Samson Kipchirchir Kipruto
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How Kenya has lost moral compass

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Chief Inspector Samson Kipchirchir Kipruto who fatally shot Makadara Principal Magistrate Monica Kivuti (inset).

Photo credit: Pool

A teenager is accused of beating a traffic police officer to within a whisker of his death. In a melee, an MP is alleged to have whipped out a pistol and shot dead a bystander. A gigolo lures a young beauty into an Airbnb, does the unspeakable, and then mutilates her body and flees in the dead of night.

Another police officer shoots his wife, then his children before turning the gun fatally on himself. A senior official in government steals tens of millions. Another, a puny county official with a meagre salary, amasses high end properties in ritzy areas worth hundreds of millions. Meanwhile thousands of students can’t go to school, or get health care, because of impoverishment.

What I’ve described above is the everyday – the new normal – in Kenya. As a society, we used to be shocked by “mob justice.” Not anymore. Today, folks scroll through news of a felon who has brutally attacked and raped an 80-year-old grandmother. It’s a rare day when such horrific acts elicit even a sigh from the scroller. May be a shrug or an eyeroll, sadly. Then on social media, a young lady lets it all hang out without even covering up with a leaf from the Garden of Eden.

Lucrative money industry of religion

Men of the cloth, or those in the lucrative money industry of religion, spit out the filthiest epithets from their beaks without batting even one eyelid. They guffaw and fulminate.

Back in the home, the son glares at the father when he’s told to do his homework, go to be bed, or turn down the Bluetooth. The daughter “flips the bird” on the mother. The father comes home inebriated, demands food, and if it’s not ready beats the wife.

A man dies. Then the family cries for a harambee to raise money for funeral expenses. Hundres of thousands, even millions, are raised. But the donors are never told how much was needed, raised, or used. The rest is pocketed. Teachers in high school and university routinely give unearned “As” in exchange for sex with students. Result – we graduate illiterates, and worse.

This is a snapshot of our society today. We’ve lost it. Decayed. Morally decrepit. A thieving society. The term conscience is either vacuous, or non-existent in our nomenclature. We have become the equivalent of the madman walking in the market square naked, and proud of it.

As the Irish racist W. B Yeats wrote in the “Second Coming,” indeed “The falcon cannot hear the falconer; things fall apart; the center cannot hold; mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.” Today “the ceremony of innocence is drowned; the best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.” That’s where we are – a society devoid of any shred of decency, or morality. We are a society of antipathy.


How do we build a society of empathy, not antipathy. How do we recapture a sense of shame, respect for one another, and for institutions – whether we are the governed, or the governors? Who’ll lead us to the new moral plateau? How do we restore the hallowed place of the teacher, the elder, the parent, the public servant in our society? What will make us cringe at corruption and dastardly acts in the public and private squares? What will make us stop electing crooks, thieves, muggers, rapists, cheats, and the corrupt? The question isn’t getting rid of individualism. It’s in making sure we develop guardrails against the individual egoist, the public narcissist, and the robber and snatcher of our souls.

We cannot return to an idyllic past because that never existed. I am asking we return to a soberer reality which isn’t fact-free, or an everything-goes universe. No – people of a certain age remember simple courtesies. In a narrow footpath, you step aside for the elder, or the lady. In public transport, you give up your seat for the elderly, or inform.

You don’t molest girls in crowded matatus. With male friends, you don’t laugh at crude sexist, or misogynistic jokes, or hiss, whistle at passing girls, or women. You don’t admire a Prado or some high-end vehicle and or prostrate yourself at the owner when your instinct tells you its proceeds of corruption, or crime.

I am not asking for a nanny state, a political society that’s all-knowing and all-controlling. We don’t want an omnipotent and omnipresent state. That’s tyranny, even if it’s couched in benevolence whether of the liberal or dictatorial camouflage. But we do want our schools to have honest and thoughtful curricula with teachers who care about our children and youth, not the monsters masquerading as educators. We want our public officials – elected and appointed – to mean what they say and say what they mean. Most of all, we want our top leadership to lead from the front. Corruption must be sanctioned without pity. This is how to recover Kenya.

Makau Mutua is SUNY Distinguished Professor and Margaret W. Wong Professor at Buffalo Law School, The State University of New York. @makaumutua.