do? Or “I’m just a poor Kenyan” (this one makes me mad! But that is a story for another day) or “i value my life” in answer to standing up for what is right. Or …. (you get to fill in the blanks with your version of it)

    Now, the enemy (in whatever shape or form) knows this and makes maximum use of it to threaten your person or the person of your loved ones (which is perhaps worse).

    Paraphrase of something that Martha Karua said …Corruption/Impunity, when attacked, don’t expect for it to just lie there and be dealt with. It will fight back.

    Do you doubt it?
    Ask anyone who has tried to get in the way of those who, seeing no other way to make their wealth or seeing this as the easy path to the riches, will stop at nothing to have their way. Essentialy they will throw a royal tantrum and lives could, as a result, be ruined or lost.

    So what to do?
    Just sit and let ourselves (individually and collectively) be railroaded?
    Does it mean that there is really nothing we can do?
    The answer is a resounding NO!

    In my view, it may not be in any major way but if i do my bit for governance and you do yours and everyone (my Mum, Dad, Granny, brother, sister, friend, colleague …) does theirs, then collectively we will make a contribution towards culling this beast.

    Let me give an example…

    My Mum & Dad were stopped by a policeman somewhere on Lang’ata Road.
    What had they done wrong?
    Actually nothing… unless minding your own business as you go home is somehow a crime.
    So the policeman asked them to park by the side of the road and he started walking around the car saying nothing to them. So Mzee asked him why they had been stopped. The policeman started to talk about the insurance, about tyres and lights. Each thing he brought up, Mzee challenged him to show where it was out of order. At some point Dad told Mum, “You know he wants me to bribe him and i am not going to do that”. The cop heard and got mad and told Mzee that he could take them in (sounds like a threat to me). Mzee told him to go ahead and do that. After a while the Cop realised that he was getting nowhere with them and after clicking his tongue (that too at people who are old enough to be his parents) he told them to GO!

    Now when my folks told me this story, i was upset that anyone had handled them in that manner. Sure I live in Kenya but I also expect that we should respect our elders and since my folks are an older generation, I expect nothing less than respect to be accorded them.

    So, Mzee stood his ground.
    He knows his rights and is not afraid to exercise them.
    Si he could have thought he was running late and taken the oft-travelled easy path?
    The stand that he took was/is definitely food for thought.

    I was left wondering if i would have followed Dad’s example.

    Would i have stood my ground?
    Would i have thought about how i was getting late and given him TKK (toa kitu kidogo or toa kila kitu).
    Would i have allowed the fact that he is a cop and could lock me in intimidate me?
    Do I know my rights in such situations?
    Would i have waited for him to ask for TKK or would i have offered it or slipped it into his hand in the guise of shaking hands?

    Many many questions.
    The answers should be easy and yet they come with a hesitation. If i was in the wrong…say i had bald tires or my insurance expired just jana… would i have tried to “talk” (literally or greasingly) my way out of the scenario? Hence the hesitancy…

    When i look at it, I ask myself what would Jesus do…, what does He require of me?
    I know what He would do plus I know what i am required to do yet what would I do? Would I take the right step or would I park my belief for the convenience of the moment?

    How often do i think of and take the easier widely travelled path while what is requird of me is to travel the straight and narrow?

    I am clear that if I took Mzee’s stand, if more of us took a stance for what is right, there would be fewer givers or tempters or takers. Simply put, Corruption is kept alive because someone asks and another is willing to give or someone offers and another takes. If one side of these equations was shut down, the formula fails. If the full force of the law, following the already complete and beautifully set out procedure, was applied to both the givers and the takers, regardless of which arm asked/offered, impunity would die its natural death…it would be like the fire which, not fed any more logs, dies into embers and finally ash. Right now corrunption/impunity is a bonfire fed every moment and blazing away. I know that is the simplified, sanitised version. Yet imagine how life would be if we kept things simple and do stuff as and when.

    So when did we get to “accept” this lifestyle where people ask for or are offered incentive to do their job?
    In my view, it all goes back to a corruption and the utter shredding of our moral fibre. Impunity/Corruption did not start jana. I am sure that there was greed in the cultural setting and I am also clear that such situations were few and far between because there were mechanisms to deal with such situations.

    As we started to give up our ways (voluntarily or forceably), in the name of religion, the unacceptable things began to become more “acceptable”. Any word against a power-house appointed by the colonial power of the day was met with a force so violent that those at the receiving end were traumatised into a silent watching people who could now do little to remedy the situation a la the traditional ways of counselling and coaching the errant one back to the fold.

