When it comes to public debate, Kenyans love their opinions hotter than high school porridge. It is as if the Kenyan tongue comes hard-wired for controversy; you’ll rarely find us discussing politicians who carry their brains to Parliament. We have an inbuilt app that worships politicians who are dramatic and hollow.
We light up whenever we come into contact with public officials who incite us to violence. We have a love affair with politicians who are antagonistic and brazen, and whose public utterances are petty and personal. We are famous for picking fights with other countries on social media, and for being experts in almost everything under the sun – from quantum physics to voodoo dolls.
This past week, news filtered in from Australia that Esther Arunga – the former full-time television anchor and part-time lawyer – was facing time behind bars for lying to the court regarding the circumstances surrounding the death of her son. Kenyans’ reaction was so instant and explosive, you’d have thought Esther had discovered the cancer vaccine and thrown it in a bin. Even those who only see the Kenya School of Law on television had already gone through Esther’s case file, argued the case and passed judgment on her personal morality and motherhood instincts.
We are so obsessed with Ms Arunga’s personal misfortunes we forget the pressing national issues threatening to wind up this country and put us in the league of failed states. We aren’t concerned that maize flour is about to become more expensive than ignorance. Governors even held a protest warning us that counties are now more broke than a church mouse, and we already have fake new currency notes in circulation even before the fate of the face of Mzee Jomo Kenyatta on them is known.
We have preoccupied ourselves with Esther Arunga and discussed her personal tribulations so passionately she has featured on the trending charts every day of the past week — never mind that the last time Esther was in Kenya, William Ruto was still in ODM, Maranda was a provincial school and Kipchumba Murkomen was still combing his hair.
The commentaries on Esther have been nasty, brutish and long. Those with big mouths have reminded us to let Esther shower in her own tears and save our bear hugs for sickly pets in animal orphanages. The words describing her current predicament have been more awful than a public toilet and the celebrations wilder than the jungle.
This country judges private citizens more harshly than public officials. We spare the worst adjectives for private immorality and gloss over, if not make excuses for, lack of public ethics. We police people’s bedrooms, condemn certain sexual orientations, fat-shame those struggling with weight loss, and bully those who change their skin complexion. If you want a Kenyan to win the gold medal in the Darts World Championships, all you need is to cover the board with the image of a woman who was raped and murdered and watch us hit the bull’s eye with eyes closed times without number.
But when it comes to breach of public trust by government officials, the raw enthusiasm begins to dissipate especially when it is your tribal tin-god who’s being carved apart for carting away public funds for personal use. We not only glorify looters but also reward them with high office, and when they’re thrown in jail to make friends with fellow jiggers who also suck innocent blood, their supporters get touchy and start issuing threats.
We throw parties in jail for celebrity criminals while recommending the death penalty for women who procure abortions. We look the other way when presidential elections are rigged, but come out guns blazing when a picture of two female celebrities kissing surfaces on Instagram. We cover our mouths whenever our sports heroes are treated worse than dump-site trash, but suddenly find our voices when a female musician wears a skirt the size of a military belt to a concert.
If only we dedicated every day of the week to judging the performance of public officials, Kenyans would already have known the identity of the stowaway who died in that KQ flight to London, what happened to the fake billions found in a bank’s strong room months ago, when Kenyans will receive their Huduma Namba, and why a former Mungiki leader is masquerading as a defender of the common man instead of clapping at giant mosquitos in jail. Kenyans are extremely obsessed with the personal lives of private individuals, to the detriment of our country’s growth and economic development.
Mr Oguda comments on topical issues; [email protected]