Friday, 25 October 2013

Kenya's Value System: A Theory on Why We Make The Decisions We Do From A Value Perspective

I have been thinking deeply recently about the concept of values and a value system, especially in relation to Kenya as a country and a society. Why do we seem to have such rotten institutions, such corruption, poor leadership, bad news stories and poverty of morals and thought in all aspects of society? What thought process and beliefs guide our choices in deciding to overlap, collect as much allowances as we can from the office on a trip, bribe police officers, to steal in exams, cheat on our loved ones, do all manner of wrong things and live comfortably within such an existence? Are our values as a society that off?
What is a value system anyway?
The free online dictionary defines a value system as “the principles of right and wrong that are accepted by an individual or a social group.” Dr. Clare W. Graves goes further to define it as a “hierarchically ordered, always open set of morals, ethics, standards, preferences, belief systems and world views that come together through self-organizing principles to define an individual, group or a culture.”
And make no mistake; values are important to our decisions as human beings on a day to day basis. According to peter Dayan, “there is perhaps no more critical factor for the survival of an organism than the manner in which it chooses different courses of action or inaction.” Not overlapping may be the difference between arriving at work thirty minutes late and pissing off clients and the boss. Is it your fault that the government will not build better roads? Not using mwakenya could mean the difference between qualifying for university or college, going through bridging or a degree you hate, or even between a second class upper or lower division. That sort of thing.
So what is Kenya’s value system?
That is a question I can only attempt to answer very generally and cautiously. In a nation of 43 ethnic groups, which underwent massive upheaval of colonization and decolonization all throughout the 20th century, situated in a century where globalization, information communication and technology and revolutions in transport have made a mockery of nation-states, it is stretched to talk of an identity, let alone a single value system as a nation. However, having being schooled by the same education system, learnt about the political and social system from the same agents and suffered the same history, there are shared values amongst us as Kenyans. 
Kenya is a broken society that has crumbled under the pressures of colonialism, neo-colonialism, modernity and globalization. Our institutions have been to weak to support us, it is virtually a free for all where we only come to help each other when we face calamity.
Most of us seem to value educational advancement, material wealth and the family and tribe above happiness, contentment, good governance and the nation. We will use all means that are not repugnant to our own values to move forward. The government will either be an impediment to be circumvented or a massive helping hand in this regard.
How do we choose which values to adapt?
According to the website Cultural Dynamics, the way we choose our values depends on where we lie on the Maslow hierarchy of needs. These are morality, pragmatism and ethics. This is a very important idea since it seems to suggest that our innate personalities are more critical in shaping the sort of values we will adapt from our society and world in general, as compared to material wealth or even education.
Perish the thought that the middle class should want what is ethical, as opposed to the upper “parasitic class” or the lower income classes!
According to Cultural Dynamics, which bases its findings on surveys carried out on British society over a long period, there are three distinct types of value systems any person can adopt depending on their ranking on the Maslow hierarchy: a settler, a pragmatist and a pioneer.
A settler is a person chooses his values from a moral standpoint: whether he feels something is right or wrong. Such a person values tradition, conformity and safety. He obeys the laws because it is the right thing to do. He is also-I think-going to frown upon too much political participation and questioning of the laws and decisions made by politicians. I think Kenya is full of settlers. Those who will support ICC or condemn it depending on which tribe they come from. Vote for CORD or Jubilee depending on their tribe too. They will frown on occupy parliament and MP salary hikes in equal measure. They strive to work around the system. They see the good of Moi and Kibaki regimes rather than the bad. They are the reason it is so hard to see change in Kenya; their capacity for bullshit is unrivalled, see them as the faithful wife who opens the door for her drunken hubby every night. Some say there is a limit to their perseverance.
The second type of person is the pragmatist. This is the most dangerous person in Kenya’s society. According to Cultural Dynamics, the pragmatist wants to explore the possibilities of situations rather than conforming to the situation. He values power, achievement and hedonism above all. He wants recognition from al Jazeera and BBC as a political activist. He wants to be seen as the brightest entrepremeur. The fighter against Western imperialism. The best poet. The genius coder. Mtu wa watu. Uh-oh. The pragmatist has figured out that what is important is to eat, and whether you do so with your tribe or not is not the important point. Dare I say that majority of our politicians are pragmatists? As well as many people who have looked at things, added two and two and concluded that it is a man-eat-man society, and they should start digging in, the only thing that can stop them is being caught as well as their own personal feelings of guilt and shame.
According to the website Cultural Dynamics, there is another third, higher form of individual who shares much with the settler and the pragmatist, and yet is above them both. This is the pioneer. The pioneer is the person who sees beyond morals that are intrinsic and contradictory in nature, the need to achieve power and money at all costs, and sees himself as a small part of the cosmos whose decisions affect all of humanity in ways seen and unseen. Think of the greatest Kenyan we ever had: Wangari Maathai, that sort of person who can connect between environmental degradation, illegal logging and deforestation on one side; poverty, hunger and human suffering on the other. They then make a conscious decision to stand up against dictatorship, illiteracy and bad governance to solve these problems, of poverty, corruption, environmental degradation, torture, murder, hatred and dictatorship.
It is clear that the middle class is supposed to be the driving force of an economy, its values and its development. However, change begins with all of us. Kenya is at a juncture of adopting Western political, social and economic systems in addition to the African systems it has clung onto. It is also in a time in history where forces much stronger than it are buffeting it from all directions. It is hard to make a decision on which values to adapt, which ones to reject.
No one can be just a settler, a pragmatist or a pioneer; we all have these characters in us, at least I do. However, we must strive to be pioneers. To look past the obvious, see how we are all connected as humanity, as the universe. Only then will we make the proper decisions to drive us forward as a country, an individual and a human race.

