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Let us focus on national values in Covid-19 times

At this time of national crisis I’ve been thinking about our national values – that long list buried deep in our Constitution. For the small proportion of Kenyans who may have forgotten one or two of them (pardon my sarcasm) here they are:

  • Patriotism, national unity, the rule of law, democracy and participation of the people
  • Sharing and devolution of power
  • Human dignity, equity, social justice, inclusiveness, equality, human rights, non-discrimination and protection of the marginalised
  • Good governance, integrity, transparency and accountability sustainable development.

As I scanned the vast collection I asked myself whether what we’ve been going through has led us to live these values differently from before, and it didn’t take me long to reach a positive conclusion. At least for many of them, and in particular the bunch in the third bullet.

Certainly the government, and by no means just the government, has been concerned about protecting the marginalised, and adopting an inclusive approach to its policies – which it has been developing in partnership with the private sector and others. We have seen fine examples of respect for human rights and human dignity – with the notable exception of that terrible display of police brutality on the first evening of the 7pm curfew.

Keeping with government, we have applauded the way our elected leaders have put aside their political games to focus on the wellbeing of the citizenry. In a spirit of national unity, we are so relieved that the boisterous BBI rallies and all the money wasted on them is now being put to better use.

What a challenge it’s been for the media, who must now come up with headlines other than ones that just feature Ruto, Raila and Co. But they’ve done well, informing us and guiding us on the latest developments with the Coronavirus outbreak, enabling citizen participation.

Then, as far as national unity in the context of devolution is concerned, the national and county governments have been collaborating well together, with the frequent zero-sum games between them muted.

Kenyans have never been known for exhibiting great patriotism – except for when our athletes break the tape in New York or London or Berlin. But now we have one of our cabinet members on the global podium: Mutahi Kagwe, recognised in America’s Wall Street Journal as “Kenya’s unlikely coronavirus hero,” making us all proud of him.

Next my mind turned to the Covid-19 Emergency Response Fund, whose board consists of a distinguished group of private sector leaders who have pledged transparency and accountability as they “support the government’s efforts in the supply of medical facilities and equipment and support for vulnerable communities with their immediate needs, including food.” Plus working with professional services firms PwC, Deloitte and EY who are providing pro-bono assurance services.

See? It’s too easy to pick out examples of different levels and sectors of society doing a great job behaving in ways consistent with our national values.

The big question will be whether what we are seeing now is sustained. The last value in the list features sustainability, along with development. For sure what we are going through presents a massive national challenge to the sustainability of everything from the Big Four to public debt to tax revenue generation, while so many both for-profit and not-for-profit private entities are at risk of total collapse in the not -too-distant future.

For now though let us celebrate all the ways in which our national values have come to life at this most difficult of times. They have brought the best out of us, and it is a good moment to reflect on what it will take to prevent us regressing to those more selfish, greedy ways that already seem like long ago.

It’s all about leadership of course. In the last few weeks many of our leaders have proved to us that they are more than capable of guiding us to better places. Yet when the Coronavirus will no longer be there to draw us together, and as the 2022 elections beckon ever closer, it is us citizens who will need to insist that our leaders hold on to the higher standards they have reached, making these the new normal. Kenyans, we have shown we can. But will we?