The trouble with Kenya’s long list of neglected values

Several times a week, as I drive towards Westlands and beyond, I exit from James Gichuru Road and circle the oval onto Waiyaki Way.

It is obvious we should keep to the right-hand lane on James Gichuru, awaiting a gap in the traffic driving west so we can line up for the U-turn that will launch us on our way.

Like many others I keep in that right lane. But some do not. They know that by doubling up to our left they can easily get ahead and then insert themselves in the line for taking the U-turn. This is because there are enough accepting, resigned Kenyans who allow such selfish and entitled behaviour.

If we were in a queue at a supermarket it would be called pushing in. Here though, it is just a case of the survival of the fittest, the less inhibited.

And if, like me, you resist the pushing in, the driver gets angry with you for preventing the rudeness.

That shows quite how far some of us have sunk in switching off our consciences and just doing what it is possible to do, irrespective of the illegitimacy of our actions.

But enough venting. I merely offer this example of the choices that confront us each day in deciding whether or not to behave decently to launch some reflections on our national values.

They have been defined in our Constitution, and here’s the list: patriotism, national unity, sharing and devolution of power; the rule of law, democracy and participation of the people; human dignity, equity, social justice, inclusiveness, equality, human rights, non-discrimination and protection of the marginalised; good governance, integrity, transparency and accountability; and sustainable development.

There you are, 18 of them. All good, all appropriate, but what difference has embedding them in this supreme law made? Then, what impact have we seen from Chapter 6 of the Constitution, regarding the ethical standards required of our leaders?

Who is even aware of the existence of Kenya’s National Values System?

Who is familiar with the values that underpin the economic, social and political pillars of Vision 2030?

So many questions; so few answers. So many laws and regulations; so many institutions, including the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission, the National Cohesion and Integration Commission, the Directorate of National Cohesion and National Values… But with what consequences?

I think about these questions every day, asking myself what we could be doing differently that would result in more drivers keeping to that right hand lane on James Gichuru Road.

And I also wonder what holds back those who insist on living healthy values despite so often losing out to those who do not.

What, despite the impunity that allows for so much bad behaviour, explains the existence of many highly ethical sub-cultures here — in government as elsewhere?

Take the often-quoted example of Singapore, known as a “Fine City” thanks to citizens knowing they will be fined if they even drop litter on the pavement. Singapore’s national values are just five: nation before community and society above self; family as the basic unit of society; community support and respect for the individual; consensus, not conflict; and racial and religious harmony.

It is infinitely more powerful and memorable than our endless and highly conventional list, making it easy for leaders and others to quote and hold people to.

The leaders themselves are called upon to act as role models for the values, and they have become embedded in the national culture. It’s just the way life works there.

So what about us? We need not continue to make do with our fatalistic acceptance of the unethical.

But it is not enough to have long lists of values laid out in worthy laws and regulations.

And the more institutions we have that are meant to be helping us improve the less effect any of them will have — never mind that they are largely low profile.

We need a short, punchy set of values.

We need the President and other senior national and sub-national leaders to talk about them and live them.

We need those who do not abide by them to suffer the consequences, and those who do to be rewarded.

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