The free online dictionary as accessed on 25th October, 2013.
Wikipedia, value system as accessed on 25th October, 2013
The Role of Value Systems in Decision Making: Peter Dayan Gatsby, Computational Neuroscience Unit, UCL, London WC1N 3AR, U.K.
Cultural Dynamics: its all about the people as accessed on 25th October, 2013

Monday, 9 September 2013

We Could Surely Do With a Little Guided Thought on Matters ICC

Below is a superb guest blog on the effort by the Kenyan National Assembly to withdraw Kenya from the Rome Statute and the ICC by Celestine Olilo.
Celestine Olilo is a Kenyan journalist who studied Communication Studies at Maseno University, and is working with a local media house currently. She follows politics keenly, and I requested her to give me a post on the ICC issue that has gripped Kenyans so much with trials against 3 Kenyans due to start on Tuesday, 10th September 2013.
You can find Celestine on twitter here @cellie_beckie

By Olilo Cellestine        

My beloved country is making yet another attempt to withdraw from the International Criminal Court. 

From a neutral point, Mr. Adan Duale’s motion raised a rather germane issue that Kenyans would have had to deal with at some point. And the reason is simple. President Uhuru and his deputy, William Ruto’s election to office, despite the glaring charges of alleged post poll atrocities, brought about awkward complications that cannot be wished away easily.

Indeed, it is a country’s shame to have a sitting president being tried for heinous crimes at an international court. It is even worse, when the sitting president has such a huge following back home, that the Hague-based court is viewed as more of a bully, than a vehicle of facilitating justice to hundreds of thousands of the 2007/2008 post poll victims. 

The Jubilee Coalition launched a spirited campaign to break free from the ICC. The argument? We now have a new constitution, and the capacity to locally try the perpetrators.

Maybe so, but why now? Has it just occurred to the Jubilee Coalition that we could do with a little less patronizing from our Western big brothers? Is it really an innocent attempt to salvage the country’s pride at a time when the suspects’ cases are just kicking off? I say nay-nay.

Even if they were, Kenya’s deferral sends an unpleasant message across the continent (remember we sought support from the African Union earlier in the year?)That we are not willing to further cooperate with the Hague-based court, and worse still, that we are seeking ways of terminating the cases against our top countrymen.

In case we forgot, the ICC did not come hunting for the suspects, we invited them over, for the innocent reason that the 2007/2008 victims must find justice, justice which could not be found within the confines of our teething judiciary.

We happily signed The Rome Statute, set up a commission of inquiry that cost taxpayers an arm and a leg, and then waited in earnest to know the ‘contents’ of the Waki envelope. But when the names were revealed, we forgot all this before losing our minds to the staid ideology of ethnicity.  The ICC issue ceased to be a collective path to justice. It was now targeting our sons, our leaders…our tribesmen!  

The Rome Statute is clear in its 16th Article on deferral. Two things: Even with the motion already passed, there can be no impact on the ongoing cases, and Kenya’s withdrawal can only take effect about a year after the request has been received by the United Nations. What am I saying? The charges facing the two leaders as well as that of radio journalist Joshua Sang are a fait accompli

For this, Adan Duale and those harboring the same thoughts are making a futile attempt that does nothing but soil the name of our country in the eyes of the International Community, but even worse, it impacts negatively on the President and his deputy. 

Why the sudden butterflies? Why the seemingly desperate attempts to evade the charges, to a point of staging a deferral? Do they know something I don’t? Ambassador Francis Muthaura and Major General Hussein Ali were acquitted by the same court. Surely the two did not need an entourage of MPs to rally for the deferral of their cases.

The Jubilee coalitions should invest in a lot more intellectual knowledge than the mere politics informing the deferral. They should start by acknowledging the fact that the ongoing cases played a huge part in ensuring peace prevailed during the March 4 elections.

Forget that pep talk about the ICC targeting African countries.  If you put zero external supervision and a country where disputed elections are the order of the day, the imminent result is an ugly bloodbath! If you doubt me, follow proceedings in the DRC.

