Watch your kraal, I’m about to unleash the cattle rustler in me

Thursday October 17 2019

Our greatest failure is that we have not cultivated the culture of thinking deeply and discussing stuff to make clever decisions. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP


I have decided to indulge the cattle rustler in me, the beast that has been lurking in the darker recesses of my personality, biding its time, waiting for a moment to strike.

A friend, no doubt under the undue influence of Lagavulin, has accused me of being safe, proper and unwilling to let my hair (if I had any) down.

Well, we’ll see about that. But this is no way to write; let me lay the rhetorical gabions first.

I’ve been in a state of creative depression these past couple of months, a period of deep, brooding, rumination which usually precedes big decisions.

This is not unusual for middle-aged men anxious to confirm that they haven’t squandered their youth in useless and frivolous pursuits.

Some quiet moments have been spent snacking on the philosophy of morality — the study of right and wrong — and how things have changed!



Anyone who has had the misfortune of having to read Bertrand Russell in the original — the philosophy books, not the quote books peddling “Of all forms of caution, caution in love is, perhaps, the most fatal to true happiness” — know how utterly complex philosophy can be.

But with the internet, things are wonderfully easier. You can read notes from American universities, where the students are fed what in my tribe is called “tutu”; knowledge is thoroughly masticated and mixed with lots of saliva, then gently fed into the gaping beaks of intellectual babes.

When in a position of responsibility, as most middle-aged people are, life is purpose-driven.

The most important qualification is being able to isolate decision-making from the routine grind and imperatives of one’s career in the service of the larger goal.


The failure of Africa to take advantage of independence can be traced to the simple fact that its leaders are not good at either finding purpose or rising above, and therefore sacrificing their desires in the service of the common.

Kenyans, in general, are not purpose people. Those who have watched the movie "London has Fallen" will remember the order: “Marine Two, prepare for sacrifice.”

Marine One was out of countermeasures and a missile was streaking towards it. The only way the President could be saved was by Marine Two getting between Marine One and the incoming missile.

Altruism — making choices that serve not one’s own interests but the greater good — is a grossly under-developed concept among us.

People can’t be civilised if they think only about selves, stealing public money and hiding it in Dubai in quantities they or their families can never spend.


Few are the people who have the moral, and sometimes physical, courage to speak out or act on a matter of principle.

And sometimes we mistake people acting out of the most crass self-interest as being driven by ethical impetus.

Read up on “bounded ethicality” — how our own interests and external influences complicate our ability to make ethical choices and “conformity bias”, people’s unwillingness to break from the herd and stand for what is right.

Our greatest failure is that we have not cultivated the culture of thinking deeply and discussing stuff to make clever decisions.

Intellectual laziness may as well be a national epidemic. Many times we are shallow and not able to divorce our feelings from the things we are trying to reason out.

I was amused last week by the outrage that greeted a comment by editor Linus Kaikai praising retired President Moi and my own column which tried to see both sides of the man.

Miguna Miguna took to Twitter to condemn me as a tribalist for daring to look at Mr Moi the way I do.


Many people see in Mr Miguna an insufferable, dangerous, combustible, irascible, touchy, rude, self-righteous gasbag.

But I also see him as a brave non-conformist whose rights should not be taken away just because people don’t like him and his views.

I, therefore, unfailingly support him even when he is suing us, abusing us and is in no position to confer any benefits to us.

That is not to say I, and any of my colleagues, are, to nick President Donald Trump’s rather ungrateful term about the Kurds he betrayed, angels. Of course we’re not. But there is a burden we carry.

Which brings me, belatedly, to this somewhat meandering piece. I’ve been hearing a lot about how the father is the priest of the home, how his blessings are the most powerful.

Nothing in my genetic make-up — a mishmash of Pokomo, possibly Kamba, Turkana, perhaps a dollop of Somali, Samburu, Ogiek and God-knows-what-else — has prepared me for the priestly piece.

Where I come from (we are hunters and gathers, pastoralists and cultivators) we have traditionally dealt with a problem either by cutting off its head and transporting the dripping organ to a Report Office or nursing it like our crops.


The men of my tribe are raised to be caregivers — from the cultivator heritage — taking care of the family, the community and the nation.

As young men, we’re expected to steal for our fathers. But it’s as middle-aged men that we’re expected to take care of everyone: build and take care of the cattle dip, build your schools and guard your crops from elephants, fight hyenas and so on.

The middle-aged man is there for everyone; he is their altruist. But rarely does anyone do anything for him. So I’ve decided, as a gift to myself on my 50th, I’m going to let out the cattle rustler. Watch your kraal!

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