WARAH: Morally, intellectually corrupt politics causes countries’ ruin

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By RASNA WARAH
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It has become increasingly difficult for me to argue rationally with people who are of the Jubilee persuasion about why this country is headed towards a sharp decline economically, politically and, importantly, socially.

Their default position on every argument I make is that Raila Odinga and Nasa are not any better than what we now have, and so we should let the status quo remain.

Demonising Raila and Nasa is their way of diverting attention from the issues at stake. When tribe is (explicitly or subtly) factored in, the argument leads nowhere.

I have no rosy illusions about Raila’s or Nasa’s ability to get the country moving on the right path; I am not so naïve to believe that Kenya under their leadership will become a better place overnight. But I do know one thing: The path we are on is treacherous and could lead to the country’s ruin.

A recent article by the American author James Traub that was published in Foreign Policy explains how even the most powerful and politically stable countries can collapse when decadence and depravity become the norm.

Traub predicts that, like the once-mighty Roman Empire, the United States will lose its power, thanks to a decadent elite that licenses degraded behaviour. Under President Donald Trump xenophobia, misogyny and racism have become normalised and narcissism and self-interest have replaced altruism and cooperation, he says.

“Perhaps in a democracy the distinctive feature of decadence is not debauchery but terminal self-absorption—the loss of the capacity for collective action, the belief in common purpose, even the acceptance of a common form of reasoning,” writes Traub.

Another characteristic of societies that are on the verge of collapse is extreme inequality. Almost all revolutions in history came about because the toiling masses were fed up with a self-absorbed minority elite that hoarded the society’s resources for its own benefit rather that of the majority.

There are many similarities between what is happening in the US and what we are experiencing.

In the US, those who question the Trump administration are dismissed as pessimistic cynics who do not understand the government’s “transformative development agenda”. The US president dismisses any report that he does not like or which is critical of his policies as “fake news”, which he counters by employing an army of propagandists.

Traub describes this mentality thus: “Your story fights my story; if I can enlist more people on the side of my story, I own the truth.” Owning “the truth” means distorting facts so that they suit Trump’s personal and political interests. Under Trump, scientific evidence has become a dirty term and journalists are vilified and called liars. Climate change is no longer a reality — it is just a figment of the opposition’s imagination.

Similarly, in Kenya, we refuse to critically examine the Jubilee administration’s debt love affair with China, which could have dire economic consequences; nor are we willing to acknowledge that a two-tribe oligarchy at the helm of national affairs can sow the seeds of discord and disunity and, perhaps, even lead to the fragmentation of the country.

We do not question why people who have been implicated in mega corruption scandals are now running counties or why the “Githeri Man” receives State honours while our world-famous athletes have to use their own resources to compete because funds assigned to them are stolen by those in charge of their welfare.

We do not ask church leaders why they accept donations from corrupt politicians, nor do we question leaders who spend millions of shillings in public funds on unnecessary self-promoting junkets while there are millions of people in the country who do not have enough food for their families.

Our society is fragmenting in other ways too: Before, only some government departments demanded bribes before rendering a service; now, despite — or, maybe, because of — digitisation, asking for bribes has become near-universal if the reports that I hear are true.

And when the majority of youth in the country, as a recent survey showed, say that their ambition is to become rich and that they don’t care if they use corrupt or criminal means to achieve this, you know that decadence has set in.

Traub, who has penned several books on world affairs, says a democratic society becomes decadent when its politics becomes morally and intellectually corrupt. I am afraid Kenya may be headed that way.



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