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To democracy, we must add discipline

Monday December 16 2013

Bitange Ndemo

Bitange Ndemo 

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I have taught myself to be very patient but I see no reciprocity in our people.

I firmed up this thinking after it took me three hours to drive a three-kilometre distance between Karen Shopping Centre and Junction Mall by Dagoretti Corner on Saturday evening.

If we had all behaved, it should have taken motorists less than 30 minutes to cover the distance.

Motorbikes rode on the right side of the drivers, while others rode on the wrong side of the road. Push-carts crisscrossed the road as though they had priority.

Some drivers were in such a hurry that they created a parallel lane on the left side of the more patient ones. As though they owned the road, they created their own rules, flashing their headlights onto oncoming vehicles.

We all sat in our vehicles pensively and in consternation, as we watched these many Kenyans who lacked a sense of responsibility and decorum.


What irked me most is the fact that there was no remorse of having done any wrong. When they wanted to rejoin the correct lane, they directed their finger there, and as you broke to allow them back, in they were never grateful.

God knows how we have lived with these Neanderthals for so long.

James Gichuru Road was clogged with nothing moving.

I decided to drive down Ngong Road, and right by the former Kenya Science Teachers College, now a University of Nairobi campus, I ran into a rowdy mob of youths flagging me down. They were too many to take any risk to stop.

Instinct told me to drive on fast. I was not lucky; the youths were armed with huge stones. A barrage of rocks landed on my vehicle. They completely shattered the right side of my car. By sheer luck, I and my wife escaped unhurt.

We drove on more shattered glass. Evidently I was not alone on this ordeal. Other vehicles before mine had endured the same.

This was random violence by the youths. It could have been their parent or relative they were stoning. They were irresponsible and seemed not accountable to anybody.

Further ahead by Impala Club, we were once more stuck as panic motorists tried to figure out their safety. In the melee of frustrated motorists, we dialled 112 and within some 20 minutes, armed policemen arrived.

Without windows to my car, I greet a couple driving on the opposite side and ask what is happening down the road. “Just grid-lock”, the man told me. He then goes on to ask me “What happened to your car?” “Youths up the road throwing stones”, I responded. My wife turns to me and asks, “How does one govern people who do not respect the rule of law?”

“This is precisely the argument we just had at the Hemingways Hotel in Karen a few hours ago”, I responded. In this social gathering, some prominent lawyers, CEOs and some African Diplomats differed on the future leadership of Africa.

Whilst some felt that Africa needed benevolent dictators, others thought that giving democracy a chance would in the long run yield better outcomes for Africa.

Further, even if we chose benevolence, there is no known methodology of consistently getting such dictators.

Indeed, much of Asia would not be where it is at the moment without benevolent dictatorships. It was argued that whereas Singapore, Malaysia, Korea, and yes, China succeeded with benevolent dictators, Africa mostly got non-benevolent dictators in Uganda, Central Republic of Africa, Somalia and many more countries.

It would be too risky to attempt that route once more.

Most of the discussants were complimentary of the Rwandan model and questioned if the cut-and-paste model of western democracy really works.

Someone argued that there was no point of complaining about leadership in any “democratic” African state when the needs of the electorate are nothing but physiological (food, shelter and clothing).

It is absurd to think that we can elect any leader based on issues when our thinking is vertical starting from the family, clan, tribe and country in that order. The problem is even compounded when the educated advisors work on the basis of their selfish ends.

An example was given of former Nigerian President, the late Murtala Mohamed. When he made the citizen’s interests as a priority, he was assassinated for not taking care of the interests of those close to him.

What the discussants did not address while I was there is the fact that a majority of the countries that have successfully inculcated discipline among their people have instituted military service for most of the youth.

Singapore and Korea have a one year compulsory military service after high school.

In many western countries, majority of the youth go through disciplined services before embarking on their careers.

Some few years ago, Kenya introduced the National Youth Service that saw many high school graduates go through a disciplined programme. We may not have conducted some impact analysis on the programme, but studies from other countries show that you grow people who respect the rule of law through such discipline.

Irresponsible behaviour is costly and would certainly crop into the future lives of these youths. It may not be surprising to see people wanting to take up jobs in which they would never take any responsibility for their actions.

There must be a sense of responsibility in all of actions we take. Someone must be called to account for decisions that impact on our lives.

Dealing with irresponsibility requires tolerance, serenity and awareness of the person's general manners.

An irresponsible person is basically an ignorant person. We must fight ignorance with the same robustness we had when we fought colonialism in Africa.

My car windows were shattered but my heart was not. I am full of hope that one day the people of Africa, and especially the youth, will see sense in being responsible citizens.