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Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Is evil on a victory lap in Kenya?

Is corruption and other forms of moral depravity the new normal in our society? Has common decency been bludgeoned out of existence? Are we afraid to stand up for what is right?

Corruption and all kinds of moral depravity could be the new normal because; half of Kenyan youth believe it doesn’t matter how one makes money; 47 percent admire those who make money through hook or crook; 35 percent would take or give a bribe and; 30 percent believe corruption is profitable. Moreover, 73 percent are afraid to stand up for what is right. See no evil and hear no evil.

Last week I was privileged to join outstanding young Kenyans at the Wangari Mathai Foundation’s Youth Cafe. These men, drawn from across this great land were passionate, visionary, ambitious, altruistic and unbowed. We talked about who they are, their personal stories, their ups and downs. We talked about their source – what made them who they are or what they are continually evolving into. We talked about values – the essence and the banks of their beliefs and principles. They shared their thoughts and experiences as children growing up, as college students, as citizens and as young parents.

We also talked about this unprecedented demographic moment in our history. Unprecedented because Kenyans aged below 35 constitute about 80 percent of our population. It is unprecedented because the median age in Kenya less than 20 years. It is unprecedented because the future of this country is not being manufactured by some extraterrestrial beings or providence. The construction of the future is happening before our own eyes, through policy, investment, moral and ethical choices we make today.

These young men were clear about some fundamental things in ways that horrify and inspire. In their view, the pursuit of material success – high grades, power and money – has supped all the juice for goodness and moral integrity among young people. They also believe that what many young men like them have become is what society has poured into them. They believe there is a debilitating dearth of positive role models in our society.

During the conversation about leadership – at all levels in the society – they delivered a most powerful indictment; “fish rots from the head”. The imagery is powerful and insightfully sobering.  They believe that this country has too many leaders – academic, business, religious, civil society, political – but woefully lacks leadership.

In their view failed leadership is at the heart of Kenya’s predicament – runaway corruption in both public and private sector egged by a greedy citizens, lazy and disengaged citizens unwilling to hold all of us to account, faith leaders who have chosen to pass the other way, unwilling to attend to a wounded and bleeding society.

My frustration is with the overabundance of cleaver diagnosis – data and anecdotes – of our predicament but limited capacity to mobilize for action and change. We must escape from the purgatory of analysis paralysis. Let’s do something, you and I.

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