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September 19, 2018

Thou shall not steal, unless...

Thou shall not steal, unless...
Thou shall not steal, unless...

There are things we can change. There are also those we cannot change. We can change, for example, the way society treats those who pilfer public resources. But we cannot change external laws that define the natural order.

Civic education can make all the difference in understanding the borderline between the possible and the impossible. Recall St Francis of Assisi's 'Serenity Prayer': "God grant me the serenity to accept things I cannot change, the courage to change things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference."

The annual revival season of the Seventh Adventist Church ended last weekend with an interesting, but ad hoc reference to the laws God gave to Moses. The biblical Moses needed these laws to guide the Israelites after they left Egypt. The liberated slaves needed to be reminded of eternal gratitude and respect to God, who liberated them from the bondage of the Egyptians.

The Ten Commandments, which were given to Moses during the Exodus, still inform God's relationship with humanity. Religions that use the Bible to guide worship still rely on the laws of Moses to define humanity's relationship with God.

The laws also moderate people-to-people relations in everyday life. The particular reference during the last day at Nyamila SDA Convention of six congregations in Karachuonyo was, "thou shall not steal".

Stealing can be defined as low-level theft, just as corruption is exploitation of public office for self-enrichment. But both are sins in the religious sense. And there is no small or big sin. But human hypocrisy draws the line.

Christians, who are the majority of taxpayers in Kenya, refer to the Ten Commandments regularly during Sabbath and Bible lessons. But there are no serious attempts to link the commandment to constant breaches of this law in secular life. The expectation would be that since most Kenyans are Christians, they would be a bulwark against plunder of public funds. Yet corruption remains a challenge to national development in a largely Christian and God-fearing country.

Billions of shillings that should fund basic services for the poor, end up in the pockets of a few individuals. The few individuals are Christians, who read the same Bible that the victims of this plunder do.

The laws of Moses also regulate how people relate to each other in well-ordered societies. Defying any of the Ten Commandments is sin, and there is no major or minor sin. Some of these laws have found their way, in different forms, in secular legislation.

The wages of sin is death for the poor. Rewards for the corrupt is election to public office and national honours on Jamhuri Day.

There are verifiable cases of public officers who preside over the plunder of millions of shillings of taxpayers' money. They use the money to buy their way into or sustain themselves in public office. Sometimes they steal millions of shillings, but show up in fundraising in the same schools to donate a tenth of the proceeds of impunity. It's fine for a public servant to steal maize from your farm. This maize can also be sold to you at a fair price. Chicken thieves steal for themselves; rich thieves sometimes share proceeds of impunity with their victims.

There is this mindset that it is alright for the rich and those in authority to plunder public funds, but it is wrong for the village pumpkin thief to steal from his neighbour's kitchen garden.

Those who plunder billions of shillings of public money are celebrated and honoured. Those who steal chicken are lynched and killed. Sometimes the little thieves are declared pariahs - fit to be ostracized from civilized society. They are declared unfit to live among responsible citizens. The same people who lynch chicken thieves also glorify those accused of corruption. Big-time corruption is rewarded with opportunities to plunder some more. Little thieves are bullied, lynched and buried. The world isn't fair to petty thieves.

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