    That way too, we developed a docility that is legend and is so casually used to describe us as Kenyans so that we donot take to task anyone who has the audacity to come into our collective house and trash us. In a sense we developed a thing that has evolved into “you don’t call me on my stuff and I’ll not call you on yours” and we become compromised. No wonder then that the bonfire would thrive.

    Needless to say, this has continued over the years, ever growing in magnitude, to where we are today. There are many examples of our ills. I recall hearing about Chepkube… I remember too in the ‘80s when everyone was talking about “doing a dira” (doing deals) and there was a lot of black market stuff going on. I mention Chepkube because Mum, Mzee were talking about how things have gone for those who took part in the black gold scam (perhaps that should just be called theft. Scam is the sanitised version). It is not pretty. The time to reap what one sowed came …. It may have been many many many years on, but it came.

    Think about the financial scams we have had and heard.
    Think too that there are possibly many more that we know nothing about.
    If my own working experience is anything to go by, then I know that a lot has happened, is happening and unless we do something, will continue happening with the scale growing ever huger (if there is such a word). So our graph draws like an upward trend, through the roof and into the clouds and beyond … and that is not like a good thing.

    Sounds hopeless yes?
    Well, despite the hope-/help-lessness, i see that there’s a possible positive way to view everything in life… from the seed principle in which you plant one seed of maize seed and harvest a couple of or three cobs or one seed that yields a huge pumpkin or the tiny mustard seed that becomes the mighty tree.

    Whatever seeds I plant, there is a consequence somewhere. I may not see it but it is there. So it makes sense to me that if the pressed down, shaken together and overflowing reward/principle works, that it works both for the good as for the evil. And I get to choose what consequence I want. Kid yourself not, the short term fruits of impunity/corruption may be sweet but they become bitter in the fulness of time. So I choose which consequence I want to live with.

    On a parting note, I think the other thing to bear in mind is what we teach our children and how we train them up. “Train up a child in the way that he should go…” goes both ways – if we want a good strong nation where there is ZERO tolerance for nonsense like impunity, nepotism, corruption & all such ills, we must live by example (choosing a positive bent) and take the effort and the time to un-teach them what the world says. As we teach them and as we practise, I pray that we would take the step to be the fearless and powerful influencers that are needed in this Church, neighbourhood, city, country and continent to grow us all to where God intended for us to be and what He intended for us – to be obedient stewards seeking after His own heart before anything else.

    Do-able, yes?

  13. Andrew, It’s Troy! I finally tracked you down.
    I am coming to Kenya next month and want to see you brother!
    Email me your info and we can talk over AIM or SKYPE.


  14. Pastor M, thank you for your comments regarding this impunity issue.

    What I have a problem with is us Kenyans not showing more outrage. People will go on strike for labor/work reasons. I would like to see us all unite in taking this discussion to another level, one that will apply so much pressure on the corrupt politicians that foreigners will not need to say anything.

    I wish Wangari Maathai and other activists of the 80s and 90s had passed the torch to the next generation. Today we are just blogging away and twittering our frustrations.

    I wish Mavuno could start a youth campaign and lead a movement that really called attention to the change that is badly needed in Kenya.


  15. Thanks for all the comments guys. Whether we agree on every detail or not, it’s clearly a live issue for us all! May God give us the grace to be among those few who don’t just get riled up about it but do something about it!

    @Gitau, I agree with you about the sense of powerlessness. And agree with the word ‘apparent’ – surely some of it is in our minds, rather than just in the lack of structures. If middle-class Kenyans don’t speak out, who will? @Mwanahisa, I like! In fact, we should each be not just a small Gandhi but a large Jesus… Jn.14:12 says we should expect to do greater things than Jesus did when He was on earth!

    @Alice – I believe you’re on the right track. God’s grace on you as you seek to challenge the injustice around you, starting with the small things. It has to start with me. @ Nafsiye, I like your perspective that every tiny positive action is a seed that has potential to bear much greater fruit.

  16. Hi Guys,

    Interesting discussions. Mine will be short. I think it’s time as a country, as a middle class regardless of our religion to stand up and be counted in every situation; be it in the matatus,political arena with our kids e.t.c.

    My take is as a middle class we’ve let the country down, in terms of leadership how many of us are prepared to hold a peaceful demonstration to demand good governance and hold the leadership accountable.

    Look at this scenario paster m, what if titus naikuni is in a demonstration demanding effective leadership!!!

  17. Cont….

    when it comes to our kids, most of us have given our teachers/ house assistants all the responsibilities of raising our kids!!!

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