If really we are grown enough to throw our two hands scornfully at the ICC, then let’s have some tangible evidence to back it up. The clashes in Trans Mara, Tana River etc. depict the same incapacity to deal with our problems that forced us running for help from the ICC five years ago. 

That IDPs are still languishing in abject poverty five years on tells me that we could still do with a little help in dealing with our internal demons.

I am not rubbishing my countrymen’s plea to pull out, all I am saying is that if indeed we have the capacity to successfully try and prosecute the 2007/2008 perpetrators, don’t just give me the lip service, show me that we can.

Friday, 16 August 2013

Will A Parliamentary System Make Kenya A More United Country? Power Sharing Might Be a Better Solution

The recent calls for a referendum to change the Kenyan constitution and implement a parliamentary system of governance, rather than a presidential one, may remain just that, talk. However, that should not take away from the fact that many Kenyans, I included, are unhappy that despite a new constitution, we remain as divided along tribal lines as ever before.

The March 4th elections split the country right down the middle, with the two major coalitions garnering support from different tribes almost exclusively. Indeed, the candidates who attempted to run on other platforms such as national unity and “issue based politics” such as Professor ole Kiyiapi and Martha Karua performed dismally, coming dangerously close to being usurped by the comical Dida (where is he, by the way?)

This only served to remind Kenyans two things; firstly, that even with a new constitution, you cannot legislate a stronger nation, where national identity, values and ideology matter more in politics more than one’s tribe.  Secondly, it put ethnic identity and tribalism back at the centre of the national dialogue on politics, where it deserves to be. And this is where the hot political topic of the moment, whether we should change our political system to a parliamentary system rather than a presidential system, comes in.

The argument is this: as long as Kenyans are voting for a president, and certain tribes have the numbers, the control of state machinery, control of a subservient and intellectually bankrupt mainstream media and a judiciary whose reputation among Kenyans is still not positive, then the “other Kenyans” will never see their tribesmen as President or his Deputy. Instead, we should have a parliamentary system, where the strongest political party forms a government and elects a prime minister/president from within its ranks in government.

Of course, this argument has various holes. I do not think that a parliamentary system will promote national unity, since the very same Kenyans who are voting along tribal lines for a president will be the same people voting along tribal lines to elect their members of parliament and political parties. A parliamentary system requires very strong political parties, where the Members of Parliament realize it is only their support for their party in parliament that keeps the government in power. In a country like Kenya, where political parties are weak and lack the capacities to exist without the financial, political and personal support of the most powerful tribal chiefs, this would be a recipe for disaster. Imagine a situation where a government is only propped up by a few votes in Parliament. A few brown envelopes pushed to some hands would see mass defections to the opposition and the government would collapse and elections held. And of course, the proponents of this system fail to tell us how Kenyans uniting in political parties that are ethnic in character to choose a prime minister rather than a president makes tribal differences disappear.

But this is not to say that they do not have a point. As long as we are voting for a powerful president and only one group of tribes can win at the expense of others, ethnic divisions will remain part and parcel of our politics.

There have been various solutions tried in Africa and beyond to solve the ethnic character of politics in countries, and there is no magic bullet as yet. Indeed, despite the devolution and separation of powers tried in the United Kingdom it could see still the secession of Scotland, while the USSR and Yugoslavia collapsed long ago with the various ethnic nations in these countries becoming fully fledged nation states. Indeed, as is evidenced by the upheavals in Russian regions such as Dagestan, and the efforts of Kosovo to break away from Serbia, sometimes there is no end in sight in ethnic groups demanding sovereignty from a heterogenous multi-cultural nation once the process starts.

The efforts to support devolution and decentralization of powers from the national government should continue to be supported. But this will not be enough. I think, as I mentioned a while back in a post I did on tribalism in Maseno university politics, Kenyans should consider permanent power sharing and consociationalism. 

Consociation is a system of government whereby all major groups in a state are guaranteed representation and a seat in government. In such a situation, all the ethnic groups in the country would have a seat in government and political power guaranteed to them according to their relative populations, for example one tribe getting the presidency, others the prime minister, another tribe the vice president, others the speaker, and so on. Consociation has been attempted in Lebanon, and although the country is still divided and prone to ethnic violence, the system of government has quelled insecurity and civil war, as well as promoting coalitions in government and some semblance of an all-inclusive government.

Whether or not Kenyans change their constitution or not, we cannot run away from the fact that the process of forming a cohesive and united nation has not had the best results. Ethnicity and tribalism remains real, and unity is still a mirage. The conversation about the right of all communities to be part of government, and share fairly the political and economic benefits of being part of Kenya should continue. Hopefully it will someday lead to solutions we can use to unite all Kenyans of various ethnicities, economic classes and religions to unite in a legitimate government so that we can achieve socio-economic and political development together.