Truth be told. We abhor standards. We always seek the easy and most convenient way out. Not the right way. This may largely be due to the way the colonialists arbitrarily imposed and ruthlessly enforced their standards on us.
For instance, it wasn’t uncommon for adult Africans to be whipped in public for what mzungu considered uncouth behavior. What’s more, the African was not allowed to patronize some exclusive joints or walk along some streets. In their world, Africans were primitive and with undesirable etiquette.
Come independence and natives breathed a huge shy of relief. You could now live where you want, the way you want without the overbearing mzungu standards. With this relief, our standards came tumbling down.
Around the same time, there was the national cake to be shared. Numerous job opportunities both in government and private firms were available courtesy of the departing whites. A number of their businesses and farms too were up for sale.
Naturally, Africans were mesmerized at the opportunity to acquire what belonged to the whites and start living like them. The scramble that ensued exemplified unbridled greed laced with tribalism, nepotism and the first hints of official corruption.
A story is told of the day our founding president lambasted in public one of the freedom fighters Bildad Kaggia. “Kaggia, what have you done for yourself? He thundered. “Show me what you have. Compare yourself with other freedom fighters. Look at Ngei. He has done very well with his coffee farm. What about you? Still talking about ours? What about yours?” You? Yourself and family?
Needless to say, the bell had been rung from the very top. Henceforth, nothing else mattered as long as your personal interest was taken care of. It didn’t matter that you were a leader with followers outside your family.
What followed was a stampede as civil servants and politicians scrambled for a piece of Kenya. Morals and standards were trampled upon. It was romoured that the founding president covertly sanctioned stealing- “Bora usipatikane.”
Suddenly, all our leaders were wealthy people. That’s how we came to associate leadership with wealth. The wealthier you were, the more respected you became and ofcourse the more deserving of a leadership position. A big stomach soon became a sign of respect. A symbol of wealth and coveted social status.
Our National values plummeted to new lows. We discovered that we could fix everything with a little money, connections and influence. Our leaders had acquired power to circumvent every procedure and rule in the book.
For example we could buy justice at the law courts. Those stringent requirements for job placements were diluted to suit African standards. The few officers who tried to be tough on standards were promptly reminded that we were now independent. Wacha ukoloni bwana was the password.
The abuse of standards and fall in values spread fast and furious. Somehow, we discovered that everything was open to manipulation. We started hiring the wrong people for the wrong reasons, to do the wrong jobs and taking them through the wrong training. Try Comparing a trained teacher, nurse or police officer in the 70s and 80s with what we have today. Government and related jobs in particular became a reward for political patronage rather than a duty to be done by qualified professionals.
In business, we were cutting corners and making humongous profits while at it. For example, we could evade taxes, compromise quality and bribe the authorities to facilitate illegalities. And with these generous incomes arising from compromised transactions, we could dine and wine at the once Whites only clubs. We had arrived.
While dilution of standards and values made us achieve great milestones in wealth creation, it condemned our society to irredeemable mediocrity. With time, it has heralded unmitigated environmental, economic and social disaster. We now have thugs as policemen, activists as nurses, pedophiles as teachers, drug dealers as politicians and criminals as leaders.
Simply, a society without values and standards is a broken society. Suffice to mention that its human nature to be lazy. Given a chance, many would would rather live in squalor than work to improve their living standards. Yet no society can grow without setting and enforcing higher standards.
Why should we allow our graduates to hawk eggs along the streets or our people to start Kinyozis and vegetable kiosks on the pavements? By doing so, we are not empowering them. We are simply helping them to sit on their potential. I remember in my youth, we used to frequent some shop verandah where we would spend the whole day on idle chit chat. The owner’s pleas to us to find better things to do fell on deaf ears. Until one day he got fed up and erected spikes on the verandah. Henceforth, we had no choice but to find better ways to spend our time.
Rwanda is one country that has exemplified this phenomenon. They have set stringent standards of operation and enforced strong values. You can never think of bribing a law enforcement officer, taking a shortcut or asking for untoward favor. You have to walk on the straight and narrow.
For example, one is not allowed to conduct business in a makeshift mabati or some kibanda along the streets. You either rent a formal structure or forget about that business. Rwanda is now a clean country with a functional and responsive civil service.
We must stop celebrating and rewarding thieves and societal miscreants. Why should we celebrate stealing of elections/examinations or allow hawkers and matatus to rain mayhem right up to the city center? Why should we accept bribing our police officers as normal?
Any leader who thinks he is helping the youth by lowering standards for them- constructing for them water kiosks to wash cars, erecting road side kiosks for them and allowing them to hawk anywhere in the name of creating employment is actually helping the youth waste way their potential.
The youth are capable. We should raise the bar and help them reach for the skies. Lets put spikes in our houses, work places and generally in all spheres of life to ward off laziness. Success is not a default function. We have to raise our standards to attain success. Whenever we close the door on mediocrity, greatness emerges. Our fear is not that we are inadequate but that we are powerful beyond measure. Let us not settle for less.
Evans Majeni is a businessman and a director at AMM.