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


  1. I tend to steer clear of dictionary definitions whenever I try to understand things as they are because the lived experience is always so different. For example if we were to look at the dictionary definition of racism we would find

    "the belief that all members of each race possess characteristics, abilities, or qualities specific to that race, especially so as to distinguish it as inferior or superior to another race or races:
    theories of racism
    prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against someone of a different race based on the belief that one’s own race is superior:
    a programme to combat racism""

    Now this sound quite clinical and efficient, but in the real world racism is more messy. Racism is the erased history of people of color and the continuous white washing of narratives of our history. Racism can be the person with African, Indian and Latino friends who are 'American' who votes for an administration to control borders in inhumane ways and who supports an administration that conducts unethical aggression in countries that are majority people of color. It is a sense of superiority over others that goes beyond black and white simplicity and that affects peoples lives negatively beyond being called a racist term. As far as cultures and values are concerned I believe that in many ways many groups in this country are still subaltern, which results in a value system that is based on the dominating culture. This may be colonial or tribal or through a class system but nonetheless we know dominant cultures usually become that way through violence so it becomes tough to blame Kenyans for their lack of culture as they are still 'victims'.

    1. I understand the complexities of values and cultures, it is so hard to put it down in words really, but as a Kenyan I easily is going to take years and years to do so.We have to change the system one person at a time,till the system is ready to crumble.
      dominant cultures are usually so hard to erase or overthrow aren't they?what do we do as Kenyans to stop being victims...stop being subjugated.

  2. Very interesting!!!! Majority Kenyans are indeed settlers...but why?

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