CURBING CORONAVIRUS

Virus: Kenyans inherently indisciplined, irresponsible and unethical

Citizens must take up their individual and collective responsibilities.

In Summary

• Many Kenyans are inherently indisciplined, irresponsible and unethical.

•  It is, therefore, not farfetched to argue that more often than not, Kenyans are authors or co-authors of their own misfortunes.

Business as usual for traders at Wakulima Market on March 25, 2020
INDISCIPLINE: Business as usual for traders at Wakulima Market on March 25, 2020
Image: MERCY MUMO

The ongoing national response to the outbreak of Covid-19 brings with itself lessons of monumental significance to all Kenyans.

One of them is citizens’ responsibility vis-à-vis duties of the government in the enjoyment of individual rights and protection of public good.

To contextualise this argument, I revisit the social contract theory, first explored in ancient Greece by Plato, a renowned Greek philosopher, and later advanced by Thomas Hobbes, which underscores the relationship between citizens and their governments.

 
 
 

The overriding objective of the social contract is that for individuals to effectively realise their pursuit of happiness, they ought to cooperate and cede part of their happiness and freedoms for the common good of all.

As part of the social contract, the government of Kenya has the legal and moral responsibility to manage public affairs on the benefit of all. This presupposes that rights accrue for the citizens and duties on the state. Indeed, the Constitution vests all sovereign power on the people and decrees that all persons exercising public authority do so in trust for the people.

Sanctions that include removal from office are prescribed for holders of public office who violate this hallowed public trust. The Constitution expressly prescribes an avalanche of rights for the citizens including the right to health, safety, socio-economic rights, and clean environment, among many others.

Whereas the government often implements diverse measures aimed at protecting the welfare of its people and enabling them to enjoy their rights, majority of citizens, not only fail in their civic responsibilities, but are also oblivious of the fact that all rights have corresponding responsibilities. Indeed, the degree to which a right is to be realised or enjoyed is directly proportional to the extent of the discharge of the corresponding responsibilities.

In the wake of this civic responsibility crisis, the most disturbing question is how then is the government expected to guaranteed full attainment of citizens’ rights?

During this Covid-19 crisis, it is clear in the minds of all right-thinking persons that the greatest responsibility in containing the pandemic is on individual citizens. While citizens of other countries have heeded their governments’ call to embrace the prescribed preventive measures, it is a sad tale in Kenya.

Citizens have largely, and for no justifiable reason, failed on their part. They have continued with their daily lives with utter disregard for the extraordinary nature of these moments. 

 
 
 

It is clear even to those who harbour natural hate for the government or any its officials, that it is making significant effort protect its people. It is doing what is in its purview and has issued guidelines on the complementary responsibilities of citizens for compliance. Unfortunately, as severally stated by Heath CS Mutahi Kagwe in his daily briefs, the levels of indiscipline and irresponsibility on the part of citizens are alarming.

It is distasteful and extremely annoying that in spite of the danger that coronavirus poses, Kenyans still conduct themselves as though it were business as usual. Not even experiences of countries such as Italy have awaken our conscience. One wonders what goes on in the minds of those who are deliberately engaging in actions they know or ought to know will exacerbate the spread of this dangerous virus. One must also wonder why Kenyans should be policed to take actions that require basic logic and aimed at safeguarding their own welfare.

It is difficult to comprehend, for instance, why one would have a problem with merely observing hygiene, social distance, avoiding non-essential movements or isolating themselves as appropriate. Similarly bewildering in equal force is why some individuals have exhibited an insatiable appetite to enrich themselves from this pandemic.

We have seen them hiking prices of hotels and goods required to help the country contain the pandemic. To them, what matters the most is the advancement of self-interest at all costs, even if it means the death and suffering of their countrymen and women. Such greed and primitive accumulation in situations of this nature points to serious moral decay that Kenyans need to deal with, if we are to have a prosperous society that guarantees happiness for all.

This integrity quagmire is appalling and mechanisms to severely sanction such inhuman characters ought to be implemented without further delay. These individuals are no better than killers and robbers.

Going by the above observations, it is safe to conclude that many Kenyans are inherently indisciplined, irresponsible and unethical. It is, therefore, not farfetched to argue that more often than not, Kenyans are authors or co-authors of their own misfortunes.

Notably, Covid-19 is not the first national challenge to which citizens have failed in their responsibility. Similarly, citizens are co-authors of the corruption pandemic in Kenya on account of their failure to discharge their complementary responsibilities.

Surveys have shown that Kenyans love corruption and even those who do not engage in it, tolerate it. We glorify corruption. We castigate and ridicule the public officers who uphold integrity and fail to enrich themselves with public resources. To be point blank, we consider them foolish. On the other hand, we complain about the catastrophic effects of corruption in our nation.

It is the people who sometimes elect into office politicians we know to be morally ill but complain later that the government is not doing enough when such thieves steal our resources. As the ultimate victims of corruption, citizens should be in the forefront to not only shun corruption but also refuse to tolerate it.

As Kenyans, we must admit that majority of us have failed our motherland by deliberately contributing to the exacerbation of our national challenges. For the country to realise its goals and in order to secure common good in all aspects, citizens must take up their individual and collective responsibilities. Only then they can have the moral authority to pursue full enjoyment of their rights and entitlements in the social contract.         

The popular mantra of Serikali saidia should be preceded by self-discipline and responsibility. A cultural re-engineering is urgently needed.

The writer is a lawyer based in Nairobi.

([email protected])