National values determine security

Madaraka day

Kenyans gather at Embu Stadium for Madaraka Day celebrations on June 1, 2023.

Photo credit: Joseph Kanyi | Nation Media Group

One of the strangest conversations I heard in Kenya was while standing in an immigration line at JKIA. One Asian man was advising the other to give Sh100 to the immigration officials for his passport to be stamped.

From their body language, it wouldn’t take a genius to work out that something dodgy was going on. I was stunned. But I don’t know why, knowing that bribery is, regrettably, a Kenyan culture. But I think I was stunned because all I could think of is how such a small gesture could have a huge impact on national security. The two men could be anything from terrorists to drug barons or human traffickers.

The debacle around Worldcoin and their disputed presence in the country took me back to my encounter with the Asian duo at the airport. My concern is whether the government knows who is legally in the country at any one time. If they don’t, as the Worldcoin issue has highlighted, then the national security is in serious jeopardy.

National security is not just a matter of guns and boots on the ground; it is also inherently based on national values. This begs the question, what are our national values? Is it in the kitenge I see being worn in Parliament? Is it sport, food, cash crops or morals? I struggle to find them and I am sure many other Kenyans do.

The debate on the preferred language for many Kenyans, English over Kiswahili, shows what a confused lot we are. Most of the younger people have carved an identity based around Sheng (Anglo-Swahili pidgin) rather than their mother tongue.

Sheng may sound cool, especially in Nairobi, but it hides a deep-seated loss of identity. On the other hand, it unites the youth from different backgrounds, born and lost in the cities, through a shared new lingo.

The language challenge is not the only issue beleaguering our national values. Morals and ethics or lack of them are the other. Corruption, or stealing public or even private property with impunity, is something only immoral people do and a corrupt country allows.

Morals and ethics are the bedrock of national values; hence, Chapter Six of the Constitution, on Ethics and Integrity. Sadly, it hasn’t been able to end the denigration of the rule of law or breach of the Constitution by the morally corrupt.

Turning to religion to bolster the ethics and integrity rule is a waste of time. Religion may rely on divine powers to change society but what is, in fact, required is tangible earthly solutions found within the Constitution. What divine law does is defer accountability and culpability. It buys corrupt people time. And time heals.

By ‘surprise’

National values mean a country knows not just its soul but that of its citizens and the resources it has within and without and its responsibility to protect them.

Since we lack values, many things happening in the country catch us and the government by ‘surprise’. Examples include the deaths of hundreds in the Shakahola cult fasting in Kilifi County, illegal exportation of protected baobab trees at the coast and now, the Worldcoin eye-scanning craze in the country, among others.

The response to most unexpected events in the country has shown how disjointed the government is. Officials contradicting themselves on what is the right response to a national threat doesn’t make the country any safer. It also shows vested interests being protected. If the law is clear on a response, why would one person—a Cabinet minister, no less—think they have the power to counter another if not for personal interests?

If we had shared national values, chances are, the government would speak in one voice on any given threat because it affects us all. However, if the threat is to selfish interests of those in power, the response becomes confusing and dubious. An example is the baobab trees issue—where one day it is recanted and the next it is back on.

What would determine such changes but for personal interest to over-ride national interests? With shared national values to protect the trees, confusion may not arise.

A country that doesn’t know itself cannot protect itself. Shared national values is an armour around the country. But then, how can we have national values without integrity? Many in power have questionable integrity; hence, a threat to national values and, consequently, national security. When such appointments are challenged, it is solely to protect the country.

When Chapter Six is ignored in favour of vested interests, such as politics, the rest of the country comes under threat from within and without. Organised criminals pitching camp in the country clearly know that Kenya’s weakness is corruption and, by extension, lack of national values that would have prevented such people from entering the country in the first place.

As long as national values are lacking and Chapter Six of the Constitution breached with impunity, we shall always experience threats to the country. Let us get real!

Ms Guyo is a legal researcher. [email protected]. @kdiguyo