Forgiveness is one of the most romanticised and abused virtues in Kenya, which makes it the perfect breeding ground for impunity.
In Kidum’s hit song “Nitafanya” featuring Lady Jaydee, he asks her not to count the number of times she has forgiven him because it’s like counting the number of times a child soils his nappy. These lyrics represent how the average Kenyan feels about forgiveness.
Ms Peninah Wangechi epitomises Lady Jaydee’s character. A story in the Daily Nation reports that her husband, Mr Samuel Ndirangu, stabbed her 17 times in her back, chest and face in a quarrel in Karatina, Nyeri County, in April 2019.
Ms Wangechi recently withdrew assault charges against him, saying she had forgiven him. Yes, he was set free.
Asked if she had been pressured to do so, Ms Wangechi said she’d done it of her own free will.
Well, her actions are unsurprising, given the amount of applause and approval such gestures of clemency often draw from society.
There are numerous news stories like this one, of spouses who go scot-free in domestic violence cases because one of them forgave the other. Some reconcile. Some go their separate ways. But justice is never served.
Perhaps this attitude towards forgiveness stems from the Good Book. In the book of Matthew, chapter 18, verse 21 and 22, Peter asks Jesus how many times he should forgive his brother who sins against him, and Jesus answers: “I tell you, not just seven times, but 77 times!”, signifying infiniteness.
Now, there’s nothing wrong with forgiveness. Even scientists agree that it helps improve the mental and physical health of the forgiver.
But forgiveness is often used an excuse for not seeking justice. Take our relationship with our debauched politicians, for example.
They are as quick to blunder as they are to seek forgiveness from Kenyans because they know it will be served piping hot, with a kachumbari salad on the side.
Forgiveness is the water they use to wash their hands right before the next cycle of plundering and clemency-seeking begins.
In May 2018, President Uhuru Kenyatta implored Kenyans and fellow politicians to forgive him if he said or did anything hurtful during the 2017 presidential campaign. He’s neither the first nor the last politician to do so.
It’s abundantly clear that nothing much has changed since forgiveness was sought and generously given.
And no, the physical and mental health of Kenyans has not improved. In fact, cancer and depression are finishing us off.
Perhaps in a bid to look good or stick to Bible teachings, Kenyans forgive even as they scream about painfully high taxation, an economy on its knees, biting unemployment, devastating poverty, mind-boggling corruption and ghost projects like the railway to nowhere.
Forgiveness may very well set one free, as is popularly suggested, but how free can one be when shackled with debt, disease and poverty?
The Kenya National Bureau of Statistics recently revealed that according to the latest figures from the Central Bank of Kenya, every Kenyan now owes lenders Sh130,349.
And with the Senate having given the nod to raising the debt ceiling to Sh9 trillion, this will rise to Sh189,218.
Additionally, the top three killers — malaria, cancer, HIV/Aids — have either infected or affected most Kenyans.
And 42 per cent live below the poverty line. One can’t help but fear that the rage boiling underneath the glossy surface of forgiveness will one day force its way up and explode, revealing the true feelings of Kenyans.
A good place to begin salvaging this is by attaching strings to forgiveness. Kenyans need to learn to forgive but still demand answers and hold people, especially politicians, accountable for their words and actions.
Politicians have benefited long enough from the benevolence of Kenyans. They’ve used up the 77 times recommended in the Bible. It’s about time they proved themselves worthy of it.
The writer is the editor, Living Magazine; [email protected]