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February 17, 2019

Evictions: Insincerity of activists, MPs and evictees

Residents of Narok held demonstration to support the Mau evictions in Narok town on Monday.
Residents of Narok held demonstration to support the Mau evictions in Narok town on Monday.


“Спасибо” – This means thank you in Russian. It was the note left by the heartbroken Japanese national football team in their locker room after they cleaned it spotless.

Not only was the world stunned at this gesture, but also more astonishing was that they did not have to do it, and particularly when they had been knocked out of the World Cup at the eleventh hour. They did it anyway. And their devastated fans, with teary eyes, cleaned up the bleachers. Japan had redefined sportsmanship and selflessness.

Meanwhile, we have had our own share of evictions but with contrary endings. Boda boda riders were evicted from operating in the Nairobi city centre in a bid to decongest traffic and reduce accidents. Kibera residents residing on a road reserve were this week evicted to pave way for a road construction; and Mau Forest dwellers were evicted to protect East Africa’s single most important watershed and lifeline for wildlife and the people.

However, unlike the genteel mannerisms displayed by the Japanese football team, our evictees displayed coarse reactions of protest chaos, which were fueled by human rights activists and politicians’ allegations of inhumane treatment. These allegations sanitised the evictees and rebranded them from encroachers to victims.

Sadly, we have become a nation of victims. We dodge collective responsibility and yell “haki yetu” each time we want to exculpate ourselves from blame and project our faults and guilt onto others. We pitch every legal attempt to reclaim public resources as a battle between good and evil: Us against them.

And this is the tragedy of the commons. The commons is a public resource shared by many individuals. No individual has a claim to any part of the resource, but rather to the use of a portion of it for his or her own benefit. The tragedy is the absence of regulation or abstinence of its enforcement, and consequently each individual exploits the resource to their own advantage without limit. Benefits accrue to a few encroachers, while the costs are spread among all other taxpayers. Ultimately, the public resource is depleted and eventually ruined.

The context of our tragedy of commons is as follows. Data from the National Transport and Safety Authority shows Nairobi has the highest number of motorcycle fatalities. Just this year alone, 412 motorcyclists and their pillion passengers have died and 702 injured. Last year, Nairobi bagged the prize of being the third worst city in the world on traffic congestion. According to traffic index, Nairobi residents spend an average of 62.60 minutes in traffic. This translates to losing productivity of approximately Sh12 billion every month, according to the World Bank. The Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars estimates that 60 per cent of the water draining into Lake Victoria comes from the Mau Forest. About 160 million people depend on River Nile for their livelihoods, whose source is Lake Victoria. The question that begs is, should we protect a few at the expense of the majority?

A cottage industry has emerged of a victimhood culture, where groups of people based on carefully selected identity, demand to have their victimhood status recognised and addressed. Politicians and human rights activists leverage this bandwagon of victim politics because the appeal of identity politics undeniably commands public attention and sympathy. Tragic news events drives public discourse which keeps them in the limelight.  They attribute a kind of superior virtue to those who claim to be victimised by rallying emotive calls for reforms or restitutions for wrongs meted out on them. Unfortunately, this quashes all debate and moral reasoning, and, in the end, does little to resolve genuine oppression and suffering.

But what happened to protecting our social contract? Should human rights and voters might trump morality and the respect of the rule of law?

To live harmoniously as a society, we abide by a social contract because life in the state of nature is one of fear and selfishness and devoid of laws and regulations. This makes it poor, short, nasty and brutish. This agreement means people need to respect each other to make life tolerable. To do so, we tacitly consent and surrender parts of our freedom to a governing authority. In return, the governing authority protects our life, property and liberties through an enforcement mechanism. Therefore, our liberties must be limited so that we don’t hurt each other. 

I thus make two submissions.

One, the state should apply the principle of the Golden Mean in their bid to reclaim public resources. This tenet holds that good is to be found in a balance between extremes because right thinking cannot occur in a state of deficiency or excess. Therefore, in the ongoing evictions, the state should neither be cowed from their intention, nor should they be reckless and use excessive force to show their zeal. They should instead employ the virtue of courage, which is the Golden Mean under these circumstances.

Two, self-appropriation of public resources increases the likelihood of neglect. When people do not privately own a resource they are utilizing, they assume someone else will take care of it instead of taking responsibility themselves. This breeds constant strife and discord among its users. I, therefore, suggest that the evictees should borrow a leaf from the Japanese football team and say thank you - “Спасибо” - for the time that society has tolerated their habitation on what collectively belongs to us by virtue of our social contract, and peacefully leave these spaces tidier than they found them.

My unsolicited advice to the evictees, having problems does not make you noble or virtuous. Like the rest of us, it makes you human, not victims. So do not set the bar so low and give predatory institutions the power to continue victimising you. By labelling you victims, they are flattering you. And flattery, like chewing gum, is meant to be enjoyed for a short while, not swallowed.


Lies and victimhood make evil possible – Dennis Prager 



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