APPRECIATION OF THE IRRATIONAL

Coronavirus pandemic offers lessons in Kenya politics

To understand much that goes on in this country, you must learn to be at home with irrationality and contradiction.

In Summary
  • There are many who are seriously convinced that the whole thing is a gigantic hoax.
  • But nobody will be quicker to immediately isolate themselves from infected or recovered neighbours than these coronavirus-denialists.

Consider this: In-between elections, it is common for Kenyans to complain that not enough “youth and women” have been appointed to top posts, and that if only the government would infuse its ranks with “youth and women”, many of our national problems (and above all, that of official corruption) would promptly be addressed.

Something I mentioned a month or two ago, is that it is always interesting to see how many new writers emerge to successfully invade the forums of mainstream public debate during any crisis.

What I mean by this is that Kenyans from various walks of life who had never really considered themselves as “writers” will have some experience – either traumatic or comforting – relating to whatever this crisis is, and feel a compulsion to share their views with the public.

And it then turns out that they had all along had an impressive grasp of the arts of narrative, only they had not realised it. Or maybe they knew all along but felt no need to come out and write what they felt – until now.

Whatever the case, and for the benefit of all those newly hatched commentators who may – going forward – continue to contribute to public debate, I would like to offer a few words of advice.

First is that you cannot really understand our country, and thus comment effectively on its affairs, without what I shall call “an appreciation of the irrational”.

What do I mean by this?

Well, consider one of the most common features of our response to this coronavirus pandemic. On the one hand, you will see – mostly on TV interviews, but maybe also in remarks from your own circle of friends and relatives – that they are many who are seriously convinced that the whole thing is a gigantic hoax.

Why it should be a hoax is never clear – after all, when in our history has any of our governments, however corrupt, set out to deceive the entire nation that there was a deadly virus in the air, when in fact there was no such thing. Indeed, if it is a hoax, how was it possible to get virtually all national governments in the world to play a role in perpetuating this hoax?

And then comes some major scam in which massive sums are stolen from the public purse. And when in due course the indictments roll out, lo and behold, there are a good number of relatively young people, as well as quite a few women among the accused.

But then, let word get around that someone in the neighbourhood of these coronavirus-denialists be rumoured to be infected with (or even to have recovered from) this virus that they insist is a pure fiction, and nobody will be quicker to immediately isolate themselves from these neighbours.

The question which then arises is, why would you stigmatise this person who is said to be infected by a virus which you have all along insisted did not exist?

My point then is that if you want to understand much that goes on in this country – and go beyond your personal experience of whatever trauma it is that led you to write for publication in a newspaper in the first place – you must learn to be totally at home with such irrationality and contradiction.

Consider this: In-between elections, it is common for Kenyans to complain that not enough “youth and women” have been appointed to top posts, and that if only the government would infuse its ranks with “youth and women”, many of our national problems (and above all, that of official corruption) would promptly be addressed.

And then comes some major scam in which massive sums are stolen from the public purse. And when in due course the indictments roll out, lo and behold, there are a good number of relatively young people, as well as quite a few women among the accused.

Some are actually young women and so qualify on both criteria.

The National Youth Service scandal for example, had quite a fairly young woman prominent among those who were hauling sacksful of cash out of one car boot, and into another, in the middle of the night.

Still, come the setting up of the next government, the same cry will arise: if this government intends to succeed, it had better give priority to youth and women.

Finally, Kenyans like to declare that they have no interest in tribe, only “development”, when it comes to selecting their leaders. And they will say this for four straight years between elections.

But once the votes are counted after any such election, nothing will be more uncompromisingly clear than that Kenyans voted on strictly tribal or regional lines, and as directed by their tribal or regional political overlords.