Like me, you are probably coming off the Obama high. I almost cannot believe that he actually visited us while he is in office, too cool.
But glamour, star-struck-ness and all his fabulosity aside – I really loved what he had to say to us. I cannot, though, be the only one who is struck by the fact he did not really tell us anything new. Sure we are developing, and Kenya is a hotbed of investment, innovation and entrepreneurship. Of course we should stop oppressing each other based on tribe and other differences. The marginalisation of women and their continued disenfranchisement costs us dearly, and will continue to do so. The youth are our future and entrepreneurship creates jobs and opportunities for us all. And the equitable distribution of resources needs to be addressed sooner rather than later.
We have heard these sentiments time and again, but of course reiterated by our most successful export, they now have greater import.
Having thought about his words for a few days now, I cannot help but notice what seems to be in the way if achieving these lofty goals, bringing these ideals to fruition, is a discriminatory mentality that allows us to treat people badly when we get the opportunity. Men discriminate against women, one tribe against another, homophobes against homosexuals, authority figures punish or harass their juniors….and the list goes on.
Isn’t it time we start asking where this mentality comes from?
I know that we do not own this sin – discrimination is a global issue – but if we are to curb it, or at least mitigate our opportunities to display our ugliness, we must start by asking why we as Kenyans succumb to this type of cruelty.
Is it a poverty mentality so that we think there isn’t enough for us and our kind, so we must protect whatever little power or resource we have within reach? Are we simply cruel and ready to humiliate those we think of as different from us? Do we feel such little kinship with our fellow Kenyans that we can easily disregard them for our own benefit, or worse, just to see them suffer? Do we gain something socially when we are seen to protect our own or more accurately, get in the way of the success of others? Are we willfully ignorant of other people’s experience so that we can treat them badly and remain blissfully unaware?
What is clear – and yes President Obama said it – is the achievement of an equitable Kenya begins with each citizen. It is up to us to choose differently. To employ across tribal lines, to treat men and women alike, to create opportunities for young people in our workplaces, to fight corruption because it eats at all of us, to support those of us who bravely stick their necks out fighting to improve a specific space (for example, education, human rights and so on), and to honour our democracy by supporting our government even if we did not choose it.