A self-proclaimed "avid reader" of my blogs recently sent me an email with the following request:
"Can you write something 'positive' about Kenya?"
Shortly after the email, President Uhuru Kenyatta posed a variant of the same question when he asked those attending the 2015 CNN Multichoice African Journalist of the Year Awards the question: Why exaggerate African failure? Why ignore African success?
I will admit that my posts have reflected a certain level of "curmudgeonnity" about Kenya that has been relentless. My perspectives are certainly not popular with "patriotic" Kenyans but to reiterate a point I have consistently made: Kenya @50 has been a major disappointment thanks to a series of self-inflicted injuries. The disappointment is made worse given the optimistic socio-economic and political potential it shared with its peers of the sixties -- S. Korea, Taiwan, Singapore and Hong Kong -- and her diametric trajectory (from said peers) since. It is this perspective that continues to inform my less-than-positive views on Kenya's leadership her recent strides notwithstanding.
On President Kenyatta's lament that members of the Fourth Estate have exaggerated Africa's failures while ignoring her successes, I respectfully disagree.
I will concede that the media does and continues to play up the narrative of "Africa: The Dark Continent" and not always in a positive or "romantic" sense. Cable News Network's (CNN) characterization of Kenya as a "hotbed of terrorism" is one such example: While not gratuitously negative, the portrayal lacked context. On the other hand, conveniently left unsaid or overlooked during the national self-flagellation over CNN's depiction was a country that HAD indeed been laid siege by al-Shabaab in the months leading up to President Obama's July 2015 visit. Also unsaid was the government's incompetence (hubris) that directly led to some of the attacks and its bungled and delayed counter-attacks which in turn exacerbated the havoc caused.
The foregoing aside and unfortunately for Mr. Kenyatta, the news business, especially in the non-stop 24-hour news cycle AND echo chamber is predicated on the mantra "If it bleeds, it leads!" A scion of a family that has interests in one of Kenya's media outlets, Mr. Kenyatta should be familiar with how the media creates and drives narratives. I will point to Kenya's Capital News and America's FOX News as two media outlets that seem to create and drive distinct (socio-political and economic) agendas.
During his speech to those attending the awards ceremony, President Kenyatta asked a question that was at once poignant and profound. To the local media gathered for the event the president posed this question:
If you cannot respect the dignity of Africans, who will?
A permutation of the president's question formulated my response to the reader who wondered why I didn't write "something positive about Kenya". Mr. Kenyatta's question should also prompt serious soul-searching among those who hold it true that "Africa is on the move" and "should tell its own story".
My take on the president's question is this: If Africans cannot respect the dignity of fellow Africans, who will?
In a bit of dark serendipity or timing, the email I received from the reader and Mr. Kenyatta's challenge to Africa's media happened during the same news cycle as the piece by K24's Yussuf Ibrahim titled "Kisumu Killer Gangs: Killer Gangs Wreaking Havoc in Kisumu [VIDEO]". The video that accompanied the story was as disturbing a piece as I have ever dared to watch. I stopped watching after less than three minutes. I will leave it up to the viewers to form their own opinion about the video but I can say without equivocation that it is Exhibit A on how Africans treat one another and before I get hate mail, let me also state what I believe is elemental:
That the (obviously) larger point underscored by the video is the depravity ALL humans -- not just Africans -- are capable of.
That said, there is also something eerily familiar about the blatancy and impunity with which some of the attackers in the video seem to conduct themselves. Unlike members of the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) or ISIS who wear hoods over their heads and oftentimes alter their voices electronically to hide their identities, the men in the K24 video appear to be performing for the camera in a macabre but real rendition of a snuff film noir! Like the touts of Kenya's ubiquitous matatus who will toss a fellow human from a moving vehicle because she is short a dime (KSh. 10) on her fare, the men of Kisumu seen in the video have blatant and wanton disregard for the lives of their victims. They also display a worrisome reality: That the impunity which has hitherto been the sole purview of Kenya's leaders has now been adopted by ordinary wanainchi as illustrated by this video AND the on-going crimes-against-humanity cases at The Hague. I will forego the details of the latter but suffice to say, no one has been held accountable for the murder and mayhem that terrorized Kenya in 2007/2008. I am curious to see if the attackers whose faces are visible in the video are identified and brought to justice.
So let me rephrase President Kenyatta's question and ask this of Kenyans:
If WE cannot respect the dignity of fellow Kenyans, how do we expect others to respect our dignity?